Thursday, 27 September 2012

Marais, Montparnasse, and the Biennale de Belleville


Over the weekend we went to the La Nuit des Tableaux-vivants II, a part of the Biennale de Belleville. How we ended up doing this was actually set in motion by our attempts to visit the other exhibitions that we had wanted to see but had inexplicably missed on the first day of la rentree (particularly Gallerie Dix9 and Galerie Michel Rein). However, one suggestion led to another; we were recommended to go and see the Biennale de Belleville by the very kindly and inviting owner of Gallery Dix9, where we had visited to see an exposition by Studio 21bis.

Gallerie Dix9 - Studio21bis


Gallerie Dix9 by Hélène Lacharmoise (located at 19 rue des Filles du Calvaire 75003 Paris) is an interesting space that represents artists from all countries, including young/emerging artists. Hélène was very kind to take the time to walk us through the works of her gallery's current show featuring photographic prints of the works, which are the temporary structures constructed by Studio 21bis (Laurent Lacotte and Romain Demongeot) out of cardboard in spaces from Paris to London.


Most of their works are temporary and built out of cardboard, and then placed in sometimes contentious spaces - which often results in their swift removal from the site. Hence all that remains of these interventions is the photographic trace of the action/performance. For example, the lock was placed on a vehicular road so it was not able to be left on the street for very long. The house above had been chosen for its 'ordinary-ness'.


The duo play with symbols of architecture (weather vanes and politics), domestic life (the lock of the subprime crisis), and economics (the sharks peeking out from the grass of La Defense, etc). I am always interested when people use materials like cardboard. It might strikes one as a "cheap" or impermanent material (and i have also contemplated it as a material before) but I think the material is befitting of a "guerrilla" action or intervention - which I am reckoning these two are doing, particular with their subject matter. If you had asked me i would have also liked to see it as a video. The pictures left me with more questions and not all about the issues at hand but perhaps about the format of the work and how each particular point or photograph was chosen as the representative image for documentation. Or, what was their intended position of their documentation in such a work, especially as a critique of consumerism? Perhaps this was only something that one could ask of the artist directly.

Galerie Chantal Crousel - Gabriel Orozco




Gabriel Orozco, the well-known Mexican artist, is presenting a new body of work at Galerie Chantal Crousel. Perhaps more famously known for his orange work (where he placed oranges in cups and containers in the windows of flats that were across the road from the Museum of Modern Art (Moma, New York) or perhaps even other works, when I went home and looked him up again, I found out that the Galerie Chantal Crousel represents Orozco in Paris, which explains why the collection here is pretty good and shows his new works.


The feathered mobiles, named by the artist as "Roiseaux", are impressive and their graceful drifting appearance also draw one into the space. As one walks through the space the mobiles move and change the landscape. Behind them, there are a series of diptychs in which Orozco shows natural works alongside man-made forms, such as the neat concentric circular pattern of raindrops rippling on the surface of water ripple compared with orderly rows of rice shoots poking out of the water in a paddy field.

However, what truly mesmerises me most is "Boulder Hand", the stone being rubbed by a hand until it is smooth. On a small screen in the adjacent room, there is a video look of the artist's hand rubbing a stone continuously, shaping and polishing its surface, like water or a river that runs over it continuously…


Consulting the map to find our way around…

Galerie Michel Rein - Elisa Pône



It was a rained out day and we got to the Gallerie Michel Rein rather dampened by a sudden downpour. We could not taste the mercury or quite smell the gunpowder, being so wet. And it was strange to see the traces of gunpowder. I would have liked to have seen it alight, for now it seemed as if we had already missed the party.

The three video works in the adjacent room, collectively titled "À la fuite", shows the movements of a young woman, an old man, and two teenagers. The reasons for their ambulation is not clear. However, the woman is letting her cigarette burn out quicker than it should by sticking it into the slipstream of air against the moving car that she is sitting in; the old man is walking unusually fast as if he is rushing somewhere; and the two teenagers are playing around and the one behind is being very annoying and constantly disturbing the driver. While watching this I realised I have a problem with being idle". Perhaps I am perverse but watching idleness (if not intended to be silence, or stillness) has the ability to make me fidgety. Or maybe one could say this could be symptomatic of something else… I do not know. Do most people respond to it like this?

Musée du Montparnasse - Portrait de Famille



The next day! We went to Montparnasse, which I'm sad to say, is plagued by a number of huge boring looking modernist architectures. The station of Gare Montparnasse and Montparnasse-Bievenue is unusually grey and the area is overshadowed by the oppressively massive Tour Maine-Montparnasse. This is said to have been the building that resulted in skyscraper developments being banned in Paris, and for good reason, for it is completely out of its character to have such a surprisingly tall building in a city of scenic, historic buildings. However, one of the best views of Paris can probably be had on top of this building, also since one cannot see this building while one is standing inside it.

