Who knows Heidi Bucher?

I hope you all already know Heidi Bucher and that I am the only one with a shocking lack of awareness of this fascinating artist. I recently discovered her work at the Swiss Institute and was so inspired that I felt compelled to bring what was my travel-only blog back out of hibernation so that I could write about the exhibition and hopefully add the blog’s 23 followers to the list of those who know this artist.

Heidi Bucher, 1926 – 1993, was a Swiss artist who lived and worked in L.A. in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, and then in Switzerland from the mid-70’s until her death. Although she made work throughout her life, her main body of work dates to the 1970’s and 80’s when she was in her mid-40’s and after…hurray for “mature” women artists!

The Swiss Institute, 18 Wooster Street in Soho, is currently showing sculptural works by Bucher as well as documentary publications, photos, and videos, through May 11.  I visited the Swiss Institute for the first time last week, with no knowledge of what was on view. This is often the best way to visit a gallery; at best you’ll be pleasantly surprised, at worst you’ll roll your eyes and leave. http://www.swissinstitute.net/

The Swiss Institute is a large, airy building with a surprisingly friendly OPEN sign hanging on its front door–not your typical art gallery (or even non-profit) welcome.  I found this totally charming.

 

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The first piece I saw in the front gallery space was a small free-standing sculpture of a building sitting on an antique table in the middle of the room, quietly anchoring the space around it.   The building is a small-scale replica of Buchers’ family home, painted in an iridescent gray. This was promising.

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“Das Ahnenhaus, Obermühle (Modell),” 1981, painted wood, mother of pearl, 43 x 25 x 20.5 in.

I then moved to a shelf displaying publications and documentary photography:

Harpers Bazaar, Germany, 1969

Harpers Bazaar, Germany, 1969

Montreal catalogue, Musée dart contemporain, 1971

Montreal catalogue, Musée dart contemporain, 1971

Playful! Smart! Funny!

I liked this artist.

These fantastic foam forms are “Body Shells”; wearable sculptures created by Bucher in collaboration with her then-husband, Carl Bucher, in California in the late 1960’s-early 1970’s. They introduce us to Bucher’s interest in architecture, clothing, and the body and provide an important and amusing starting point for Bucher’s later, more sober explorations of these ideas.

In the mid-1970’s Bucher moved back to Switzerland where she began her main body of work, which consisted primarily of casting architectural forms in fabric and latex. She worked with her family’s home and with other significant buildings, lining walls, floors, doors, and windows with fabric and latex that that she then peeled off, in effect “skinning” the spaces. The pieces are called, in fact, “Raumhaut”, (room skin), and they are amazing.

The first room skin, “Untitled (Herrenzimmer)” (below) confronts you as soon as you enter the main gallery. It consists of three wall skins from her parents’ master bedroom in her family home, suspended from rods some feet apart from each other. The front door of the first section is open, allowing the viewer to move through the piece itself and immediately enter into Bucher’s created space. The pieces are surprisingly dimensional and retain the structured spaces of the recessed doorways that formed them. The frozen ripples and folds in the fabric immediately reference wrinkles in skin and create an interesting juxtaposition with the obviously architectural forms.

Untitled (Herrenzimmer), undated, latex, cotton, 102 1/4 x 71 x 7 1/2 in.

Untitled (Herrenzimmer), undated, latex, cotton, 102 1/4 x 71 x 7 1/2 in.

Untitled (Herrenzimmer), undated, latex, cotton, 102 1/4 x 71 x 7 1/2 in.

Untitled (Herrenzimmer), undated, latex, cotton, 102 1/4 x 71 x 7 1/2 in.

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“Untitled (Herrenzimmer)”, undated

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“Untitled (Herrenzimmer),” undated

Bucher’s skins seem to soak up memories from the surfaces of these intimately-known spaces and in peeling them off she simultaneously concretizes them and sets them free.

