A Case for Books

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At a nearby gallery in the fashionably dubbed Haut Marais*, our friend Didier Mathieu, from the Centre des Livres d’Artistes, has laid out a book exhibition entitled récits / écrits. It is a display of formative of work from formative women artists, largely American, from the heyday of the self-published democratic  book or printed format. But almost as a tangent to the content of the publications, is a clarity and assurance of the value of the display of printed forms. This is not often the case. I think that most of us working with such material feel very ambiguous and conflicted about putting books under glass, or on the wall in frames. They are meant to be held, turned, closed and re-opened, and an exhibition by its nature prevents this, except as a memory of such activation in the mind.

Didier Mathieu has always had a most concise idea about how book shows should be done, but this time it is exceptional, even to the point of hanging pages and centrefolds on the wall. They slightly articulate in the movement of air in the space, as Mallarmé’s newspaper reader in the garden is interrupted by a flying insect, and incorporates it into the narrative.

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It is far from another exhibition visited recently,  L’Esprit du Bauhaus, at the Musée d’Art Décoratif, where the overcrowding, an often problematic thesis and history, should have been kept in a book and not placed in vitrines nor on plinths under glass domes. Nothing could have been further from l’esprit. By contrast Didier Mathieu’s display animated itself from within, and was firmly within the reductive clarity of that early modernist school.

* récits /écrits  mfc-michele didier, 66 rue Notre-Dame de Nazareth, 75003 Paris

 


Portes No.22 & 23

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As a memory of the days of blithe walks across the city, at least as a memory of them from the edge back to the middle, I offer two Portes done before the fall on the staircase. Nothing particularly remarkable about these two veiled and barely distinguishable listings on the southern edge of the péripherique. They are precisely the kind of destination that our Parisian friends would think of us as not being proper tourists for wanting to go and see. But that’s the whole point of the Porte Walks, to examine the debris of the city, and encounter things of no importance. Like these beautiful cast aluminium pots in some Moroccan shop just after we had left the metro at Porte de Vanves, heading for Porte Briancon. Should I go back and buy them, I ask, but they are big ?

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Material Language of Carl Andre

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We just caught the traveling Carl Andre history at the Musée d’Art Moderne, and it was a good time to think about the so-called ‘poems’, largely from earlier times in the work. I think it’s a bit of a misnomer to call them that. They are really inventories of language as yet another elemental material, to be stacked, repeated, laid flat, pushed up against the wall. They use none of the devices of the language of poetry, title and play of content, metaphor as displacement and alternation, but they merely state themselves as material fact. Nothing wrong with that, I would add.

Maybe all this is too retrospective an analysis, far too formal, and they really occurred in a more spontaneous time, along with other surprising vestiges of mail art, a plethora of postcards sent to friends through the available system at your doorstep. But what I really admire now about Carl Andre is the fact that he stopped working at a given point, and resorted to the hand-held manipulations of material shapes and forms that he continues to give to friends.Not for him to become the factory of the artworld, the manufacturer of storable property and space-fillers for over-sized collections. He remains fluid and adaptable, in spite of what at first might seem a puritan monolith of chaste material.


Pour remercier la pluie au matin

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On Sunday, my furthest journey to date with the impediment. To the Armenian church on Rue Charlot, long-time bastion of the free concert, especially at the weekends. The programme is not always riveting, but this time we had to get there for two of my favourite pieces. Two young pianists were working together for four-hand pieces by Ravel and Debussy. Ma Mère l’Oie, with its finale of The Mechanical Garden, reflecting all the clockwork toys and mechanical games that Ravel had in his house in Montfort l’Amaury. You could see the construction of hands required to produce it on the keyboard by sitting not too far from the piano.

Debussy’s setting of the poems of Chanson de Bilitis by Pierre Louys as Six Épigraphs Antiques has been with me since I first encountered it back in the nineteen sixties, with its wonderful finale, that needs restating.

to thank

the morning

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Drinking Sculpture

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Stepping out, or more like hobbling-out for the first time with the torn ankle, to see the wonderful Alighiero Boetti exhibition I had seen in London last November. In there I heard that Jannis Kounellis, one of his working compatriots had just died. The work was not close at all, but they shared a time of radical change to raw materials that we have still never recovered from. Hearing of him in that context caused a reverie of one of his great works that I had seen in the early nineties in the middle of France in the most unlikely of venues.