How did such an artistic area become like this? The whos-who of the artistic world was said to have met here in this very spot; the playground of so many endless writers and artists that if i tried to write a list it would never end. Hemingway, James Joyce, Cocteau, Beckett, Henry Miller, Breton, Dali, Degas, Zola, etc etc etc. To top it off, in the midst of the cold pavement and endless concrete blocks, there was a cute little merry-go-round in the main square, which at the moment, seemed to lend ominously to the subtopian effect as it spun along with a few well-wrapped-up children on top of the toy horses mixed along with toy mechanical diving bells.


We visited the Musée du Montparnasse along Avenue du Maine to see an exhibition of a few generation of italian artists whose work, apparently, had similar inspirations over the years. The family of Peluzzi/Bonichi has had a number of outstanding painters and artists, starting with Ezo Peluzzi the pointillist painter, and then Gino Bonichi the painter, of which Claudio Bonichi was both their nephew. Benedetta Bonichi is the daughter of Claudio Bonichi.




With Works by:
Eso Peluzzi (1894-1985)
Gino Bonichi (also known as Scipione) (1904-1933)
Claudio Bonichi (1943-)
Benedetta Bonichi (1968-)

The show featured paintings (some reproductions of older works), sketches, and photographs; the different works spanned a range of over 100 hundred years. Some of the connections made were rather obvious so for visitors, very little had to be done except come in and look at the striking visual similarities in themes.



While common threads can certainly be found in the works of all four artists, they all have huge oeuvres of work so naturally one is bound to find some commonalities if one were to go through it with a fine-toothed comb. A more subtle approach to the curation could have actually been employed to just as an good effect, as some of the paintings were lush and full of rich imagery that would actually really lend to a wider interpretation; more than what was currently being suggested in the present selection and hanging.


Opposite the Musee lies a space known as Immanence, which is where we will be exhibiting our work on November 16! It is run by Cannelle Tanc and Frederic Vincent, who have run it for ten years now and celebrated it with the publication of a book about the artist-run space, titled "Esthétique passionnelle".


We departed the bright lights of Montparnasse for Belleville. Armed with a very tiny map, we were determined to find the various assemblages of images and actors that were to be part of La Nuit des Tableaux-vivants.


This is the tiny map. It doesn't get any bigger.

Running up a small hill, we discovered some red theatre curtains draped over some human forms. Elio reached to pick up the curtain to see what was underneath. "Stop!" a girl rushed forth and told him to leave it be.


The story should have ended there, with a whodunnit cliffhanger mystery. But unfortunately like nice polite people routinely visiting galleries, we continued with a normal art-world conversation with the people watching over the works, "are you the artist? is this your work?" I found the words tumbling out of my mouth "oh, so do you work with theatre? how did it inspire you?" "how long have you been making installation works?" Blah blah blabbity blah…

This was wrong. This was not the correct move. Instead Elio should have clung onto the theatre curtain and wailed "WHY NOT!" We should have shaken the bodies and asked, "what has happened to these people!" "are they still alive?" "should we get some help? its freezing out here!" and then we should have run around in mad circles and made a real fuss about it.

They also should not have answered us politely. They should have gone with the act and pretended to be security or pre-police teams waiting for the real police team to arrive. I've just made up the word pre-police, but I'm thinking that if in a hospital you can see a triage-nurse who can maybe do a first level diagnosis before the doctor sees you, then why not a pre-police who can do a first diagnosis because calling the right police team? Also, no one would believe that a 20 year old girl in a black leather jacket would be a real policewoman. Oh! The illusion! The illusion of the tableaux! Its slipping away fast from me! Why do I talk with so many words...


This photo looks better because its blurry. Things always seem fuller and brighter when they are mysterious.


We walked up another hill and then we saw this. There were youths all over the place, having a drink in the dark with bottles of beers on tops of their bikes, practically disregarding these strange artistic occurrences.


On another part of the hill, there were big screens. Crowds soon formed around it after the lights came up. Like moths to the light.


A turkish woman and her family walked past us, muttering something in Turkish to her husband while pointing at the screen. "Oh, look at all these funny french youngsters, wandering around lost and searching for art around our neighborhood at 1 in the morning…"


We were alerted to some activity down the road. There was a cluster of people using their smartphones opposite a door where a woman was standing alone. This was a strange sight in itself that persisted for a long while, I know this because I walked back to the spot a few times that night and there were always new groups of people standing there, staring blankly about, scratching their heads over the tiny tiny map that had been provided, or simply using their handphones while standing there. In fact it was a pretty consistent way of finding works in this art walk: FIND THE CLUSTERS OF HIP-LOOKING AND CONFUSED YOUNG PARISANS.