In a review of her work by Aofie Rosenmeyer (link below) we see this quote by Bucher: “We paste the rooms and then listen. We observe the surface and coat it. We wrap and unwrap. The lived, the past, becomes entangled in the cloth and remains fixed there. Slowly we loosen the layers of rubber, the skin, and drag yesterday into today.”(1)

Another huge, gorgeous piece is “Grande Albergo Brissago (Eingangsportal)”, which is a cast of a hotel’s ornate entryway.

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“Grande Albergo Brissago (Eingangsportal),” 1987, textile, latex, PVAC glue, gouache, 152 x 292 x 36 in.

The piece is more abstract than “Untitled (Herrenzimmer)” and the latex and fabric run thickly across the surface, flowing around architectural details and down onto the floor into graceful pools. It is massive and impressive, feminine and powerful, beautiful and sad.

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detail of “Grande Albergo Brissago (Eingangsportal),” 1987, textile, latex, PVAC glue, gouache, 152 x 292 x 36 in.

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detail of “Grande Albergo Brissago (Eingangsportal),” 1987, textile, latex, PVAC glue, gouache, 152 x 292 x 36 in.

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detail of “Grande Albergo Brissago (Eingangsportal),” 1987, textile, latex, PVAC glue, gouache, 152 x 292 x 36 in.

 

“Schrank Haus Winterthur-Wüflingen,” hangs on the adjacent wall. This piece retains clear decorative details from the original mold and has a slight iridescent cast, which links it back to the silvery sculpture in the first room.

 "Schrank Haus Winterthur-Wüflingen," undated, latex, cotton, 88.5 x 82.5 in.

“Schrank Haus Winterthur-Wüflingen,” undated, latex, cotton, 88.5 x 82.5 in.

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detail of “Schrank Haus Winterthur-Wüflingen,” undated, latex, cotton, 88.5 x 82.5 in.

There are other works in the gallery, including smaller casts of more intimate objects and explorations of the fluidity of fabric, but for brevity (too late!) I’m just touching on my favorites.

And the exhibition did not end there! As much as I loved the physical work, for me the highlight of the exhibition was a beautiful, haunting, but also amusing video of Bucher at work, entitled “Räume sind Hüllen sind Häute” (Rooms are shrouds, are skins) shot by Lukas Strebel in 1981. It is about 30 minutes and is creatively and beautifully shot, with an eerie (and frankly confusing) soundtrack as well as some narration by Bucher.

The film perfectly illustrates the intense physicality needed to create these pieces. There are so many evocative actions that go into creating the work;  pulling, stretching, gathering, lifting, peeling, rubbing, draping, that the pieces are almost more important as performances; as bodies interacting in new, intimate ways with what is generally considered a fully known and experienced space.

You can see the film, as well as 7 other wonderful videos of Bucher at work on various projects, including one of the “Body Shells” dancing on a California beach, at the official Heidi Bucher website: http://www.heidibucher.com/

Some of my favorite moments from the film:

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Needless to say I was utterly transfixed by Bucher’s work. It is authentic, powerful, poignant, at times playful, and inspiring. I hope you all get a chance to see it in person, or can spend a little time looking through images of her other work or viewing the videos.

Please visit the Swiss Institute website for more information on this exhibition. http://www.swissinstitute.net/

Bucher’s work will also be on view at Alexander Gray Associates, 508 West 26th Street, #215 from April 9 – May 18. http://www.alexandergray.com/exhibitions/

Additional information on Heidi Bucher can be found here:

http://www.theapproach.co.uk/artists/bucher/

http://www.mutualart.com/OpenArticle/HEIDI-BUCHER/9A4C03D7DA30ECE1

Review with quote by Bucher:

http://art-agenda.com/reviews/heidi-bucher%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Cwater-houses%E2%80%9D/

(1) This statement by Heidi Bucher appeared in a press release for the “Heidi Bucher: Mother of Pearl” exhibition at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst from November 13, 2004–January 9, 2005. Translation mine.

 

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Exhibition at the MuMA (Le Havre): The Human Frame/A Taille Humaine, Dec 6 – 8 (Part 2)

I am now back in the U.S., welcomed by friends, family, and jury duty, but my thoughts are still in Le Havre. This post will deal with the second body of work I created there and which I exhibited at the MuMA alongside my larger installation. This body of work, entitled Library: Le Havre, shows my experiments exploring connections between architecture and books.

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The work was a natural extension of my general interest in architecture and my recent artist residency at the Center for Book Arts in New York. My thoughts were also directed by a serendipitous reading of “Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo when I first arrived in Le Havre.

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The book, despite its reputation, really focuses on Hugo’s ideas about architecture and there are long, fascinating passages about architecture as a type of physical literature for each age, especially prior to the printing press. The press, he posits, killed architecture as a desirable vehicle for information. Architecture, although seemingly stable, is singular, site-based, and destructable and the information it embodies can be destroyed forever. Printed books, on the other hand, are multiple and allow for almost boundless dissemination, making the information they contain virtually indestructible. Naturally those of us over 30 recognize this experience of a radical global shift in information sharing with the development of the web. Hugo’s thoughts are touching reminders of the inevitability of these changes and the very human disorientation and frequent nostalgia that can result as these shifts occur.  So my thoughts were with Hugo’s historic but very modern ideas of information and architecture as I played with my photographs of Le Havre.

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One series consists of small pamphlets and booklets created from photographs of buildings in Le Havre. As they turn the pages, readers have an intimate and disorienting sense of moving around what are usually experienced as massive buildings.

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Le Havre: Bound, 8 folded and taped color photographs bound with exposed herringbone stitch, 8.4 x 6.4 x .5 cm, 2013

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Le Havre: Bound, 8 folded and taped color photographs bound with exposed herringbone stitch, 8.4 x 6.4 x .5 cm, 2013

Another series of cut and layered images of buildings set into plaster are inspired by the rubble of buildings destroyed in the 1944 bombing of the city and which is still visible in the weather-worn rocks on the beach of Le Havre.  I was also interested in the layering of windows and walls that seems unique to this city. Tall windows dominate many of the downtown buildings and allow for glimpses into private spaces, interior walls, and more distant windows. These pieces collapse and freeze this space into plaster, creating contemporary relics of the city.

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Frame #4, cut and layered photocopies in plaster, 11 x 10 x 9/10 cm, 2013

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Frame #3, cut and layered paper in plaster, 13 x 10 x 1.5 cm, 2013

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Frame #5, cut and layered paper in plaster, 13 x 10 x 2 cm, 2013

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Frame #6, cut and layered paper in plaster, 13 x 18 x 1.5 cm, 2013

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Frame #6, cut and layered paper in plaster, 13 x 18 x 1.5 cm, 2013

In another series I cast bound booklets in plaster. I left the booklets’ herringbone-stitch binding exposed as a reference to August Perret’s ideas of revealing the method of construction within his architecture (see an image of the timber impression left in concrete on Perret’s  St. Joseph’s Church below).  These pieces also touch upon the bombing of the city. As I thought about the bombing I also thought about what else was lost; specifically the personal libraries inside the buildings which, being paper, left no tangible trace.

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Cast book #3, folded and bound black and white photocopies cast in plaster, 7.3 x 7 x 14 cm, 2013.

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Cast book #2, folded and bound black and white photocopies cast in plaster,6.5 x 6 x 12 cm, 2013.

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Cast book #2, folded and bound black and white photocopies cast in plaster,6.5 x 6 x 12 cm, 2013.

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Cast book #2, folded and bound black and white photocopies cast in plaster,6.5 x 6 x 12 cm, 2013.

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Cast book #4, folded and bound color photographs cast in plaster, 6.7 x 6.75 x 14 cm, 2013.

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Cast book #4, folded and bound color photographs cast in plaster, 6.7 x 6.75 x 14 cm, 2013.

Cast book #3, folded and bound black and white photocopies cast in plaster, 7.3 x 7 x 14 cm, 2013.

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Impression of wooden beam used to support the concrete mold in Perret’s St. Joseph’s Church

I was very happy with all of the work I created in Le Havre but missed not having my work interact physically with the city. So on my last day in Le Havre I took one of the cast book pieces to give to the sea, which rolled it around like so much driftwood.

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Cast book #4 and the sea, December 20, 2013

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Cast book #4 and the sea, December 20, 2013

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Cast book #4 and the sea, December 20, 2013

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Cast book #4 and the sea, December 20, 2013

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Cast book #4 and the sea, December 20, 2013

I came back at sunset and it was still there, already bitten a bit by the salt and sand.

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Cast book #4 and the sea, December 20, 2013

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Cast book #4 and the sea, December 20, 2013

I have more work from Le Havre that will keep me busy for a bit in Brooklyn, but for now I say au revoir and merci to this beautiful city and its wonderful people. It was a magical time!

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Exhibition at the MuMA (Le Havre): The Human Frame/A Taille Humaine, Dec 6 – 8 (Part 1)

Nora Herting and I put on a 2-day, 3-night exhibition at the Musée d’art moderne André Malraux (the MuMa) in Le Havre, France from Dec. 6 – 8.

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Me, our coordinator Severine Routel, and Nora Herting at the vernissage (opening).

I displayed two bodies of work; this post will focus on my large installation, Façade, which consisted of three sections of cut paper buildings spanning approximately 14m/45 feet with photographs of Le Havre projected onto each section in a continuous loop. I will have video and more discussion of the installation on my website soon, so check there in a day or two! (www.stephaniebeck.org)

The first photos are of the buildings in my studio, followed by images from the exhibition and then de-installation.

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Preparing for transport to the MuMA:

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Façade

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The installation from behind:facade11

And the all-too quick de-installation:

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It was an amazing opportunity to really stretch myself and my work and has inspired numerous ideas for future installations. Je suis tres content!

A big merci beaucoup to Severine Routel and her colleagues, the city of Le Havre, The MuMA, the French Institute and Triangle Arts Association for the space, time, opportunity and extensive support! Special projector thanks as well to the MuMA, the School of the Arts, the Theater of City Hall, and Vincent Legallais. Special construction thanks to Marine Eggiman.

Part II to come, with images from my second body of work; Library: Le Havre.

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30 seconds of web fame

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I am delighted to have been included on “Live in LH” this week–a weekly cultural web-video program highlighting current events in Le Havre. I think they did a good job!

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x17gmbh_live-in-lh-ou-sortir-ce-week-end-au-havre_tv

My fellow artist, Nora Herting, will be featured next week so check the site again next Thursday!

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Day trip: Mont St. Michel

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Nora and I took advantage of the one (!) sunny day last week to take a day trip to the amazing Mont Saint Michel, which is about 2.5 hours from Le Havre. We rented a teeny-tiny Fiat Panda that looked like it should have come with a wind-up key and which I seriously thought we would have to push up the Pont Du Normandy, the bridge that crosses the Seine estuary to the west of Le Havre.

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Pont du Normandy:

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But we did make it over (verrryyyy slowly) and we were soon rolling through the beautiful French countryside, which was astonishingly lush and green even in mid-November.

That part of Normandy is very flat and as Mont St. Michel is built atop a natural hill of rock it is visible from quite a distance, giving you a small tantalizing glimpse of your destination.

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And it only gets better as you get closer!

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It’s a gorgeous combination of natural and human construction which, to American eyes tainted by Disneyland, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and my personal favorite, Foamhenge (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foamhenge), is difficult to grasp as a real site and not constructed from foam, plywood, and paint.

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The sense of unreality is heightened by the fact that there is constant construction to maintain the rock and stone walls. I had the strange sense that I was catching people in the act of constructing this part of the rock and world itself, like it wasn’t quite done yet, but maybe they’d have it for us next week. A bit like the scene of the construction of the earth in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a great movie if you haven’t seen it).

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As I have learned from the tourist pamphlet and Wikipedia, Mont St. Michel is located at the mouth of the Couesnon River and the rocky islet that housed it (originally known as Mont Tombe) was long a site of military resistance against invaders to the region. The current religious site dates to the early 8th century, when a bishop built a sanctuary to St. Michel., a.ka. the archangel Michael, a.k.a. “head of the heavenly militia”.

