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.
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
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 ?
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.
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.
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!
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 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
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
We have been lucky to have had yet another Urban Hibernation. We have loved walking and working from this starting point. We have loved walking and working from the quiet and private sanctuary out and into the city, and then coming back in again. I hate using the word bustling but cities do bustle. There is so much activity which just goes on all the time and variations of activity which gets busier and quieter at different times of the day and night. It is good to know that it is all happening but I do not need to know all about all of it. Or I do not need to know about any of it. Just by looking out the window of the apartment, I can see the butcher shop across the street starting its set-up at 6 in the morning. It continues to do that, even while I am far from there. I am absolutely nothing to do with their actions. We have left the city but the city does not note our absence. Very little happens here. From these windows there is not much action. Yesterday Joe’s tractor crossed the near field bringing up the cows. For a few minutes, I heard the engine and I thought I was hearing the post man’s van. But it was Saturday and the post man does not even deliver on a Saturday. Here in Tipperary, we continue our Walking and Working. Otherwise not one single thing is the same.
I had seen it many times, but didn’t know what it meant, The Eyebrow Academy, even though I had used the phrase Sourcils des Poétes in other contexts. It is also the name for Sweet Williams. But what of a studio of them, what goes on behind that shroud? SC