It was in Chagny in Burgundy that Pietro Sparta made a gallery to show his Arte Povera friends and a few others, largely, if I remember, because of the  presence in Chagny of the truly great restaurant Lameloise. The artists wanted to eat there, and could be persuaded to come to the middle of nowhere and make a large exhibition. Here, passing through Chagny on the way south, Erica and I encountered the remarkable 1988 work of Kounellis, made of glasses of grappa and cut lead shapes. I understood there to be as many as 40,000 glasses of grappa, and the work was arranged in a far more fugitive state than the more formalistic museum presentation of future years. The smell was overwhelming, and you could hardly enter the rooms of the arrangement. Of course, the grappa evaporated and had to be topped-up continuously. An interesting aside to the Bill Culbert work Small Glass Pouring Light which is conserved by drinking, in its case the red wine of its subject.But here there was just far too much grappa to begin with that as a means of conservation, socially involving as both pieces might be. They are both great works and live in the memory.

Pietro Sparta had a partner in the gallery who was called Pascale Petite. There is a poet in Britain of the same name, and I have never known if she took another career. There was loose talk at the time of Pietro doing a show with Ian Hamilton Finlay, if I remember correctly. Not a bad idea I thought to myself, since their combined names made Little Sparta, the homestead of Mr Finlay!

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Hotel Clarisse

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Somewhere on the southern boundaries, beyond the tram lines, but before the péripherique, chasing one Porte or another, what could be the original Jacques Tati ludicrous formica Hotel, in all its early plywood symmetry and glory. The vinyl canopied foyer may be a later addition, but it still speaks of an era frozen in time, even without the nearby seaside


The Winter Circus

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The biggest truck you have ever seen pulled into Rue Crussot to discharge its cargo of caged animals for the Cirque d’Hiver. How it will negotiate its exit, presumably backwards into the main Boulevard, I have no idea, and it certainly cannot proceed down the street, which only gets narrower towards the bottom. The truck is as large as the first part of the street, and painted a suitable beige to camouflage itself from the Hausmann vernacular apartment blocks, corresponding to the vehicle that would have captured the lions and tigers in their own more colourful habitat  SC


Un verre limé

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We’re back again, almost a couple of weeks now. We are starting to walk off the last couple of Portes to be done, the unclear remnants of  a self-invented project, so close to others already done, and yet they have  names to be ticked and listed.

The hazard has been that I fell down the stairs in the apartment and severely sprained my right foot, and I’ve been in this condition for almost a week and I don’t see it changing very soon. Good for desk work, but not for road work. I did manage to pass, before all this, the mysterious Rouge Limé on Rue de Charonne in the 11th. It had taken me ages last year to begin to understand the notion of the limé : the glass filed to its brim, so that it it almost has a convex meniscus sitting on top. It’s my kind of thing, with my one glass per day, so I tell myself it might as well be limé.                       SC


Leper’s Squint

24 January Tuesday

I just learned that the three narrow slits in the front of the Augustinian Abbey down at Molough were specially included in the building so that lepers could watch a mass without entering the church and infecting everyone else with leprosy. I am not sure if much could be heard through the slits.  These slits were called Leper’s Squints.  I assume the word squint was because anyone looking through could only use one eye.

22 January Sunday

All of the plants in their large heavy flower pots were carried into the barn for the winter.  I cut the plants back and tried to give each one enough window space to get light through the winter months.  I watered the plants over several weeks before I accepted that not a single one of the plants was alive.  The early heavy frosts killed everything well before I got around to getting them inside. I can still walk out and find fresh leaves of mint, thyme, sage and rosemary.  Nothing seems to affect their growth in the ground all through the winter. I am now avoiding the job of carrying all of the big pots back outside but it is depressing to be working in the barn surrounded by dead plants.

19 January Thursday

There is one traffic light in Ardfinnan.  It was installed last year.  The stone bridge over the river is a worry.  It cannot take the weight anymore.  If the bridge is closed, life is not possible. There is only the one bridge. Many people in each direction will be cut off from one another and from the places where they need to go.  The traffic light allows a single line of cars and trucks and tractors over the bridge.  The wait is not long.  There are never more than five or six vehicles waiting at any one time.  The short wait takes a lot of stress off the bridge.  If the bridge collapses no one knows how long it will take to build a replacement. No one wants to think about a future without the bridge.

Greg was waiting at the traffic light in Ardfinnan today when a swan crashed into the bridge and tumbled  onto the road. Greg got out of his car and carried the swan across the bridge and  down to the green. He lowered it into the water.  It swam away.  He felt that it swam away happily.  No one else crossing the bridge showed the slightest bit of interest. He said when he picked up the swan it’s heart was pounding.  He said that the nearer he and the swan got to the water the more calm the swan’s heartbeat became. Greg felt himself get calmer too.

17 January Tuesday

Our address remains a problem for a lot of people.  The Dutch post office continues to be outraged about it.  They have refused to deliver things to us as there are no numbers in the address.  We have always made up codes for them and also for the Germans as well as for any internet ordering.  The made up numbers amuse John the Post. Most times we write our address one word per line. My mother says it looks like a shopping list. Sometimes I have to explain it to people from away.