Wikipedia’s explanation for this is perhaps as interesting as the site itself: “According to legend, St. Michel appeared in 708 to St. Aubert, bishop of Avranches, and instructed him to build a church on the rocky islet. Aubert repeatedly ignored the angel’s instruction until Michael burned a hole in the bishop’s skull with his finger..”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mont_Saint-Michel

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The sanctuary gradually became a site of pilgrimmages and ultimately an abbey was built to house an order of Benedictines monks in the 10th century.  The larger part of the current abbey on the top of the mont dates to the 13th century and  by the 14th century a full town had sprouted up around the base of the mont. Over the centuries the mont  fended off attacks by the English, lost its religious community during the French revolution and then served as a prison until 1863. Since then it has survived as a historic monument and a new type of pilgrim visits the mont in droves (mostly speaking Japanese, it seems, as evidenced by the local shop and menu translations).

There is a new roadway under construction for foot traffic to the mont, otherwise there is a shuttle and sometimes a horse-drawn carriage.

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It is possible to cross the mud flats on your own as the original pilgrims would have but signs everywhere relate the danger of the area’s swift incoming tides and sucking quicksand. They even make an appearance in the famous Bayreux Tapestry of 1067:

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We did not see the mont at high tide so below is a photo from the web for reference:

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Mont St. Michel is also known for unique souffle-like omelettes developed by the now famous (and ubiquitous) Mère Poulard (mother Poulard):

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which of course we had to try! But after being pointedly ignored by the staff at the original La Mere Poulard restaurant and without the power to burn holes in their skulls, we ended up at its satellite cafe deeper in town, where over the course of two hours I had an omelette and Nora had mussels. Half of our afternoon now gone before sundown, we hurried around the town before heading into the abbey:

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Quaint buildings housing incredibly tacky souvenir shops….mtstmichel13

walking along the ramparts around the town:

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shadow of the mont over the mud flats:

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heading into the abbey you can see rock bubbling up in the corners of walls, revealing how the building was built around and upon the substructure of granite:

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views over the abbey walls to the wider Norman coast and the gardens and town below:

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Inside the abbey:

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a reception hall with massive fireplaces

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a huge wheel installed to hoist provisions up to the prisoners when the mont was a prison:

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and the track for the hoist:

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St. Michel defeating the dragon in a small church outside the abbey: mtstmichel44

roofs at sunset:

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The sun set all too quickly and we still had a 2.5-hour drive ahead of us through pitch-black highways studded with jumping deer signs. Given that our car was probably smaller than a deer, this was not reassuring. We did have a fox dart out in front of us, but fortunately we missed it and that was our sole incident. Back in Le Havre I was told that we were lucky it was not a large wild pig….

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Dans le studio, Le Havre

Notwithstanding my previous posts, life is not all crepes and croissants here in Le Havre; I am also doing a lot of work both in the studio and with my French. Our studio work has a definite goal: a 3-day exhibition at the local “MuMA”, the Musee Maulraux, coming up in early December. The desire to improve my French is a bit less focused, although at the minimum I would like to improve my “r” sound, if only so people will understand that I am an “artist” and not “autistic”, which has been a matter of confusion more than once.

But the studio time has been wonderful. The great benefit of an artist’s residency, no matter the length, is that it gets you out of a familiar environment and the concurrent familiar, predictable thoughts into a new space, both physically and mentally.

playing with projection…

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As I mentioned in previous posts I’ve been taking excessive numbers of photographs in Le Havre, which have become the fodder for my new work, much to my surprise. As an artist (or anyone) it can be easy to fall into a groove of regular, expected work in a particular medium or method.  So it is refreshing and fun, if a little disorienting, to have the space and time to play around in an entirely different format.

I am of course primarily inspired by the architecture in the city but it has created a new reaction in my work. Much of my previous work focused on creating an exaggerated simplification and order in response to the architectural and spatial complexity and chaos around me. However this city (and even the food) is already so clear, ordered, and static that I find myself remixing it into confusion and disorder.

So I now open my photographic sketchbook to give you a peek at some of the paths of exploration I’ve been following:

One project consists of folding printed photographs into small pamphlets that I then re-photograph.

