Cordonnerie

On the day when I walked past this shoe repair shop in the 13th arrondissement I did not question the fact that it was closed.  The painted notice on the door said that the shop was closed on Saturday and Sunday.  It was a Saturday as I was passing. Or was it a Sunday?  Or was it any other day? At the time, I was mostly taken by its shades of red and the fine hand-painted lettering.  Since I have had the photograph to look at I have found myself wondering when the shop was last open. It might have been months ago, or it might have been years since the shoe repair man was last open and working inside. It might have been on Friday.    EVH

Nothing and Everything

One of the most irritating things that entered my hands over recent weeks was the book /’catalogue’ for a ‘curated’ group exhibition at Hauser and Wirth, New York in 2017. The feeling of staleness that surrounds such arbitrary linkings of artists under the guise of formative art history is now so palpable.

This often emanates those imperial dealers* who are the dregs of what was once fresh, lively and open, and who want to claim the world in their own formulation. Not content with that, they take it as a life-style choice, the supreme hobby and plaything of the over-wealthy. Once it was golf and yachting, now it is contemporary art, and there are is no depth of obscurity that they will not undermine in the need to seem ‘cool’ and exciting.

What in fact they do is debase the mystery of difficult things, the gradations, layers and revelations of slow discovery, and make everything equal. Too much information, taken as ordinary and undifferentiated, too quickly pretended.

Then at the same time they invent artists work, as custodians of their estates, they cull notebooks and sketches, and produce work that would never have been made. They even invent artists, but that is a longer argument and one for another occasion.

The half-decent dealers retired early, like Anthony d’Offay and Yvon Lambert, knowing there was nothing left to do except empire building on the golf course, and selling all the bad pieces they had left in storage to too-late collections like the Vuitton Foundation and the Benesse Art Museum in Japan.

* I resist the list, but when you see the inducements to artists, art-historians and their oligarchical clients, you might be forgiven for compiling one!  SC

Eglise Saint-Merri

I was walking home when the skies opened. Rain and sleet came lashing down.  I could not make it without getting completely soaked. Buying an umbrella was an option. A cup of tea was another option. I was passing the Eglise Saint-Merri so I dashed in and sat down for a few minutes just to be out of the weather.  There are always people sitting in churches. A friend of mine used to go into any open church to meditate.  Another is able to take a quick restorative nap while sitting up. No doubt some people are praying.  Many homeless people spend the day inside churches, especially in winter. I was happy to be out of the weather. The church was not warm but it was nice to be dry while I decided what my next move would be. 
The wooden chairs each had an S and an M and a small cross burned into the back of the chair.  The cross was after the S so that it made the St. abbreviation for Saint even though Saint-Merri is never written with the abbreviation St. It always has the word Saint and a hyphen and then Merri.   There were hundreds of chairs with these letters burned into the backs. I sat in the church for long enough to marvel at the enormous amount of extra work this entailed.  It was not like anyone was going to steal the chairs. As always they are all attached along the bottom by pieces of wood so that one long row of chairs would need to be stolen just to get one. I am pretty sure that the branding iron or whatever sort of heated tool made the letters was made as one piece, rather than separate letters. It was rolled across the rounded back of the chair. Sometimes the heat or the pressure was uneven so one letter looks darker than another.       EVH

Souvenirs from Earth

I caught up with Souvenirs from Earth is an international cable TV station, currently broadcasting in France and Germany, which I’d forgotten from previous years. It presents a 24h art program, of Video Art, Film, Visual Art, Music, Installations and Performances.

They say in their information spiel that the digital revolution, in TV broadcast has freed bandwidth for special interest programs and at the same time new flat screens and sophisticated projection technologies opened a field of new possibilities, and that the public space TV belongs to, is now ready for a station that is a work of art as a whole. Video art pioneer Nam June Paik said that in the 60s, already having the concept for an Art TV station in mind: “….normal TV bores you and makes you nervous, this soothes you….”…well that’s the theory at least! Like most video-art, and stuff that seemingly-innocently demands your attention, it becomes wallpaper. As old David Brown used to say art is always 99% crap!

