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

A Trio of Portes

We made the long walk in from the southern péripherique yesterday, linking three portes we had not done, numbers 31, 32 and 33 on our list of 39. I suppose it’s cheating a bit to put them together, but they are so close to each other, that the slight sweep to the west was perhaps justifield. These last portes straggle on a bit, and I think we are down to the last five. We may take one in this evening on the way to the cinema, and these Notes have become much wider and varied than the initial project of walking to and from them.

But it is always the detail of the encounters of the route that spark those tangents. Like here, where we found perhaps the most dishevelled bookshop on the planet. In the absence of Un Regard Moderne* of yore, this one of Jean Piccolec must take all the prizes. It is situated on the corner of Rue Lancon and Rue Savarin way down at the bottom of the 13th arrondissement.

* I believe Jacques Noel’s tiny bookstore in the 6th arrondissement is still going, but from a recent web picture of it, it looks like it has been organised by someone else, and maybe its internal order has been supplanted.       SC

J’ai perdu mon chapeau

I lost my hat. I lost my hat within a few blocks.  First I stopped at Susan the seamstress and then I went into the post office and then into the art supply shop.  I ran up the stairs to the third floor and got some pens and a paint brush and I ran back down again. I waited in the line to pay and then I walked outside and realised my hat was not with me. It was not on my head and it was not in my pocket.  I went back inside and ran back up the stairs and through that same department and I asked a woman and she walked around exactly where I had just walked around and then I went downstairs and I asked the security man near the door if anyone had turned in a hat.  He said not today. He said it would be better to come back tomorrow because if someone turned it in on another floor they would bring it downstairs at the end of the day.  It was important that we continue on our trip further through town so we went off without my hat.
As always when I misplace a hat, I found myself chanting Jackson MacLow’s IS THAT WOOL HAT MY WOOL HAT?
The next morning I went to see Susan, the seamstress, who did not have my hat but she had lots of other hats that she had made.  I said I might return for a new hat if I could not find my hat. The lady at the post office remembered me.  She is not usually very friendly but she had been friendly the day before. She remembered me and she remembered my hat. She said it was a black hat, wasn’t it?  I said yes but the hat was not at the post office either. No one had turned in a hat. She was kind and she was worried about my head and my ears because the day was cold and I now had no hat.  My black hat was still a new hat and it had not been mine for very long.  The man at the art supply store took me into a cubby hole and asked if I had telephoned earlier and if it was a hat and gloves. I said no gloves and no I had not telephoned.  He opened a big wicker basket full of hats and gloves and several umbrellas.  None of the hats were my hat. It was a pretty scruffy looking collection of lost things. He said to check back again but he said if it was a good hat then someone probably kept it. It was a indeed good hat.
It was a good hat, but during the short time I owned it I always felt it was a little too big for me.  Maybe I was not supposed to have this hat.  Kate loaned me a beautiful hat.  I loved this hat but it was a cashmere felt hat from Japan. It was very lady-like and very elegant in a simple way.  I felt grown-up wearing this hat.  But I felt nervous with it.  I felt if I had lost one hat I might just lose another hat. I did not want to lose this lovely and probably very expensive hat. I gave it back to Kate after a few days having enjoyed it for as long as I felt I could. 
So I have lost my hat and I have not yet replaced it but the weather has warmed up. I do not feel desperate enough for a new hat yet. I do not have a photograph of the hat to show here as I did not even have the hat for long enough for it to have ever appeared in a picture.      EVH


Yoko Teauchi arrived from Japan the other day, and in her luggage was the sculpture she made last year called Pangaea. It is made of two sheets of paper 24cms square. They are both marked at the edge with a coloured pentel pen. One is placed on the wall, and the other is wet and formed into a sphere about the size of a ping-pong ball by squeezing and tightening it in cling-film, and being left to dry completely.

This descriptive mundanity of the work of course completely detracts from its purity, and it is one of the most purely abstract things I have seen. It is a serial work, in as much as there are several colours in the pentel range that she will use to make the work, perhaps as many as twenty.

Because of its simplicity and scale, it is quite difficult to know where the work belongs. Certainly the ‘gallery’ might be too demonstrative, the display too gestural , which is what I have come to think of such places in recent times. And my fear is that the world is too busy to see things of such accomplished simplicity, too noisy for reductive thinking.

Well done, Yoko: it stays in the mind , and to paraphrase Berthold Brecht and Sol LeWitt, and once you have understood it, you own it!           SC

Waiting for fruit to rot

Everything is a vocabulary lesson. KAKI is the word for Persimmon. I do not know much about persimmons. We bought two and ate them mashed up in a bowl with a dollop of creme-fraîche on top. They became the most amazing sweet pudding ever. The sweetness was all the natural sugar of the fruit. It was exquisite. It tasted of warm places. We were so excited by the newness of the flavour that we bought five more kaki fruit. Then we learned that a nice fresh firm persimmon is essentially useless. We have to wait for it to turn brown and rot and look horrible from the outside before it is sweet and mushy on the inside. I check the five every day. Several times a day. It has only been six days so far. Two of them are a little bit brown on the bottom. We might have to wait for as long as five weeks. At this rate that feels like forever. And I must remember to call the persimmons by their French name.          EVH

The Dossier Exhibitions at Centre Pompidou



The display of the permanent collection at Centre Pompidou has taken my breath away for a couple of years running. The finesse and detail of placing reference material among the larger works of the collection is such a delight, of information and context surrounding the works themselves. It is the full integration of all the parts of the museum. The library becomes as much a part of it as the individual work, and reading and the surrounding ephemera become accessible tools to understanding. A proper kids-own perplexing and delving museum, not some prescribed ramble tantamount to a visit to Disneyland, aka Tate Moderne!