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I have also been combining printed photos in a simpler format and photographing the results.

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I am also continuing my work with cut paper constructions but experimenting with adding projection onto the constructions and the surrounding space. This is very much a work in progress but I am excited about where it can go….

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Perhaps someday I’ll move into architectural fashion! But until then I am having a fantastic time exploring new ideas and materials and am discovering something unexpected almost daily, which is always exciting.

More images to come as the work develops…but for now, bonsoir!

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On time, travel, and the sea

I love the expression, “Life is short but it is wide” and I’m greatly enjoying more of the width of time and life here, especially in comparison to the constant rush of New York. Here people rarely move faster than a stroll and businesses close for lunch. The slowness is beginning to sink in and feels equally delicious and dangerous to my American sense of productivity.

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Of course there are still many things to do here, and not enough time to do them, but fortunately one of those things is to just wander around to see what I can see, which also happens to be one of my very favorite activities. I am fully exploring the role of the artist as flâneurcity stroller and contemplative observer. Our studio is near a lovely quay where just yesterday I spent some time watching dark fish flash white bellies in the gloomy water. How luxurious!

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So, I’m collecting many more experiences and images than I’m sharing and they are all getting a bit out of order. Thus, in the interest of clarity and harmony, two ideals of reconstructed Le Havre, this post will deal just with two local trips and further explorations of the beauties of la plage (the beach). Artwork and food posts to come!

Trip 1: Bikes, trams, and funiculars to Caucriauville

Thomas M., our guide from City Hall, took Nora and me on a bike/tram/funicular (hillside train) trip to visit a neighborhood at the end of one of the tram lines, Caucriauville, which is composed largely of public housing built in the 60’s for the city’s lower-income residents, many of whom are immigrants. It was built quickly and cheaply, also out of concrete like the famous city center but lacking the same grace and attention. It seems there were numerous social problems there and the city has been trying to improve the living situation for the residents by adding more open green spaces, shops, and cultural programming.

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We biked around a bit, visiting the site where last year the city erected a temporary “museum” to share original works of art from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and saw two large, surprisingly lush parks.

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Although the day was chilly it was great to be back on a bike and exploring the neighborhoods outside the pristine city center.

Trip 2: Honfleur

Last Saturday some of my very funniest friends visited from Amsterdam and Paris and we had a great time running around the beach and searching the city for runner’s “goo” for two of them, who ran a 20k in Paris the following day (congrats Fed and Paul!).

That Sunday the remaining friend, Mettine, joined Nora and me on a trip to Honfleur, a small town across the Seine in lower Normandy, and the very definition of quaint. Its population of about 8,000 hasn’t changed in the last 300 years, although at least 75% of the population now seem to be people catering to tourists.  It dates back to the 11th century (about 500 years before Le Havre) and has a long history of international trading (in goods and later in people, sadly enough), attacking or being attacked by England, and launching expeditions to the New World, including a trip by Samuel de Champlain, who founded Quebec. Honfleur was also home to numerous painters active in the development of impressionism and the tradition is now proudly carried along by local artists.

walking a narrow gray street…

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examples of half-timber buildings
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Its main aesthetic attractions are the small port and quays surrounded by tall, narrow buildings as well as a wooden church and separate belltower which, amazingly enough, have never caught fire. (knock on wood. Ha!)

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dramatic steps at a quay-side structure:

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It was a fun trip and has inspired me to plan more excursions into Normandy. But until then, the beach of Le Havre is still a constant source of wonder for me. Even though it is just a 5 minute walk away I don’t make it there every day, but when I do there is always something new and wonderful to see:

high tide hurling itself against the sea wall:

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the misleadingly quiet, expansive beach at low tide, revealing a shipwreck:

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and gorgeous ripple marks in the sand:

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at sunset, pre-storm

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and blue “storm lights” on the sea wall

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And yet, despite traveling, flâneuring, and roaming the beach I am also getting a lot of actual artwork done, which will be the subject of an upcoming post.

À bientôt!

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