Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ontogenesis; A Long Trip Ahead...

Ontogenesis - Scene II - Levalet - Gare Saint-Lazare - Paris 
I can’t believe that these photos from Gare Saint-Lazare train station Paris, only date back to late February, and yet so much has changed worldwide since then. It is now clear that mankind has set off on a crazed voyage of change and yet no one knows what our destination is to be, when this journey will end, and how we will have evolved by that time. 

Scene I - Ontogenesis - Levalet
The title of Levalet’s large collage – Ontogenesis - seems strangely portentous now. According to one dictionary definition, this is the development of an individual organism or anatomical or behavioural feature from the earliest stage to maturity. