Friday, May 8, 2015

Reims - 7th May 2015 - Celebration of Peace

Last night I went to the big commemorative light-and-sound display that took place on Place de la République here in Reims. This was, of course, to remember the end of the WWII and was held on Thursday 7th May as it was on this date, in the early hours of the morning 70 years ago, that the unconditional surrender of the German Wehrmacht was officially signed. Indeed, this historic act was carried out in the Map Room of the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force in a school that went on to become today's Lycée Roosevelt and to house the Musée de la Reddition.
The display was projected onto the imposing Monument aux Morts that was erected in 1930 in memory of the ravages of the First World War on Reims, and to commemorate the subsequent reconstruction of the city. The Second War World itself inflicted great damage on the monument, leaving it all the more dramatic in its impact. The lessons supposedly learnt during the Great War seemed to have been swept aside and the message of the monument no longer relevant during this second period of wartime devastation. 
This human tragedy seemed to play itself out on the monument itself, with the left part, symbolizing The Sacrifice of 1914 smashed and shattered, whilst the right part, symbolizing The Lesson of 1918 faired little better. Central in the monument is the figure of Pensée himself “accomplishing his effort of resurrection”. Deep in reflection, this time he seems to be plunged into despair and desolation at the perspective of his city, la Cité des Sacres, devastated yet again by the horrors of war. Reims had, of course, been the symbol of French suffering during the 14-18 years. From the outset, it had been the very real target of enemy forces and victim to the worst atrocities of war. Its cathedral, willfully burnt and battered, represented the wanton cruelty of conflict, bent on the destruction of every form of civilisation.
The whole of last night’s show was moving, but I preferred the very last part, filmed below, which was projected without words. Image and sound seem to convey far more. The spoken part had largely dealt with today’s Peace, but we cannot really appreciate the full sense of that until we reflect over what has been. On the way to the commemoration, my son and I were speaking about this…
All the shop windows leading to Place de la République are currently displaying photos taken during and after these war years. Many of these war-torn streets and buildings are still largely recognizable today, and so we have both enjoyed trying to identify these in order to see what is so familiar to us today from another perspective, in a different light. This vision is quite eerie at times, but not as troubling as the notion that, as my son later confirmed, many young people do not even know why May 8th is a bank holiday. It must be a positive thing that those particular war years are so far behind us that they have fallen into the shadows, but can we really understand what Peace is without an awareness of that dark spectre and the messages that they still need to convey today?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

One of the rarest flowers... Klaus Nomi.


Well, yesterday I did get to see the David Bowie Is exhibition, and wasn't disappointed except for the fact that photography was banned. That meant that I never got to take photos of any of those great costumes, and certainly not the one that had so marked Klaus Nomi when he was backing singer to Bowie's performance on the show, Saturday Night Live.



However, I did notice that as fantastic as all these clothes were, a lot of the time more statements and stage props than 'real' garments, they couldn't live up to the image they had created on record covers, posters, videos and my mind. So, in fact, the only thing really missing in the show was a place to dance... It was really hard to contain myself, and above all not hum along tunelessly to the music on the guide headphones!


Well, after three hours' viewing, I went off to the Jardin des Plantes to see what was on show there, in the immense flower beds that stretch out towards the Natural History museum at the far end of the grounds.


The elegance and beauty of the plants give no indication of the fact that the Jardin des Plantes had been transformed into a wind tunnel. I even tried to hold onto the stems of some of these in order to steady them for the photo. However, my favourite flower has to be the one that I have just acquired for my balcony. This plant is equally challenged by the high winds that arise with higher-rise accommodation, but that's another story.


A beautiful purple Passiflora... Here to go with it is a collection of the flowers, set along to some music from Klaus Nomi's unfinished opera Za Bakdaz.


I just wish that in his creative years, Nomi had benefitted from some of the breaks that Bowie had, and especially that he had simply lived longer to create more of his unique music...


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ecoute - The end of April...


Poor April - the month I always neglect, without fail. And I never fail to regret this neglect as April is when the most impressive buds burst open, leaves unfurl, dandelion clocks feather all spaces and the seasons literally change in front of our eyes. And yet again, my vision (and every other sense) has been obscured by other 'stuff'...
Anyway, just before the month draws to an end, here is the vast Ecoute sculpture in Paris. This is to be found alongside Les Halles, which I passed through yesterday. I quite liked the idea that the man in the background had recreated a similar pose, unintentionally, I presume. In so doing, he most certainly drew attention to the impressive scale of this piece by Henri de Miller, dated 1986...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Urban Art...Again...