Ballybeg is the townland.  A townland suggests a small area of land which is locally recognizable. A narrow stream at the bottom of the meadow is the beg. Bally, from the Irish for little town, is the immediate settled area. In this case it is just our one house.  Further down the fields and on the exact same stream there is another townland of Ballybeg, but that is in the village of Newcastle.  Ballybeg is an extremely common name in Ireland.  There are hundreds of Ballybegs. Or if not hundreds, there are at least dozens. The playwright Brian Friel set his plays in a fictional place called Ballybeg.  Ballybeg is so much a work of his fiction now that sometimes people are surprised that we really live in an actual Ballybeg. I am not sure if a townland and a parish are the same thing.  Maybe I should not be beginning this description of place without some research.

Grange is the village.  Grange is another common name. There are lots of Granges. The village center has Frank’s shop, a church, a graveyard, and an elementary school.  After that there are miles of farmland in all dirctions.  We are at one far end of Grange.  We are nearly Newcastle.  If we were to be more specific we could say we are just  below Knockeen or up from Ballynamuddagh or down from Tullameghlan.  These are three other surrounding townlands. There is no sign anywhere with these names on them. Townlands are not identified by signage. People just know townlands because that is how we all know where we are.

Clonmel is the biggest town nearby. It might be the largest town in the county. I am not certain about that.  It is not a city because it does not have a cathedral.  It has a population of about 16,000.  Laurence Sterne was born there.  The word Clonmel means Meadow of Honey and it is indeed a very fertile area, known especially for apples and a healthy bee population.  It is about 8-10 miles from us, depending how you go.

Tipperary is the county. Tipperary is the largest county in Ireland.  On our license plates we used to have TS or TN to denote Tipperary North or Tipperary South. Now new cars just have a T.  Our bit of the county borders closely onto County Waterford.  There is a town with the name Tipperary too.  Any address there would read Tipperary Tipperary.  Sort of like a stutter.

Ireland should be written as the Republic of Ireland, or Eire, to differentiate from Northern Ireland which is still legally part of the United Kingdom.  We live in a separate and free republic which is not ruled by a monarchy.

So, from the bottom up, everything gets more specific and closer to our exact location. To aid in locating places we were assigned post codes last year.  The government was so tentative when they sent out our new codes to us that they told us we did not have to use them if we did not want to.  I am not sure what good they are if no one uses them.

16 January Monday

Snowdrops are fully in blossom now.  They are everywhere.  There are even more than I thought there were when they were first appearing in bud.  Em’s little stone has a lovely cluster of snowdrops all around it. The sheep did not destroy them.  I never heard any more about those sheep after they disappeared up over the hill.  Either the man who owned the sheep came looking for them and led them off home or else enough people spoke of them around the area and eventually the sheep which were missing and which maybe had not even been noticed as missing were claimed and recovered.  Maybe they just found their own way home, eating as they went.  No one seemed worried so there was no need for me to worry.

15 January Sunday

We went off walking in the late morning because Simon had cut his thumb and it kept bleeding on the pages he was folding.  We thought if he walked he would not be using his thumb and it would be better. Which it was.  We went over to Goatenbridge and walked through the forestry where the mosses were bright and glowing green.  Eventually we circled back along the road which was good because we were tucked right under the mountains. There were many fields and houses to look at along the road and even a little bridge I had never noticed before. You do see more on foot.  We walked and walked for much longer than we had planned to walk. It was a beautiful cold day. The sun was bright all the time.  We met several people that we knew and so we exchanged Happy New Year greetings.  One of the people wanted to talk and talk and talk.  He wanted to talk our ears off so he did.

14 January Saturday

Jessie is a lucky dog.  She was rescued by Mick who met a man who was about to move to London.  He had the dog with him and Mick admired the dog.  The man said “She is Giddy and Lively but she’d swim the English Channel for you.”  The man found it annoying that the dog would jump into any water even if that water was in a bucket.  She simply could not stay out of water.  He also found it annoying that she was supposed to be a gun dog but she was skittish around guns. When Mick asked if the man was taking his dog along to London with him the man said he was not. He said that if she had not been so skittish he might have sold her. The man said he was just that minute taking her over to a local farm and the farmer was going to shoot her.  He said it was too expensive to go to the vet to have her put down. Mick offered to take the dog even though he had no room for her himself.  He delivered her to the animal sanctuary and she was given a foster home for one week.  She has never left that home.  Not only is she Giddy and Lively and A Water Loving Dog, but she is a Lucky Dog.


Snowdrops. Sheep.

