Tony Jouanneau, a symbiotic approach to know-how

Based at JAD since January 2024, Tony Jouanneau is a designer, craftsman and researcher. Trained in product design at ESAD Orléans, he worked for seven years at the Tzuri Gueta textile studio, where he learned the trade of ennobler. He then focused his practice on eco-design and biodesign during a course at ENSCI-Les Ateliers. In 2017, he founded L'Atelier Sumbiosis, a design research laboratory where textile know-how and science meet.

Inspired by the process of symbiosis, Tony Jouanneau brings together researchers, scientists and craftsmen to imagine an innovative collaboration between living beings and flexible materials. Winner of the Villa Kujoyama, Tony Jouanneau will be in Japan from September to December 2023 to initiate new collaborations with local craftsmen and conduct research on sea urchin dyes in partnership with the Sorbonne. In this interview, he talks about his career, his practice between research and creation, and this Japanese residency experience.

To understand your residency at Villa Kujoyama, we first need to understand how you came to be involved in textile finishing and research. What have been the major stages in your journey up to the present day?

I originally trained in product design. And during my studies, I met textile designer Tzuri Gueta, who had just developed a patent combining silicone and fabric, from which he made all kinds of organic textures, inspired by living things. I'd always had an affinity for soft materials, as one of my grandmothers was the head of a glove-making workshop, and I was fascinated by Tzuri Gueta's aesthetic universe.
I worked with him for seven years. Seven years during which I trained as atextile ennobler, a skill that consists of chemically or mechanically embellishing fabrics to give them aesthetic and technical characteristics. I was in charge of giving volume to fabrics and imagining applications ranging from jewelry to objects, installations and works of art.
This is how I became a craftsman: in a very empirical way, working with my hands in the workshop.

However, finishing is a world of sometimes harmful chemistry. This is what prompted me in 2016 to reorient my practice to take an interest in an emerging field at the time: biodesign and biomanufacturing, a principle of convergence between biology - which identifies principles and mechanics of the living - and design - which transfers these principles into human applications by thinking about function, use and manufacture.
It was during my training atENSCI-Les Ateliers that I chose a biological principle that still structures my practice today: symbiosis, which gave my studio its name. Symbiosis is defined as the association of living organisms to provide the conditions for their own regeneration. An association that can be parasitic, but which I take in its virtuous sense. It's this same notion that gave birth to my methodology and guides my creative approach within the workshop: the association of a treatment with a fabric in this symbiotic and ecological perspective.

Today, within the workshop, I have two main activities, both deeply marked by the notion of exchange and collaboration: research, in collaboration with researchers, and creation, in collaboration with craftsmen. At the same time, I also devote part of my time to teaching.

Your residency project at Villa Kujoyama is largely based on your research activities. Could you tell us a little more about it?

The research aspect of my activity focuses on regenerative biological resources, or micro-resources, which have the potential to be invested in the field of textile finishing and bio-manufacturing. I'm looking to understand whether these biological resources could provide an answer to a type of finishing know-how that is polluted. Each research project focuses on a specific know-how and a creative hypothesis based on a biological resource. This is how I came to conduct research into textile dyeing applications using micro-algae and micro-fungi, bacterial printing on fabrics, and insect-devouring techniques on silk velvets.

I carry out this research in collaboration with biomaterials engineers such as Christophe Tarabout, and Marie Alberic, a researcher at the CNRS at Sorbonne Jussieu. It was the latter who suggested I work on the pigment extraction from sea urchin skeletons and the application of these pigments and dyes to fabrics: the project that was the subject of my residency at Villa Kujoyama, Japan.

What were the objectives of this residency?

This project, ECHIRO , from the Latin echino - thorn - and the Japanese - iro - color, is the reason I applied to Villa Kujoyama, first and foremost because Japan is the world's leading consumer of sea urchins, and therefore possesses a large source of raw material to be recycled. The first objective of this residency was to trace the sea urchin waste chain. The second was to bring this innovative research into dialogue with ancestral Japanese textile coloring know-how, by meeting with local craftsmen.

As far as my research into the sea urchin waste chain was concerned, I initially concentrated on harvesting spines at fish markets, which gradually led me to canneries. This led me to a company in western Japan, Ozuka Suisan, which had already been interested for 15 years in valorizing its waste through color, and to whom I presented the object of my research.

The remainder of my residency was then devoted to meetings with artisans. The idea was to bring together different skills to give fabrics graphic or volumetric effects designed to highlight the nuances of sea urchins. I explored several avenues of collaboration, such as shibori, a technique of binding on fabric to create graphic or volumetric patterns, with Maître Kuno of the Kuno Factory in Arimatsu. Then I went to the Okinawa region, on the island of Amami, to discover an ancestral know-how, dorozome, a mud mordant dyeing technique. In the Kansai region, I met Takeshi Nakajima, a specialist inhikizome, a brush painting technique on silk. I also met Taketoshi Akasaka, who practices katazome, a rice paste stencil dyeing technique. Some of these encounters were particularly moving, such as that with Akiko Ishigaki on the island of Iriomote, Japan's southernmost; this woman creates her fabrics from start to finish, starting with banana fiber, which she spins, weaves and then dyes with vegetable dyes fixed by seawater in a path bordered by mangroves.

During these fifteen weeks, the craftsmen I met opened the doors of their workshops to me, sharing their knowledge and know-how, and giving me a glimpse of the wonderful prospects for collaboration that I'd like to be able to present as early as 2025.

How does this emphasis on know-how, whether French or Japanese, guide your creative practice?

In my view, it's very important to promote know-how through exceptional creations, innovation and hybridization, because this invites and encourages us to take a fresh look at craftsmanship.

On a formal level, it's through organic movements that I seek to sublimate the ancestral techniques and know-how with which I work, because I'm attached to their instinctive and sensory character, which call for the hand and the touch. And then, as I explained earlier, there's this symbiotic principle, and the formal encounter between two colors, between liquid and fabric, and so on.

Every year, I try to approach new artisans for collaborations. It's this approach that I've been pursuing since 2017, and which led me to JAD. Getting together, sharing practices and hybridizing them, is a strength in my eyes. It's a logic of mutual aid and sharing that runs counter to the culture of secrecy that has long prevailed in the craft industry.

Last but not least, the transmission of knowledge still plays an important role in your business.

Atelier Sumbiosis was born of transmission, and although creation has gradually taken on more and more importance, I remain attached to the idea of transmitting, whether to students as at ENSCI-Les Ateliers, or to fashion industry professionals as at theInstitut Français de la Mode. Finally, as part of JAD's partnership with theAcadémie de Versailles, I recently offered a one-day training course on natural finishing to teachers from the Académie. A themed day in which I invited teachers to weave links between this discipline and their subjects, to get students interested in sustainable textiles through what they wear, how they wear it and why they wear it.

Interview by Brune Schlosser

In charge of cultural and heritage projects at INMA and INMA correspondent at JAD