Last year the integrating theme was Russian art of the last century, hence the picture above of the Alexander Rodchenko chair designed for the reading room of the Model Workers Club for the Soviet pavilion at the International Decorative Arts Exposition in Paris, 1925). [ The chair’s top rail was to support the poet Mayakovsky’s arms when reading ]

Whereas this year it is L’Oeil Écoute, which I would have thought best translated as The Listening Eye – the simultaneous presence and influence of music on contemporary work. The tangential corridors of the Dossier exhibitions run through from Diaghilev and the Ballets-Russes, through Futurism, Artaud and the beginnings of Performance, through Sound Poetry to the festivals of Fluxus.

I have rarely felt more engaged, and there was much one didn’t know about, particularly in the exchange between Erik Satie and Constantin Brancusi, which I thought I had covered! SC

La Neige 2

Winter in Paris is always cold and grey. There is always more grey than sun in the sky. Some days the grey is so heavy that it is hard to know what time of day it is. This year has been mild and rainy with lots of grey gloomy light and some terrifying flooding of the Seine. I have not walked down to the river in the last few days to see how much the water has receded. That is because now we are distracted by snow.

The snow is pretty, of course. It is pretty when it is falling and it is pretty when it has freshly fallen. It is not so pretty afterwards. There seem to be no systems in place to take care of the snow. The first fall was a wet one. It quickly developed into slush. And then the slush froze. The cars do not have snow tyres. The city does not appear to have snow plows. The city does not appear to have trucks full of sand or grit or road salt. The city told people with cars to stay at home or at least to leave their cars at home. The few cars creeping around were scary. They did not have much purchase on the road and there was a lot of skidding. It was not a good time to be a pedestrian, nor to be an oncoming car. It was probably not a good time to be a car parked on the street either. The people who cleared the area in front of their shops and buildings did not have the right tools for the job. Most of them used brushes and brooms which were not great for moving slush nor for frozen slush. Some men from the city have been around with the long brooms that look like witches brooms. The long brushy bit is made of some bright green plastic material. Most of the pavements are now treacherous with thick lumpy ice. It would not be bad if the snow had been cleared. The clearest places are close up beside the buildings which is where the dripping hits the ground. It is also where clumps of snow land when they slide off the roof. Some people are out with little delicate indoor shoes and some are out with huge mountaineering boots. These boots might actually have good traction. Many of the boots are too bulky to be flexible. Traction has a lot to do with flexibility. They are probably not great on the ice.

It has been snowing again all day today. This time it is a steady dry snow. After the wetness of the last snowfall, a lot of people are out with their umbrellas. Which looks silly. EVH

Wartesaal 1979-82 / 1986

I’m rarely in Paris without remembering Reinhard Mucha’s Wartesaal seen at Centre Pompidou in 1986, in what was the big open space just off the corner of Rue du Renard.

There were several very large cumulative works in his retrospective of the time, stacked furniture, ladders, dissemblies of rooms, re-makes. But the one piece that really struck me, an entire room in itself, was The Waiting Room built between 1979 and 1982 in Dusseldorf by Reinhard Mucha, and modified in 1986 for this exhibition. It is made of made of a system of stacks of drawers in a what look like dexion supports, butted and bolted together, intersecting at right angles, and incorporating a cumbersome gothic wardrobe. This in itself gave the whole installation placement, and was the sort of accoutrement you might find in any isolated railway station across the network. At the same time it anchors the piece from being completely self-enclosed, and gives it its veiled narrative.

There are eleven of these wheeled shelving units, each with twenty two drawers. In each drawer is the name of a station in Germany, painted on boards, each of them of six letters, 242 place-names in total, taken from a 1948 freight directory first published in 1943. They are rendered in the modernist type of the German rail system

Because of the need to open the drawers, you are passively invited to examine and move name-plates to a lit table in the middle of the piece, and in the hue of the fluorescent strips running at the top of each unit and the wardrobe.

In its nostalgia, its soulfulness, Wartesaal embodies the whole journey of Europe, even if taken from one particular place, almost as a cross-section of it. It also begins to use the materials of Reinhard Mucha’s construction in a more abstract, less narrative way, and forms the basis of much of his later work in which these place-names continue to be used.

It might seem like a fragile remit for this Paris column , but it is as present for me as the Eiffel Tower, even if it has not existed there for thirty years, but whenever I turn that corner from Rue du Renard into Place Beaubourg, I am amongst it.  SC

Pas de Coq

The Cock’s Step is the term used in Tipperary to describe the lengthening of the days. I was going to explain the whole expression but I remembered that my letterpress card (Living Locally No. 30)
Already does it. All I would be doing is paraphrasing myself.

I now learn that in France the expression is PAS DE COQ, and it is said on Christmas Day. EVH