From the labyrinthine internet via his wife Jane, I learned of the death of an old pal from Nottingham days. Here he is on the banks of the Seine a few years ago, photographed by Jane. It’s interesting to hear from her how much they loved Paris, and it has focused reflections on him from this place.
He was a junior reporter on The Evening Post when I worked in the cuttings library there. We hatched a few plans, not least to begin, with a few others, a parallel samizdat rag to counter the boredom of local news in the Victorian family-owned mainstay. We all got fired.
But it was good provocation. It sent me further into Tarasque Press and The Trent Bookshop, and very shortly afterwards to Nottingham School of Art with a support grant running alongside my gardening job in the children’s home, which I maintained throughout. For Pete, it sent him back into the reading, auto-didactic study, and writing which he probably should always have done. There is big letter correspondence from those times, but I don’t remember where it is now.
I’m sure he became a natural teacher, as he would always interact with anyone near him through a declaration of the absurdity of the situation he and they were in. He had a laconic sense of humour, more than I have ever since encountered, so much so that it bordered on the lyric, almost an aside to Mortgenstern and bits of Apollinaire, and he was a candidate for a certain strain of scurrilous poem we were developing at Tarasque. It has always stayed with me. His own one-liner of those times still rings true:
Lament of the Short-tongued Lunar Meteorologist
It’s going to wane
We ventured out toward the Gare du Nord in search of South Indian Vegetarian food, the sort of thing you do in a long sojourn in Paris, remembering our pangs for another ethnic area, Brick Lane in East London. We had read about this restaurant right on the east side of the station.
It turns out to be part of a worldwide chain of vegetarian southern restaurants. If only MacDo’s were so proper! We had never seen so much unknown food on the menu, things we knew nothing of, all so elegantly and sparklingly served on stainless steel. We shared everything. The paper-thin masala dosa of lentil flour with potato puree inside, the light and fluffy uthappam with vegetables scorched into its top, all with their chutneys and sauces. Then something we had never seen before, a malai kofta, a ball of Indian cheese and potato in a cashew sauce.
We talked with our neighbour, a man from Sri Lanka, whose daughter lived in Milton Keynes in Britain, who was eating very simply – a plate of chick-peas with paratha. The freshness of taste was amazing, the colours, the lightness, the lack of weight. SC
I received a big box of embossed new postcards from Ugly Duckling Press in Brooklyn that they have been publishing for the last year or so, and finally it arrived.I like the feel of it very much, the weight of the board, the emboss and its shadow. The only problem is that they want me to sign all 500 copies of them, which will then be numbered. For me it works slightly counter to my understanding of The Postcard, which I have been quite protective of, defending its constant right to be neutral, even anonymous, and available to anyone who sees it.
I have suggested a compromise: that I make a rubber stamp of my initials and stamp the back discretely in red near the number. This will take it a way from the fine-art print or limited edition object. I know that it is effectively limited, as all small press production is, in this case the 500 copies. But that is a hypothetical limitation, just a statement of practicality in the distribution and storage of such a dumb object.
For me these polemical postcards are really continuing statements of the nature of what could be almost its own medium. I am pleased that the British Library are using one of them as the title of the display of Jeremy Cooper’s collection in 2019 – The World Exists to be Put on a Postcard – and no prizes for guessing from whom that is an adaptation.
The catalogue note for the Ugly Duckling card gives this small genre a bit of history:
“THE POST CARD IS ALWAYS INNOCENT” continues Simon Cutts’s ongoing quasi-theoretical postcard project, manifestations of which have been released from time to time by David Bellingham in Glasgow in his WAX366 series. The project began with “NO FREE READING” in the mid nineties, and extends since then to “THE WORLD EXISTS TO BE PUT ON A POSTCARD” , “THE WORLD HAS BEEN EMPTY SINCE THE POSTCARD,” via “THE POSTCARD IS A PUBLIC WORK OF ART.” This serial project is one aspect of Cutts’s engagement with the tradition of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Loisirs de la Poste.” He has written about the POLEMICAL POSTCARDS in Some Forms of Availability (Granary/RGAP)2007
Enough said. SC
Perce-neige is the French for snowdrop. I had been feeling sad that the great swathes of snowdrops in the grass at home were blossoming without me to see and enjoy them. I know that they do not need me, but I do feel that I need them. A friend sent photos from Tipperary which just made me feel even more far away from nature. There are loads of flowers in the city but so far I have seen no snowdrops. Or maybe I have not looked in the right places.
Anne and Pierre arrived on Monday with this small and perfect offering from their garden. They could not have known I was missing my own snowdrops. Perhaps they just know that anyone who has ever lived with the surprise of snowdrops in January must be missing them. The name Perce-neige is explained by the fact that the plant pierces its way up through the snow. It pierces a hole in the snow. I did not hear the name properly at first. I heard it more like personage, which was way off. I think my ear is made of wood. I just do not hear things correctly and as soon as I think I am getting better at listening and understanding, I make another great error.
Since learning Perce-neige, I have been reminded of the American Indian tribe, the Nez Perce.
Of course, I starting out remembering them as the Perce Nez which is another bit of wooden ear in action. I had to look them up to get the name right. They are located in Idaho. With or without snowdrops.
More free music, this time in the amazing Notre Dame du Travail, set behind the Gare Montparnasse, and just past the neo-Stalinist or Mussolini-inspired architecture of Place de Catalogne. (I read the street sign as Catalogue when I first went past it : that would have been much more interesting!)
What a mistake! It all leads to the Place de l’Ampitheatre, near which sits the much gentler industrialisation of the select church, with its steel girders and ironwork exposed. It is a barn of a place, and relies on agricultural structure for its building, almost a celebration of work and industry in a bare-faced sort of way.
An equally gentle quartet played contemporary Peruvian classical music and a late quartet by Haydn, very soft and almost pitch-perfect. I think there may be less free music in the city than there used to be. You have to comb the pages of the Concert section of l’Official when it comes out on Wednesdays, and armed with a map and a pen, mark off your journeys for the days ahead. SC
Back to the city, and always astounded by its wonderful contained-ness. I can work at the desk in the morning and then walk out and drift home throughout the afternoon. I feel that I am held in by the city in a inclusive way, and in this there is some comfort. In our earlier days, we could cross it in such an afternoon.
We must all find our map for a city, the grid we impose to make it understandable to ourselves, a way of dealing with the randomness and chaos of interaction and synchronicity.
For instance I remember running and walking in New York using a sort of I Ching imposition : at WALK /DONT WALK signs I would follow the instruction and go left or right. What was curious about it was that I almost inevitably formed a circle after an hour’s near random navigation. I never understood it. Paris by contrast is more classic. Whatever you impose on it, it will somehow hold its randomness. In its simplest form, from the structure of the snail-spiral of the numbered arrondisements leading to the centre, almost a sort of Fibonacci system, to more analogical impositions and schemes. We had our own linear, rather straightforward, formation of the Porte Walks, travelling out to the edge of the city by bus or metro, and walking back to the centre. To date, we have done 31 of the 39 of these identified entries to the city.
In Le Pont du Nord, that extraordinary film of Jacques Rivette, Marie and Baptiste plot out the city using an overlay of Goose Game for children. By the rolling of dice, they begin their chance journey through the city, by its rules and talismanic sites.
I suppose this is a slightly more homely version of the Situationist derive, the continuous drift through parts known and unknown . You would hope that it might be even more delirious than a merely personal psychogeography. Paris is still the headquarters of a kind of wanderingness. We have to do it to remain sane and believe in possiblities, and leave the so-called real world behind. SC
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.