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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Le Havre: Week Two

Week two has ended and we have experienced almost a year’s worth of weather: rain, sun, heat, cold and the cycle starts anew each day. Within one day it will be gray and ominous, sunny and breezy, rainy, or glorious.

One gray day last week we had an introduction to the city by Thomas M., one of the city employees. He took us up and out onto the 17th floor of the city hall building, which is one of the highest points in the lower city and gave us a wonderful 360 degree view.

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The “gates to the sea”…

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Upper Le Havre on the hill (including the neighborhood of St. Addresse) overlooking lower Le Havre.

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The port in the background and the white “Volcan” building hiding behind a tower of apartments.

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But even cloudy days can result in spectacular sunsets, especially when the tide is low and the beach exposed and the light sets the buildings and clouds aglow.  Image Image Image

But then that weekend came the sun in a gorgeous blue sky, turning the buildings into blocks of brilliant whites and pastels.

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The Basin du Commerce: DSC01351

And the people! What had seemed a sleepy, almost empty town turned into a bustling hive—everyone was out, shopping the weekly outdoor markets, having coffee at the brasserie, strolling along the beach and soaking up the sun on the “porches” of the small seaside cabanas.

Image I revisited the Eglise St. Joseph (St. Joseph’s church), designed by Auguste Perret as part of the reconstruction. It, as all his buildings, is primarily concrete but he added an interesting touch: he retained the imprint of the wooden beams used to mold the concrete, which not only reveals the method of construction but is an elegant reminder of the regional tradition of half-timber construction.

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imprint in concrete:

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example of early half-timber construction:

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The church’s interior is impressive even on gray days but on sunny days it is wholly transformed as light streams through the stained glass windows, throwing a coded language of color across the concrete walls. The windows were designed by Marguerite Huré who gave each wall its own color scheme based on the direction it faced.

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And a view up into the tower on a gray day. The helix-like stairs are on the left. We were strongly dissuaded from asking to climb them…

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But life here is not just wandering around and taking photos (although that’s a lot of it–I’m up into the 2,000s already). We have started working in our absolutely huge studio spaces which are located in an old elementary school, where children’s drawings still hang on the wall.

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Up next: a visit to an outer neighborhood of Le Havre and a beautiful nearby village, Honfleur!

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Bienvenue au Havre!

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Ok folks, this is going to be a longish one, as I am now on my third full day (time flies!) in the lovely city of Le Havre, on the northern coast of France, in the region of Upper Normandy.

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I’m here for an artist’s residency as a “Winner of the “Le Havre-New York-Exchanging Glances” program with the support of Institute Francais (Paris) and the City of Le Havre”, an extremely generous program also coordinated through Triangle Association in Brooklyn, NY. I am here with another New York artist, “Winner” Nora Herting, while two Le Havre artists take our places in Brooklyn. We are here for almost three months to explore the city, seaside, history and culture and draw from all of this to make art! I am incredibly grateful to these organizations for this fantastic opportunity and am thrilled to be back in Europe with nothing to do but explore and create

More on the history of Le Havre as I discover it, but in our first few days we’ve just been settling in and wandering around the city. We are housed in a flat between two elementary school playgrounds, so children periodically run around yelling just outside our apartment (front and back) throughout the day. Of course they are yelling in French, so I’m hoping some of it will sink in. In the evenings there are very low-impact aerobic courses for the local femmes, who shake it to old-school Madonna. The flat is quite large and comfortable–the only inconvenient aspect is the front door keyhole which is located, curiously enough, about 1 foot off the ground.

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As noted, Le Havre is on the coast and is a major port for cargo of all sorts, from goods to people, and there is a constant flow of cargo ships, cruise ships, tugboats and sailboats in and out of the port. The seafront is lovely, with clear green water and a beach of gorgeous rocks/pebbles.

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I understand that the rocks are largely fragments of the buildings destroyed in WWII, when the city was held by the Germans and the Allies bombed the entire downtown to obliteration. This, of course, changed the identity of the city forever.

Le Havre, 1939, pre-bombing:

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Le Havre, 1944, post-bombing:

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It’s difficult to grasp the extent of the destruction, where the only things left of the downtown were the roads. Of course numerous locations have experienced similar if not worse devastation–what makes Le Havre unique is the method of its reconstruction. Rather than try to recreate the city as it was, the downtown was redesigned, replanned and rebuilt under the direction and design of a single mind; architect Auguste Perret. He retained some of the main streets and sites (church, city hall) but largely created an entirely new city almost exclusively out of reinforced concrete for its ease of use and affordability. His overriding theme was “harmony”, which extended from the urban plan to the architectural design to the furnishings of the new apartments for the people. After a brief tour of the city I have also learned that Perret put specific building rules into effect and then subsequent architects had room to play within those rules, so there are variations between the buildings, especially with each decade and change in architectural style. I am of course reducing what was a complicated effort to its most simple idea and there will be more to come on the reconstruction. The image below shows some of the reconstructed city center. The central tower is a concrete and stained-glass church, Saint-Joseph.