This night was suddenly punctuated by a decision to watch a band play in the cave. It was a good decision. The band was very good. I have the name of the band in my pocket but right now I can't be bothered to find it. I'm going to edit this post tomorrow.


So that was my weekend.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Stone Tourism and Geological Accidents

People who have been following this blog or my work for some time might know that I have been getting interested in collecting rocks. Rocks! Stones! Geology! Archaeology! Subjects that are not discussed quite enough in Singapore! But ah, now we are in Paris, where everything is built with stone and rocks! So have you ever wondered, where exactly do the stones in all of Paris' iconic buildings come from? No? Well, I'm going to tell you more about rocks anyway.

I thought we'd start, for example, with the most famous of famous churches, which would be Saint-Denis, where all of the monarchs of France and their families have been buried from the 10th century until 1789 (with the exception of 3 kings). It stands to reason that such a significant building would have the oldest, the most EPIC and monumental stones. And what else has the ability to say "EPIC" besides a stone that's more than a thousand years old?

This led to me a book entitled "Working with Limestone: The Science, Technology and Art of Medieval Limestone Monuments" by Vibeke Olson, one of the few English language books on large-scale medieval artistic production and stone studies.


Page 76:
"The French plain, which extends to the north of Paris, is made up of marl, clay and sand, on which the basilica of Saint-Denis and the medieval city that surrounds it were constructed. The Seine flows into an alluvial plain 1,200 m to the west of the basilica. To the north, the Pinson and Montmorency hills edge the horizon. Like the Montmatre and Belleville hills to the south of Saint-Denis, they are formed of gypsum, marls, clays, and Fontainebleau sand/sandstone layers, with the Montmorency cavernous siliceous limestone outcrops at the summits. Upstream, in the valley of Croult, from Garges-les-Gonesse 5km to the northeast of the basilica, the Saint-Ouen lacustrine limestone and the Beauchamp sand/sandstone can be found close to the surface.

Consequently, the material abundance near the city was an important source of local quarry stone and allowed the production of mortar, tiles and plaster. Only the building stones were not available locally and had to be imported. Fortunately the Paris basin is composed regionally of an excellent building stone known as Lutetian limestone (called Calcaire grossier)..."
It is this Calcaire grossier or soft limestone which many parts of the city of Paris was built with. The rest of chapter 5 elaborates more about the quarries and the Lutetian limestone known as the "Paris stone" (pierre de paris) that is found in all the medieval monuments.

Screen Shot 2012-09-24 at 5.04.41 PM.png

Image Source: "Working with Limestone: The Science, Technology and Art of Medieval Limestone Monuments" by Vibeke Olson

Lutetian limestone was extracted from a few parts of the banks of the Seine during the medieval period, and also in large quarry centers along the Oise river. The stone that was mined there was also called "Oise Stone (pierre de l'Oise) which was used in the nineteenth century and is still actively mining and exporting this stone to other countries and for the restoration of historical monuments. Limestone from these areas can sometimes be very hard or quite soft. Interestingly, in buildings like the basilica of Saint-Denis, they arranged it so that the hard stones faced outwards and the softer stones faced the interior. [One more stone of note is a kind of white hard chalk known as Vernon Stone (pierre de Vernon), mined from a spot approximately 110km from Saint-Denis, which was actually used for the foundations of the building. This Vernon Stone is also used in Normandy building sites. I add this additional fact in just for completeness.]

A slight digression of note at this point would have to do with another area also full of limestone - Cornwall and Lyme Regis. I have a certain interest in the coastline of Lyme Regis due to it being the setting of one of my favorite novels - John Fowles' "The French Lieutenant's Woman". Now, although later searching reveals that the origins of the name "Lyme Regis" comes from its proximity to a River Lym as first named by the Romans, I must admit that for some time I had thought the "Lyme" in "Lyme Regis" was related to the abundance of limestone (lime being calcium oxide) and all of its ancient fossils in the region. Many famous dinosaur fossils were found on the coasts of Lyme Regis (some by the famous palaeontologist Mary Anning), and limestone itself is a kind of rock that is likely to have been made from the skeletal remains of all the little marine organisms that teem in the seas. It is famously noted that Jane Austen had visited it three times and wrote it into her final novel, Persuasion. I am not so much an Austen fan to have noted this, but I learnt of the fictional fall of her character of Louisa Musgrove from Fowles' book, where the fictional victorian character of Ernestina notes, while fictionally walking down a flight of stairs that exists in reality, that "these are the very steps that Jane Austen made Louisa Musgrove fall down in Persuasion'. Oh! What a dramatic accident! Apparently even Lord Tennyson was said to have commented (when he arrived in Lyme Regis):
"Don't talk to me of the Duke of Monmouth. Show me the exact spot where Louisa Musgrove fell!"
Speaking of accidents, if one goes about searching for tours to either the quarries or the coast, one will see information stating that some areas and sites are considered unsafe for long visits because of the possibility of "geological accidents". This is a little vague sometimes. This particular phasing of words attracted me, because on one hand I knew it was used to describe true accidents in the sense of the word, like if parts of the rocks dislodged themselves and hit someone, that would be a geological accident. Or, if someone fell off whilst in the midst of a geological study, perhaps it would be called a geological accident. But then again, in its most obvious form, the term could also refer to geological anomalies such as fissures or faults. Last of all, geological accidents could also refer to the accidents by little animals and creatures that were compressed into the rocks to form fossils. So it is a pretty flexible term. Perhaps all of the above scenarios illustrate the dangers of being near rocks:

Geological Accidents:
(1) being hit by falling rocks
(2) falling off rocks
(3) earthquakes and other actual geological events
(4) becoming compacted and eventually fossilised, by accident

These are just meandering collections of facts at this point, so let's go back to the city of Paris. I found in another article (in french) that notes that since a lot of Paris was built from materials from Paris itself, the mining of gypsum and limestone in the city also gave rise to huge underground caverns and "catacombs". "Les Catacombes de Paris"! The article also seems to be describing how the catacombs are built in the process of mining for limestone. I wonder if I can visit them?

I've also found another link to a "Stone heritage centre in Saint Maximin, which is said to have been the source for stones that were "used to build Les Invalides, the Palais Bourbon and the Place de la Concorde"! Their simple website also writes: "The Maison de la Pierre ("stone-heritage centre") of southern Oise seeks to develop "stone tourism": cultural and industrial tourism centred around the department's important stone heritage..."

French people! I've never heard of "STONE TOURISM" before - is this phrase the result of some wonky french-to-english translations? Or are they attempting to come up with a new, cutting-edge tagline here? Either way, I don't mind going out to visit Oise as a Stone Tourist, as long as I get to witness some geological accidents along the way. Yeah baby.

See also:
Where Exactly did Louisa Musgrove Fall?
Les Anciennes Carrieres Du Calcaire Grossier a Paris
Comité Français d'Histoire de la Géologie

Object love: "Married to the Eiffel Tower"

From the opening to Married to the Eiffel Tower:
"I am a woman, and this is a bridge. And despite our vast differences, we are very much in love. And our love is no different from any other love that exists between two beings. One of the most difficult parts of being in love with a public object, is that he and i can never be truly intimate. Whereas objects i've loved in the past, that has never been an issue..."
I found an interesting documentary about people who have relationships with objects, who connected online together in a group known as Objectùm-Sexuality Internationale. Their website states that they denounced the above documentary for its "sensationalist" take on things, but seeing as to how there are few other documents of this, this is probably one of the few avenues to get an insight into this.

I suppose what's really curious is how they speak at length of their love in incredibly poetic terms, and that it was started by a model-builder who was able to build models of her love. There is a scene in which they take a miniature replica of the structure along with them when they go to visit the actual structure itself.

What exactly are they in love with then? I am not so clear on this. Are they attracted to the physical geometry (a lot of them express a love for fences and other similar structures), or the concept (politically significant objects like the Berlin Wall, and beautiful public attractions that give joy to other people such as the Eiffel Tower), or the "authentic" physical structure itself as an entire functional object? And crucially, I wonder, what role does the smaller replica play in all this? This is all so mysterious!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Sirens and Surveillance, Performance and Power - Grasso's Silent Movie


Laurent Grasso - Silent Movie

Every year since I can recall, they've played the public warning system air raid sirens on the 15th of September (Civil Defence Day). They also play it on 15 February as that is Total Defence Day and also when the Japanese invaded Singapore during World War II. I'm not sure why 15th September was picked to be "Civil Defence Day" but it has always seemed suitable as a sort of birthday bell of sorts. I always thought it was quite special to have some island-wide sounds to look forward to on my birthday.

This year I am in Paris on my birthday, but I still got to hear the siren as I asked my friends back in SIngapore to record it for me and a number of them kindly obliged. It was awesome, because the places where different people had recorded it all sounded so different: some sounded like they were living in the middle of nature with insects all around, whereas others sounded like they were next to traffic. And in the midst of all the different landscape sounds, there was the same steady cry of the air raid warning siren. It can be easy to forget that the chiming sirens' real purpose is to be a test of the air raid sirens and public warning system in Singapore; a monthly chime that resembles a charming little church bell plays on the first day of each month and I am sure that many think it is a church bell - but it is actually the testing of the public warning systems.

I will confess that there is very little need to "sell" the idea of civil defence to me; my father had been a naval officer and he had always talked about the importance of various strategic outposts as surveillance or radar stations that would be Singapore's eyes out at sea, and which would allow one to "safeguard" one's shoreline by watching it closely. So if you asked me, I would be inclined to agree that everything within one's own capacity ought to be done to ensure the safety and security of one's own home, even if this translated into keeping a close eye on all of the movements in international waters around Singapore. After all, if you did not preemptively collect and monitor this data or information, then how would one truly understand what was really going on?

