'Shapes of Wonderland': a new exhibition of home decor takes over Comptoir 102 in Dubai

Artists Clementine De Chabaneix and Helle Mardahl talk about their whimsical works on show for Art Dubai

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A blessing of unicorns with eggshell blue tails look on as a figure in work boots collapses on her back, seemingly exhausted by the weight of the world. Elsewhere, a cat lends its fierce face to its mistress, an allusion to the masks we put on, even as another curls up on a girl's head, soothing away troubled thoughts. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Clementine de Chabaneix.

The French sculptor's aesthetic is at once gothic and romantic; frail Burtonian girls, reminiscent of CS Lewis's Alice, coexist alongside wild animals, that stand in as totems of affection, protection and, sometimes, aggression. De Chabaneix says of her thought process: "I find inspiration in everything … a combination of music, time spent walking, architecture, loneliness, love, meteorology, dance, gardens, brutality …  Observing the world around me, I create combinations of shapes and symbols that explore the irrational condition of being a human being.

“There’s something strong yet subtle about ceramic; it’s the perfect medium to define emotions in a poetic way,” she adds. Her thought-provoking pieces are currently on display and for sale at Comptoir 102. The Dubai concept store and organic cafe on Jumeirah Beach Road is hosting the Shapes of Wonderland exhibition as part of Art Dubai, until April 7.

Helle Mardahl's glasswork

Also part of the display is fellow artist Helle Mardahl’s glasswork. Mardahl, too, is interested in the idea of objects that are at once fragile and robust. The French designer specialises in mouth-blown glass, which she transforms into lamps, letter holders, pots and vases.

Working with glass, I have found a material that infatuates me like nothing else

To Comptoir, Mardahl brings her Candy Collection, a series of lamps and vases in cheery pops of colour and deliberately asymmetrical forms; some hang down from wires, while others come stacked like overgrown toadstools or the open shell of a pearlescent oyster.

“I have always dreamed of opening a sweet shop. As the name indicates, the collection is inspired by old candy factories and the dazzling colours that are so inviting and tempting, you could eat them all,” says Mardahl. “Working with glass, I have found a material that infatuates me like nothing else; it draws me in, fascinates me and inspires me, down to the small glass pearls, which can make any creative vision or story come to life.”

French artist Helle Mardahl works with mouth-blown glass. Alastair Philip Wiper
French artist Helle Mardahl works with mouth-blown glass. Alastair Philip Wiper

Objets d'art in unique batches

Working as they do by hand or, in Mardahl’s case, by mouth, both her and De Chabaneix are able to create their objets d’art in small, often unique batches – a parameter that has come to define true luxury. “Since all of my pieces are mouth-blown, I try to create a one-off universe, but I do not use the term luxury – it is so wide and subjective. My focus is on craftsmanship,” notes Mardahl. “I believe that the feeling of ‘luxury’ comes from well-made, valued things.”

De Chabaneix adds: “I think people need to feel that there are stories, working hands behind the objects, clothes, furniture they purchase. For me, luxury in home interiors would be space and light … something quite minimalist, where less is more, really.”

'There's no faux pas in decor'

The ceramic figurines and glass lamps have the potential to bring a touch of whimsy to any space, and are sure to be conversation-starters. De Chabaneix says her pieces are equally at home on a fine Scandinavian console or on a camping table. “There’s no faux pas in decor. A house is like a portrait, and you are as surprising as what’s inside your home,” says the sculptor. Mardahl, too, is of the belief that “everything is allowed. The Candy Collection invites people to mix and match. The colours can be combined as you please, which makes it more personal. You can play with the existing shades in a room or you can play with the contrasts.”

This is the first time that both artists will showcase their works in the UAE, of which De Chabaneix says: “I sincerely hope people will enjoy my little twisted world. I love the idea of showing my work in gardens … in the desert, it would be thrilling.”

French sculptor Clementine De Chabaneix works with ceramic. Fanny Begoin
French sculptor Clementine De Chabaneix works with ceramic. Fanny Begoin

Emma Sawko, co-founder of Comptoir 102, has previously brought over pieces by jewellery designers Brooke Gregson, Pascale Monvoisin and Alia Mouzannar, while works by architect India Mahdavi, furniture designer Nada Debs, industrial designer Arik Levy are in-store all year round.

'Immediate teleportation to wonderland'

“With Clementine’s smooth eye-catching sculptures, one simply cannot stop looking at it, because of their peculiarity and almost bizarre look and feel. Somehow her work takes you back to your childhood memories; it’s an immediate teleportation to wonderland,” says Sawko. “Helle’s work is simply something that if you could, you would eat it! It just looks so bubbly and delicious, and like it would go with any setting.”

Shapes of Wonderland is running at Comptoir 102 until April 7. Clementine De Chabaneix’s sculptures range from Dh1,000 to Dh8,000, and Helle Mardahl’s lamps cost between Dh1,200 and Dh3,000