But at least it’s money-where-your-mouth-is territory, and it streams out 24 hours a day if you have the patience for it.

What I do like is the closing sentence of the website : as Captain Kirk might have put it: “We collect glimpses of every day life, ‘souvenirs from earth’, to be used in a darker future by a couple of people that escaped our planet before it collapsed. This hypothesis may allow us to get a better view on the very simple things of our life, generating a global awareness for the grace and fragility of our life on planet Earth.” If that 1% works it’s truly worth it!    SC

chauffe-pied à eau chaud

I made a visit to the Musee des Arts et Metiers.  I was longing to see the Brazilian steel-toed flip-flop again. I knew I had a photograph somewhere but a photograph is never is good as the real thing. I walked  through the entire museum revisiting a lot of favourite exhibits and spending an unusually long time looking at the large scale models of bridges and aqueducts.  I visited Foucault’s Pendulum again, not because it is a favourite thing, but simply because it is there. I always leave that as my final thing before departure. I found a nice group of egg beaters and learned the term for them. There were nine of them:  Neuf Batteurs a Manivelle.  A Manivelle meaning that they were operated with a crank handle.  
I could not find the steel-toed flip-flop anywhere. I went to the section about construction. I think I went everywhere.  Eventually I came across a small library area where books are available for study, browsing or research. I described the flip-flop to the woman at the desk.  She had no idea what I was talking about.  We struggled along as I tried to explain it in my faulty French. She got a bit excited about it. She disappeared into the back room and came back with a pamphlet about an exhibition which had been held in 2013-2014. It sounded like exactly the kind of exhibition the flip-flop would have appeared in. She had no record of it but she showed me a fine photograph of some foot warming devices which were made of metal and filled with hot water before the person using them stood upon them. Chauffe-pied a eau chaud. They were a fine thing to see. I was not allowed to take the pamphlet but she made me a photocopy of the foot warmers. 
When I got home I remembered that I had a photograph of the Brazilian flip flop on this blog already.  The dates she provided helped me to find it.  (It is there to be seen on 22 February 2014 in these Notes) I wish I had shown the librarian the photo. The Musee des Arts et Metiers is free every Thursday from 6 in the evening.  I shall plan to return to show her the photograph then, but she might not be there.  Perhaps she only works in the day time. 
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The couple wanted pyjamas made. They wanted their pyjamas to match. They said that they always slept in matching pyjamas. They arrived with two pairs of their favourite pyjamas which they wanted to have copied.  The old ones were well worn and very soft. They were Italian.  Susan, the seamstress, said it was no problem to duplicate the sizes and style of the Italian pyjamas, so the two men went away to shop for fabric.  Susan copied the pyjamas and made two patterns in paper. The couple went shopping and returned some days later with beautiful cotton cloth.  I do not know if the new cloth they bought was Italian. They had purchased three different kinds of striped fabric. The order was for six pairs of pyjamas. Three pairs for each them. I saw the pyjamas as they were being cut out and I saw them as they were being sewn. I saw them as they were folded neatly in a stack on the table. I never saw the couple. I like the thought of the two men asleep and entwined in bed wearing their matching pyjamas, not knowing where one body stops and the other body begins.
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I am still without a hat.  After wearing Kate’s fancy hat and then returning it to her, the weather got warmer.  Now it is cold again. The wind has been vicious.  I have borrowed a few hats from Simone and Erik’s coat rack. Once I am wearing a hat in the cold I have no desire to look for hats.  When I am not wearing a hat I do not need a hat so I do not even consider looking for a hat. The city is full of hats. I should just force myself to buy one.

Movies in Paris

There was a time when we thought that every niche film ever made was playing  at some obscure art-house movie theatre on the edge of Paris. We would comb the-then Pariscope, or later L’Officiel des Spectacles which came out every Wednesday and still does. We would plot our journeys, as with the free music playing in churches, and walk between them in the most planned way possible. It might include something to eat before or after at a restaurant or cafe we also listed and had never visited.

But I have the feeling that it has changed significantly. There is no longer quite the eclectic choice of films, now more dominated by blockbuster distribution, and the free music has thinned-down quite a lot since our earliest stays. [We say it’s free, but we always end up putting ten euros into the collection plate.]