When me and another friend did a surveillance camera performance some years back with a public webcam that pointed at a walkway along Wisma Atria (a public walkway that no longer exists today), I was excited by the fact that someone I wouldn't know could also be watching this. I google every single thing. I expect to be able to search and scour every piece of information and for the same to be said of the information I am putting out (although, in reality, i do realize not everyone is so inclined to do so, so its safe to say that probably no one is obsessively googling me now - but they could be! and I could be obsessively googling for something else too… and you would not know).

For this reason, I was quite attracted to Laurent Grasso's work. Especially Silent Movie, which shows the different surveillance points and deserted military installations on the coast of Spain. At first, one is more impressed by the spectacular view of the coastline, craggy rocks and scenic outcroppings from which one can see the sun glittering in the sea. The shots themselves are intentionally long and ponderous, and with nothing else to look at besides the scenery, one eventually stares at it until a hint of the installation reveals itself. Like a submarine sailing past. Or that the camera is on top of a big gun. Or that the curious building in the distance is not just any building but a military outpost.

The military fortifications embedded into the coast were made to be visible to those approaching the coast, and in a way, their visibility could be more important than their functionality, for we are shown how their strategic viewpoints provide an overview of the coastline. Although the military installations are now seemingly disused and empty, the physical presence of the military architectures still suggests to the observer that he is being watched; like Bentham's Panopticon.

It is a bit like the big (and slightly ostentatious) mobile column of brand new armoured vehicles, battle tanks, and military equipment that occurs every five years at the National Day Parade in Singapore and then makes an epic tour around the different neighborhoods of Singapore. Are ordinary Singaporeans really interested in looking at our military's numerous tanks and armoured vehicles? Maybe they are interested in it, but certainly these shows of power aren't just for Singaporeans but it is also a public performance and display of heavy military equipment that is meant for our foreign neighbors to see.

Singapore's defense expenditure will constitute almost 25 percent of government spending in 2012, with Singapore Budget 2012 reporting that expected total expenditure by Ministry of Defence "is projected to be $12.28 billion. This makes Singapore's defense budget the largest in the Southeast asian region. There is also a well-known and established military manufacturing sector in Singapore and Singapore-made rifles, anti-tank weaponry, warships, etc,. are also exported to other armies. For example, rather than purchasing off-the-shelf guns that would not be as suitable for smaller asian people and would have high maintenance costs, they instead developed and produced the SAR 21 (Singapore Assault Rifle 21) to fit asian physiques and over time also produced new models which improved on various design weaknesses that were commonly found in other assault rifles. Nearly ever able-bodied male in Singapore will at one time or another be conscripted into the military. Singapore also makes it into the GMI (Global Militarisation Index) at 2nd place; in an index calculated by "the comparison of a country’s military expenditure with its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and its health expenditure".

On the significance of the Militarisation index:
In many countries, excessive militarization hinders the necessary structural change of the economic and social framework conditions and enforces development deficits in its industry and agriculture. On the other hand, a low degree of militarization can also be problematic and thus hinder development as it can point to fundamental deficits in the security sector. A weak or not functioning security sector cannot prevent violence and conflicts which negatively affect the population and its development as it cannot successfully enforce and uphold a monopoly of violence. One result is often fragile and weak states in which economic growth and development cannot prosper.
Power is a performance which must have an audience. A performance could consist of just people watching each other to see what each other would do. I don't quite buy it when people say they perform for no one, or make works without regard to who will see it. But I suppose that is why interaction is important for me in my own work.

Abrupt end to post: Today the sun is great and I am going out for a walk.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Jeu de Paume - Rosa Barba / Eva Besnyö / Laurent Grasso


Galerie Nationale du Jeu de paume [Source]

The Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume is an national gallery of contemporary art with a focus on images and moving images. The building was originally built for real tennis courts (jeu de paume) but it was later renovated to become a museum. It has actually had a checquered past with it having been used to store Jewish cultural property that had been looted by the Nazis during the years 1940-1944. Later, after World War II, it was used to display the biggest collection of Impressionist works which later moved to the Musee d'Orsay in 1986. Currently it seems to focus a lot on moving images and contemporary media arts/installations, so it was well worth the trip down to see.

Currently one can see exhibitions and works from 3 artists at the Jeu de Paume:

- Rosa Barba, "Vu de la porte du fond"
- Eva Besnyö, "The Sensuous Image"
- Laurent Grasso, "Uraniborg"

All three shows run from 22 may to 23 september.