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12 January Thursday

Snowdrops have been pushing up daily.  In the last few days they have been appearing all over the place. They seem to be everywhere and many are in places where I do not remember snowdrops.  They have multiplied and they are  forming a blanket over the lawn and through the beds.  Not one snowdrop has blossomed yet.  They are just getting themselves ready. It has been a gloomy and bitterly cold day. A little rain has fallen.  The sun has been out and bright but only for brief moments. The wind has been strong and noisy all day. Some snow blew around for a short time but it was never enough to settle on anything. An all weather day.  On a day like today, the snowdrops make me feel hopeful.  I have made each trip up and down to the barn as quickly as possible.  As I leave the house or go back down to the barn I rush across the wet grass with my shoulders hunched and a wool hat pulled down low.  I took off for another rapid journey after lunch and stopped short when I saw sheep in the grass between me and the barn.  The sheep were surprised to see me. I was surprised to see them. I counted six.  They ran to get under the fence into Joe’s field to distance themselves from me.  Joe does not keep any sheep.  Neither does the other Joe. I made inquiries by phone.  They are not sheep belonging to Donal.  Donal no longer keeps sheep.  Maybe they belong to Paul.  I went to the village with the post and bumped into Tommie.  I told him about the sheep and he was as confused as I was.  He knows for a fact that all the farmers with fields around us are cattle farmers.  He immediately asked what colour faces the sheep had. I told him that there were two with black faces, and two with white faces. I told him I had not really paid attention and I did not know what colour the other two were.  He was disgusted with my lack of attention to detail. The two with black faces had horns.  I was pleased to be able to tell him that. Tommie was certain that whoever owned those sheep would come looking for them once he knew they were missing.  When I got back home the sheep were still in Joe’s field.  They had moved far up the hill near to Scully’s wood. They were almost out of sight.  They had not returned to this side of the fence. I inspected my snowdrops and was glad to see that the sheep had neither eaten them nor trampled them too much. If it had been cows there would have been a terrible mess but even fat sheep are quite light on their feet.

11 January Wednesday

Oscar joins us if we walk the road near his house. He hears our voices or our footfalls and he comes rushing down his drive and out around the corner.  He walks along the short length of road until we get to the turnoff for the boreen.  Most times he continues with us and walks all the way to the house. Lately, he has taken to turning around and  returning to his house when we leave the road.  It might be that he is getting old or it might be that he is just getting lazy. He is a bit fat in that way that labradors often get fat. When he walks in the road Oscar does not pay much attention to the cars.  He does not chase them but he does little to move out of their way. Today a car slowed right to stop while I attempted to convince Oscar to move out of the way. The motorist opened his window and shouted at me to get my dog under control.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He went on for a while about hitting a dog and the damage it might do to his car.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He said money was tight enough in January without replacing car parts.  I told him that this was not my dog.  He sputtered on a bit longer about this and that and then he apologized.  He said “I failed to wish you a Happy New Year.  That was rude of me.” I answered, “And Many Happy Returns.”  He rolled up his window and drove away. I have never seen this man before.

10 January Tuesday

Few is the word used to define a quantity.  It there are a crowd of people or animals or things they will be described as A Good Few.  Or A Fair Few.  No one ever says A Lot when they could say A Fair Few. And if someone sneaks something by without anyone seeing or knowing about it the comment will be “….and few would be any the wiser.”

9 January Monday

The woman is a strange and timid woman.  If she sees us walking towards her she sometimes tries to change direction with her two dogs.  One of her dogs is a Jack Russell and the other is a sheep dog. She holds them tight on their leads and never lets them run loose even in the big open fields.  I think she is shy.  She is skittish. I see her often. We are not strangers. If I say good morning or hello she rarely responds.  She looks at the ground.  This woman is not old.  But she acts and moves like an old woman.  Today we were walking up the track approaching the big shed.  The shed is made of corrugated metal.  The shed is huge and high.  It is maybe three stories high.  It has three closed sides. One long side is open to the weather.  The shed is stacked to the top with bales of hay. As we approached we could hear the dogs barking like mad.  Even with all of the hay which might have muffled the sound, the metal walls and ceiling amplified the noise.  The metal made the wild barking much louder and much wilder.  As we reached the open side of the shed we saw the woman crouched down low far back between the hay bales.  She was squeezed into a narrow space with the two dogs held close to her.  They were barking like crazy. She was looking down and holding tight on the leads. We did not say hello. We just walked past as though we had not noticed her and her dogs. I think that is what she wanted.

 

tea-cosy

7 January Saturday

It is not everyday someone brings you a tea cosy. It is a very special day indeed when someone brings you a tea cosy.  I have never had anyone arrive with a tea cosy.  Niamh not only brought the tea cosy but she knit it herself. This tea cosy is the first tea cosy I have ever owned. I am especially pleased with the little turn-up at the bottom.  The tea in the pot stays warmer and I am sure it tastes better.


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