However, there are still some more obscure movies playing, maybe once a week at something like 10.00am on a Thursday morning, in some very small theatre with a door into a side alley that you probably missed first time round in counting down numbers on the street.

And such movies end up gathering completely specific followings. This sojourn in Paris, we have been to three films with highly selective audiences. In the stalls for The New York Public Library, a documentary which lasted the best part of three and a half hours, there were as many as twenty-five what I would have assumed to be librarians, making up the audience.

For Vienne avant la nuit, a film of one man’s search for his ancestors in Vienna after the diaspora, the audience was almost certainly people of a similar disposition. More recently we went to see a not-great film called We Blew It!, a diatribe of parts, interviews and clips. It had no really consistent agenda, but concerned the evaporation of the 1960’s culture of possible change to the impasse of the present demise and stagnation. The audience was full of old hippies, perhaps even including ourselves on the spectrum of that scenario. How specific an audience is that!    SC

 

We Cannot Leave

 

Our building is in chaos.  There are new electrical meters being installed.  The hallways are full of dust and men and the sound of drills and shouting. Walls have been opened up. On Monday all the power was off all day which meant no electricity no telephone no internet and no heat.  This is the third day. Today the men are supposed to be here installing new meters in this apartment. Everyone has been given an appointment. Our appointment was for 9 am but they have not arrived.  We cannot leave.

 

Schools and universities are on winter break.  The restaurants are empty. The sales are over.  People keep repeating that the entire city has gone skiing.  That everyone has left the city for one place or another. I am not sure if this is simply a yearly myth.  The city seems plenty full to me. Maybe the city has indeed emptied out and it is the suburbs and the countryside that have poured in. There are children everywhere. There are great clumps of teenagers everywhere. They are rushing up and down the steps of the metro and gathering on every corner.  There are small children in prams and walking with their grandparents and there are great straggling family groups. There is chaos in all directions. It is not the orderly rush and scramble of many people doing their daily city activities.  All is now a disorderly mess of people who do not seem to mind where they are going because they are now here and this is enough.  Great lines stretch out at the entrance of every museum and historical site. It is a good time to avoid many places.

 

I was on a No. 76 bus yesterday and at one stop the bus filled up with 14 or 15 young black women each with a tiny baby.  Some of the babies were in tummy slings and some were in prams. The women were all enormous. They were dressed in beautiful flowing clothes in bright colours with patterned head-dressings. They filled the entire front of the bus in a particular way. There was a stately calm about them. But also because of all the colours and patterns there was a busy buzz about them. The babies were all quiet.  One skinny white blonde woman with sharp features and an angry face complained and sneered about the crowd of black women and their babies.  She kept her tirade going loudly and without cease. No one joined in with her but no one could ignore her. I was glad when she descended from the bus.  I got off before the group so I have no idea where they were going. I wondered if all the mothers and babies were on their way to a baby clinic.  Or maybe they were on their way home from a clinic.

 

It is now 11 am and the men have not arrived yet.  Their vehicles are not parked out front.  The little white stool which they left in the hall on Monday is still in position.

Architecture without Architects

Passing through a Raoul Hausmann exhibition of photographs, it was pleasing to see the period of his life when he escaped Berlin in 1933 and went to Ibiza. Here the photographs celebrate the vernacular forms of houses built and lived in by the people themselves, made with a purity and simplicity of form that evades and avoids the separable process of ‘design’ as an intermediary. Hausmann thought these Ibiza houses were the apex of the reduction of form of localised building, more so than in Greece, Italy and Portugal, and other Mediterraean places.

I have been banging on for years about the superfluousness of design to an intrinsic process, the way that letterpress printing contains its own structure of layout, the way, hopefully, a folded piece of paper or a pamphlet can be too simple to have been ‘designed’. It applies to all materials that begin to develop a history of usage, recognising function, but still leaving them in their purest state.

Hausmann’s photographs in Ibiza go much further into philosophical ideas of anthropology and habitat, vegetation and organics, but I take from it the phrase pasted up on one of the display boards in the exhibition : you alone should construct the limits of your universe.              SC

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