Spring is here, accompanied by the usual flourish of greenery and ever-brighter colours as flowers and street art go into full bloom...


Actually, that's not entirely true, as far as the urban art is concerned, as this is not a season-specific activity, as I've learnt over the past few months.


And I have been taken off guard several times now, not suspecting that the street artists would be so busy throughout the colder, greyer times.


But, of course, they have. Prolific even...


And thankfully too, in this singularly unattractive part of town, termed 'une zone'.


The designs that I've admired have repeatedly been replaced by others...


Or have been altered somewhat or added to, as the one below, becoming ever more intricate...


And even when I think they can't possibly change again, they do.


Bursting out of the grey concrete surfaces...


The only difference this time, was that I finally had the chance to meet the artists themselves. Unfortunately I was without my camera on that particular day.








               

 





 I was really pleased to get to ask the questions that I'd been asking myself about this urban art...


The first questions being, when did they come to paint, as I'd certainly never come across them before then, either during the week or at weekends...


Apparently they tend to come at the weekend, mostly Sundays, but don't appear to limit themselves to that, as I later saw one artist retouching a work in the week, as the shoppers were loading up their groceries. The other site that I was aware about, namely the nearby car park of the Renault garage, has a more limited access due to the locked gates at the weekend, whilst the volume of parked cars must limit painting during the week.
















         In answer to the question about how they could afford to do so much work, with the vast quantities of cans of spray that must entail, they told me that they shop online and get discount prices on larger orders.

This is probably just as well, since they seem to apply a base paint as a background, rather than simply painting over past works. With the extensive surface area of the walls, this must represent litres of paint.


As I spoke to the group, one artist was applying the turquoise background that can be seen on the first photos, and that has since been largely replaced by a brick red.


They also told me about the other site where they work; the docking area for a concert hall. As I hadn't discovered this one myself, I was pleased to visit it...


Yet it must be said, I ran in and out to take these photos because the area is quite creepy, in spite of all that colour. It is one of the places where you can't work out if it's worse to encounter somebody or nobody at all....


As can be seen, every possible surface has been decorated....


This created weird patchworks and overlaps...


That seem to explode out of those (originally) dingy, grim walls...


Incidentally, for all the colour of their art, the artists themselves were all dressed in very unassuming, non-descript shades...


The group that I met was quite large, dispelling the notion that it might have been just a few extremely active artists...


 Presumably it was the art that brought them all together because the age range went from young teenager to adult.


There were no girls in this group, but they said that there are female urban artists and it's true that I've already noticed a few decorating the tunnels next to the canal.


Nevertheless, the local urban art here is the best that I've seen around and about town. I was pleased to get the chance to tell them how great I thought their work was, but addressed the older ones... 


Understandably, the younger artists looked duly horrifed to have an admirer, at least the age of their own mothers! How uncool is that?!!. Oh well....


The one question I really wanted to ask was how they found their ideas and inspiration for their forms and colours, and if they had any art training. 


They said that their work was just a giant version of all the drawings and designs they'd scrawled over their school books. Finally, I asked them if they kept a record of all of this great art, through photos or film, but they didn't really appear to. That seems to make it all the more special and, of course, unique.



Monday, April 6, 2015

Reeds, Beads, Pods and Branches...

With or without a garden, wherever I've lived has always ended up with an assorted collection of dried 'scavengings' that I've retrieved from whatever bit of wilderness I've come across.


Twisted lichen-covered twigs, tortuous branches, gnarled drift wood, skeletal leaves and seed pods, dried flowers, husks and grasses...


All have all vyed for space with more predictable groupings of shells, pebbles and seaglass, while a cow's skull, wild boar's jaw, giant snail's shell, feathers and butterfly wings have likewise squeezed in...


I just love the spindly shapes and forms, colours and textures. This appreciation has been shared by the cats, of past and present, that have been with me, although their pleasure has invariably been more of a shredding, clawing and chewing variety rather than just visual aesthetics.


Here's a video of some of these images, set to the Kate Bush version of Donovan's Lord of the Reedy River... 


I finally finished my latest wooden-bead hanging, though it might not be the last since I still have so many beads left. 


Nevertheless, there's a bit more room in the old bead box...


The new hanging is long and totally unphotogenic in its intended position, so here it is on the floor and over the radiator just because I love the colours...


But, as always, these will never be as wonderful as those found in Nature, simply because they are just natural...