I arrived in Paris in the mid-60s and have always lived within three blocks of where I’m based now, in the Cour de Rohan, a series of three courtyards right in the middle of the city. It’s very picturesque, with its big green iron gates and its cobblestones, and at the entrance is the Tower of Philip Augustus, part of the old city walls built around 1400. This little area was the seat of the French Revolution, where people wrote and distributed Le Journal du Peuple, a run of pamphlets intended to get things moving in the right direction and inspire the elimination of all the aristocrats. It’s a place full of ghosts because of its history. But I mostly ignore all that; you can’t be haunted by the past.
I live on the upper floors of my building, and my studio’s on the ground floor. Still, work could just as easily happen while I’m in the stairway and looking out the window at how someone’s trimming the trees, or once I’ve stepped into the courtyard, which is where I hang out. To one side of the house is Le Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris, where diners eat on the sidewalk, and on the other side live various creative people. One’s a designer for the opera. Another organizes fashion shows. And the Giacometti Foundation has moved into the building in front of my studio. So it’s a cloistered but animated existence.
I tend to sleep in four-hour segments, and I move very seamlessly between dreams and waking periods. When you see my work, you might be able to wend your way into the cave of the dream world. There’re times when I have to make an effort even to know what day it is. And I like to work simultaneously on many things. For instance, today I was asked to create an environmental work at King’s Cross, near the London train station, for the summer months. I’m also making something for a municipal complex by the port in Oslo to coincide with the opening of that city’s Museum of Modern Art. Tomorrow, we’re presenting models for tapestries to the Gobelins Manufactory. And then I have an exhibition up now at the Barbara Hepworth Museum in Yorkshire, England. I do whatever I think is interesting.
I move from idea to finished work acrobatically — it’s as though I can feel the clouds shifting and the light coming and going. But because I frequently use fiber and textiles, I’m also quite specific in the way I work; unlike a video artist or a digital artist, I’m physically engaged in the creation of all my work. It’s a manual practice but filtered through the optics of architecture, photography, form, material and color. A couple of years ago, I received an honorary doctorate from my school — I went to Yale in the ’50s — and it made me very happy because it validated my choice to work and live as an artist. It meant that I could contribute something to the other fields, and so I’m seeking out what that might be, unlike many artists, who are seeking simply to express themselves.
This interview has been edited and condensed.