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At first glance the downtown is a fascinating time capsule and a monument to the force of a single vision and the ideals of 1950’s France. The buildings are uniformly blocky and generally rather low (from NYC standards, of course), but full of windows. It’s an interesting experience to walk down the streets, watching the buildings spread and fold against each other, almost creating the sense of a single, long, multi-faceted building. Square after square after square are stacked and laid next to another in almost dizzying regularity. 

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Since our tour I have a better appreciation for the subtleties of the buildings, but that is for another post. Fortunately humans inhabit these spaces and the cubes are made distinguishable by plants, chairs, awnings, and every once in a while, a retiree.

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I should note that those photos were taken on an overcast day and when the sun shines on the concrete they glow with a much more beautiful light.

Outside of the downtown original buildings still stand, revealing a surprising variety of architecture.

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Here you’ll also see more contemporary structures, which, along with the seaside and errant palm trees, can give parts of the city an almost mediterranean feel.

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But the big draw is still the sea, and we’ve already witnessed some gorgeous sunsets.

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More to come, but for now, bonne nuit! 

 

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Of snow and rainbows, moss and poo….

This Saturday I fly back to the U.S. (weather permitting), so this will most likely be my last post from Greece and it will be a bit of a hodge-podge. Life in Papingo doesn’t lend itself to that same kind of narrative that my previous posts had–things here are slower and quieter, but interesting nonetheless. For instance, the variety of moss in the stone walls and roofs is ASTOUNDING!!

Finally, FINALLY, today, we are blessed with warm sun and blue skies, after WEEKS of endless rain, rain, rain, which kept me inside for days at a time. It has also gotten cold here, so my chillblains are back (woe is me!), but fortunately the only snow has been on the top of the mountains. It creates a beautiful backdrop and the endless rain did allow for some beautiful rainbows–including my first full rainbow, ever! Another rain plus: With all my time inside I learned some new tricks on Photoshop! Rain con: I also watched 2 full seasons of “Friends” (the few cds available in my bedroom).

Impending doom...looks like more Ross and Rachel!!

One of the more interesting events in the hotel/restaurant where I’m staying is the all-too-frequent production of tsipouro, a deadly clear liquor made from grape mash. This is created in a still in our kitchen by one of the family members, Thenasi. The still runs nonstop for a few days at a time and takes constant tending, so while it’s running you’ll often find Thenasi noodling on an old clarinet, or sitting back with some of the local villagers or guests from the hotel, a glass of tsipouro or homemade wine in hand. He is very generous with his brew, but I’ve learned to just say no…

Filling the still with grape mash...

Fitting the lid of the still. You can just make out the small spigot just above his right boot where the tsipouro dribbles out into a metal bowl, at 70% alcohol...(that's the first draw--subsequent distillings go down to 40%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course most of my days are focused on the horses and I’d like to share what greets me every morning, for those of you unlucky enough never to have mucked out a stable:

Kalimera! (Good morning!)

And this is just a fraction of it. 8 horses produce a LOT of crap. And while one of us is picking up poo from the floor, the other is picking it out of the horses hooves:

A well-cleaned hoof

This isn’t so bad with the front hooves. Unfortunately, picking up a horse’s back hooves often sets off some kind of fart-response, and your head is in the perfect position for a noseful.

Of course, cleaning a horse isn’t the only time they can get back at you for putting a saddle on their back and a bit in their mouth and riding them around and around when they’d really just rather be eating…

On Sissi, the sitting horse

If I look a little tense here, it’s because it was my first time on Sissi, who is known for sitting down to eat, mid-stride, with inexperienced riders on her back. Note: You do not want this to happen. Fortunately for me I am just experienced enough to prevent this, and I’ve ridden her many times now without incident, but you never know….

But the trail rides are really a huge perk of this volunteer project–they are the perfect way to wander through the hills for gorgeous views of the mountains:

 

 

Heading out on a long ride--I'm riding Dionis (see ears at bottom of photo)

On a lovely day...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And when it’s nice enough, and there are no rides, there are plenty of walks to take, including visiting the next town over, Mikro Papingo. The road there is long and winding and goes past a beautifully clear stream, which runs through small pools. In the summer these must be deliciously cool after a hike in the sun, but now they are just freezing. On the way back we took a stone path down a small valley between a curve of the road to a beautiful little stone bridge that spans another small stream.

Road between the Papingos

Stone bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the crystal-clear pools

Of course each day brings something new–life with animals is never uneventful–but I’ll end the post with some photos of the town and breathtaking scenery:

Antique table-saw

At a local church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain shrine

Icons and offerings within the shrine

Collecting the horses in the late afternoon

 

Wild and rocky hills

So, yassas to Papingo, and Greece, and, sniff, Europe, and on to continuing adventures in the U.S., which include some time in Philadelphia, Virginia and DC, and then an artist’s residency at ART342 in Fort Collins, CO, from January  17 – April 22. I’m very excited and lucky to be given more time to make art in a new environment and with new people!

 

 

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