Rosa Barba - "Vu de la porte du fond"

Rosa Barba - Vue de l'exposition au Jeu de Paume

Rosa Barba - The Hidden Conference: A Fractured Play (Image source: Jeu de Paume)

Rosa Barba's work is sited in an interstitial space of the gallery that was not originally meant for exhibition use, and the work appears as a series of works that the visitor stumbles across as they walk around, without prior explanation. Playing with the idea of the film as a physical material and fractures in narratives; some of the works feel more like conceptual exercises involving film, such as "Coupez ici", which is a "moving sculpture" with celluloid strips spinning and rolling within a lightbox. These "exercises" feel a little abstracted and a bit distant for me. But the most immersive work was the one where the entire cinema had been converted into a strange theatre of film. "The Hidden Conference: A Fractured Play" is one of those things you walk into and then have no idea what is going on. I sat there for three rounds of it before I determined that this was probably the way the artist wanted it to be: to make almost no sense to a casual viewer. I walked in a darkened cinema with three spots of light: a spotlight on a large, oversized loud hailer squashed ignominiously into a small cinema seat, another spotlight on a slightly abused 16mm projector hanging from the ceiling from the very celluloid rolls that was going through it in some sort of tortuous looking pulley system, and the last spotlight being the film itself that was projected on the cinema screen. The audience walked in to watch a jerky and somewhat random super8 clip that seemed to be all about broken sculptures. Sculptures with fractured heads, arms, legs, and other parts. There was no commentary, just background sounds and clipped words in the audio of the film. Suddenly, it would end and be replaced by the suspended projector turning on back into the audience. During the first viewing, the suspended projector shone a square of light over an area where a woman from the audience was sitting. I looked over. She looked at me. We looked at the screen. We looked all around. Nothing happened. Eventually, the film started up again! And this repeated. Alright... (This is like that parody of a french film where a beautiful girl skates backwards in a room full of strange people and then they stop the take and discover that a bunch of chickens in the backroom are the ones writing the script)

Eva Besnyö - "The Sensuous Image"


Eva Besnyö, “Self Portrait” (1931) (Image source: Jeu de Paume)

Eva Besnyö's show is a retrospective of her long career as a architectural photographer, also as the new breed of female photographers in that period who were able to make a living from it and also shoot many images on the street. Most works are sans titres and they provide some glimpses of what Europe was like through the years. For me, it was basically the images of a woman who lived in Europe during those years. It was interesting enough but to be honest it did not move me very much beyond seeing a picture of Europe in those years.

Laurent Grasso - "Uraniborg"


Laurent Grasso - Uraniborg

Laurent Grasso's work is in my opinion, the star exhibit at the Jeu de Paume. An excellently curated exhibition of his film works which are presented in a manner that I have never seen before.

The spaces that have been built to show his works are utterly impressive. You approach a dark gallery, and there is an image in the wall, but this is not just a lightbox or a projection. It is built in a way that it feels like an impossible window into another dimension. This is achieved by cutting a hole into the wall and having the projection some distance away so that one feels like one is looking into a window into another space when looking straight at the projection. Due to the ingenious method of construction, it induces a sense of "vertigo" from the "forced perspective" effect, as one can walk around it and find that the image "floats". This has to be seen to be believed.

Of note:
Les Oiseaux (2008)
This to me seems to be a poetic observation that the flocks of starlings over the Vatican appear like a mysterious moving smear in the sky due to their great numbers, and to this he notes that "some civilisations interpret flights of starlings as presages". Certainly from this we can already see his interest in looking to the skies for the signs.

On Air (2009)This is another short involving a camera strapped to a falcon that is sent into flight in areas around the United Arab Emirates. We see images of the bird's flight, and a handler holding up a giant radar to track the bird, combining the old image of the falcon used as a surveillance tool and the modern surveillance tool of a digital camera and transmitter.

Silent Movie (2010)
For me, I sometimes feel that some film works stand almost like sculptures, and this would be one of those types of works for me. It is a film that will make no sense without description and closer examination, as it consists of many slow takes and long shots of what appears to be, on first glance, nothing other than a beautiful natural coastline. The work slowly reveals the beautiful environment of Cartegena and slowly, also the military installations hidden in the natural environment. The camera's viewpoints apparently show the different perspectives of attacker and besieged, allowing one to see the site of Cartegena from the perspective of its role as a strategic spot for surveillance.

Bomarzo (2011)
The film of Bomarzo recalls the story of Park of Monsters (Parco die Mostri), a curious theme park of statues that had been constructed by the slightly eccentric Count Vicino Orsini in around 1550. Consisting of various mythologically inspired sculptures of monstrous characters which are scattered across the grounds in no apparent order or manner of logic, this particular film is shot on a shaky handheld which is much unlike all of other immpeccably made, high production value film works. You will wish it was clearer because one feels like peering and craning one's neck to get a better look, but it is all fuzzy and mysterious like the origins of these massive, monstrous sculptures which were also made famous by other artists coming to take photos with it while on holiday in the region.

Uraniborg (2012)
Another work that looks to the skies, with its key image being the statue of the astronomer Tycho Brahe who spent 20 years of his life on Ven (an island between Denmark and Sweden) observing the stars and recording their position and movements from a castle-observatory that was named after Urania, the Muse of Astronomy - hence the name, Uraniborg. It was built in around 1576 and it is considered to have been remarkably accurate and his work is still useful till today. The stars themselves are something which are simultaneously visible all the time and also invisible to us without the required equipment. Nothing is said to remain of the actual castle that he resided in, destroyed soon by citizens after Tycho Brahe left the island. However, Tycho Brahe's ponderous statue still stands there and still gazing up at the sky are crucial to this piece.

For more information and images on Laurent Grasso's work and Uraniborg, please see the Jeu de Paume website here.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Vernissages of "La Rentree"

Vernissages were aplenty last weekend as autumn marks the start of the cultural season in Paris. I was shocked to see so many openings on the list for the 8th of September (of all dates! the first weekend in Paris) but this was also the very weekend (la rentree) that marked the change of the season. We were blessed with unusually good weather, and armed with a copy of the Galeries Mode D'emploi, we headed out to see as much as we could (hot on the heels of a four-day extreme museum marathon!!!); we encountered about a dozen shows on this desultory meander, and it was very impressive in general, with at least four being noteworthy:

Highlights for me:
1. Sophie Calle (Galerie Perrotin)
2. Claire Morgan (Galerie Karsten Greve)
3. Greg Semu (Galerie Metropolis)
4. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot (Gallery Xippas)

What we saw on a walk through the art district:
1. Greg Semu's fantastic pacific islander reintepretations/restylings of famous christian paintings
2. Aurelie Haberey's photos of a curtain (the only really boring work in the whole walk, actually)
3. Some iconic/famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe (you will have seen this before)
4. Pierre Petit's "Si de si" (a perplexing coil of led lights around some metal weighing scales)
5. Anne-Lise Broyer's cut-up mountain pictures and sketches
6. Céleste Boursier-Mougenot's sound works (bees!)
7. Sturtevant's new video works which might or might not be related to Deleuze
8. Jean-Luc Parant's taxidermied creatures cast into resin
9. Claire Morgan's amazingly detailed sculpture-installations of dead flies
10. Sophie Calle's brilliant exhibition in which she asks blind people in Istanbul to describe the last thing they saw before losing their sight forever…

Here follows a more detailed chronological account:

Greg Semu, "The Last Cannibal Supper" / La Galerie Metropolis (16 rue de Montmorency)



The first gallery that we chanced upon was La Galerie Metropolis where we saw the works of Samoan artist Greg Semu. His work was a series of detailed photographic portraits which recalled the iconography of religious paintings from the Christian world - except that the figures have been played by Kanak tribespeople, dressed in traditional costumes which are worn during rituals and ceremonies. Apparently Semu grew up in Auckland but has resided abroad for many years. His work raises the question of how in New Zealand the occidental culture has systematically erased and eroded tradition and people's cultural roots; in his portrait of "The Last Cannibal Supper", the "cannibal" native has one last supper before rescinding his cultural identity - only to partake of the blood and the body in the eucharist?

Hommage a Marilyn Monroe, André de Dienes, The first portrait / Galerie David Guiraud (5 rue de Perche)



Some famous images of Marilyn Monroe. You will probably have seen these images before. I guess there are some very famous works making the circuit in Paris. I guess they all had to be shown somewhere before they gained such world-wide recognition; and some of these work are still being shown over and over again elsewhere. Galerie David Guiraud apparently focuses on showing a lot of "classic" modern photography like this.

Anne-Lise Broyer, "Leçons de Saint-Victoire & Vermillon" / La Galerie Particuliere (16 rue de Perche)



La Galerie Particuliere is an interesting space split across two streets. There was a show inside both of the spaces which was by Anne-Lise Broyer whose written text perhaps exceeds the work itself. She quotes Robert Bresson in his Notes sue le cinematophe: "An image should transform itself through contact with other images, like a color in contact with other colors". Her images are supposed to be "in-between images" from which the viewer can make what he/she will of the works. While the sentiment is good and the works are generally aesthetically pleasing in their "delicacy" (this seems to be a word that the French seem to very fond of!), I find the "in-between" works (as described by the artist of her own work) to be unsatisfying because it is not demanding enough. If art or literature is not like a knife that's stabbing you, then I would find it boring. You might as well take a picture of some normal curtain and then call it art. And if I ever see another artist take a picture of a curtain and then attempt to pass it off as art, then I will probably have to stab that so-called "artist". That would certainly be cause for an artistic intervention…

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot / Gallery Xippas (108 rue Vielle-du-temple)




Gallery Xippas is located next to Galerie Yvon Lambert (where Paolo Giulini's exposition is also on at right now). Getting there, you might notice the curious queue to get up on a busy day, because the entrance to the gallery has been blocked by many rocks. Boursier-Mougenot's rationale for doing this is so that people slow their pace before going upstairs since you have to concentrate pretty hard on getting up the stairs in one piece (without rolling down on the bed of large pebbles). Upstairs he has a number of sound works and installations, the most notable of which is a beehive with a microphone inside it, amplifying the sound of bees coming in and out of the hive which bees can still access through the window. I would be very excited about this…. except that I had just seen a beehive with a pipe to a window at the Ottoneum (a venue for documenta at Kassel), so the bringing of beehives to urban places where they are isolated yet so close and visible to us is not a new image to me anymore. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, the sound works had significant presence in the room. The hum of bees which is perceived as a threatening "white noise" to us humans is actually important bee communication that apparently helps the bees bond together. As for the black bakelite phone, I understood that it was supposed to ring every time somebody googled the word "phantom". The effort and queuing was worth it, but I still think perhaps it could have gone further with the idea, rather than simply presenting a straight-up visual "conceit".

Sturtevant, "L'Abécédaire De Deleuze" / Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac (7 Rue Debelleyme)


Elaine Sturtevant is probably more famous for having an artistic career that is almost entirely based on copying other artists, which I think is only really interesting for the people who are writing about art. Her older work in general is not in any way inspirational for me as an artist because it is pure concept and lacking in form and content and imagination. This work was not in English and there was no accompanying English text - so my best guess would be that it was something about art world people talking about something, maybe Deleuze. I apologize I am not trying harder to figure out what it is, because I figure that either way it is probably going to be all the same; actually I'm not really sorry either… ("Next!")

Jean-Luc Parant "Mémoire du merveilleux" / Galerie Pierre-Alain Challier (8 rue Debelleyme)




The light was dim and it looked like a huge pile of rocks inside the gallery, which naturally attracted me. But these were not just rocks, these were man-made objects that looked like fossils and rocks. The setting for Parant's exhibition were suitably lush and were clearly intending to exude some sort of "natural", "classic" and/or "historical" feel, with plant anatomical drawings and whole mummified baby elephants and pufferfish and other exotic flora and fauna, frozen in time. His work was about creating marvelous artifacts - unbelievable fossils which have animals with a crazy mix of animal parts appearing from jet black rocks. There was a band playing on the second floor when we came in, and they played a long, mysterious and moody introduction to their set while we ascended the stairs, which was really impressive and it even helped intensify the mood of mystery - that is, until we got upstairs, and then the band suddenly segued in a very mundane and predictable rendition of Sinatra's "Fly me to the Moon". Yes, it was that kind of vernissage, and the crowd was significantly older, in posher clothes, probably more monied, and maybe slightly less critical at this show than others. On closer examination of the pieces, the resin casts are rougher than one would expect, and the studies and other paintings could really be more detailed. The taxidermied and preserved animals look a little shocked to have been permanently frozen into place in someone's artwork of all things. There was something in the presentation style that showed that it wanted to seem convincingly authentic but these "fake historical" items did not speak to me with their stories; instead, the natural portions of the work (i.e: the taxidermied animals) all seemed to be quite alarmed at these ministrations, especially with the application of permanent resin around these natural objects!

Claire Morgan "Quietus" / Galerie Karsten Greve (5 rue Debelleyme)






Claire Morgan's work is so detailed that it truly blows all the other works out of the water; most artists do not make works which have such excellent form, although it must be very very tedious to build a work such as that. Blowing at her delicate work, however, is something that is specifically forbidden (as says a small sign next to each work) - as each of her works consist of hundreds and thousands of tiny little dead flies or dandelion seeds strung up onto transparent threads and hung from the ceiling. They form columns and lines and blocks which are perfectly lined up. It is terrifyingly fragile, and that is the point of the work itself, because life is fragile. The studies and sketches are also equally detailed and amazing; but the precision of the installations is jaw-dropping which makes it truly worth a visit to see in person.

Sophie Calle - "Pour la dernière et pour la première fois" / Galerie Perrotin (76 rue de turent)





We chose to end this walk on a high note by going to Sophie Calle's show. Calle's work has a very strong, anthropological element to it - in that she goes out and speaks to many people and her pictures have a strong narrative thread that accompanies all of them. This was an excellent exhibition about her project asking blind people in Istanbul what was the last thing they remember seeing before losing their sight. All these were people were not blind from birth but had lost their sight for some reason. Some go into detail on how they lost their sight, while some remain slightly enigmatic. The stories are brilliant (the catalogue is quite desirable as it has all the images and texts, but it was too steep at a whopping 79 euros) but I guess that even if this had been the only show I had seen in the area, it would have been worth an entire trip on its own.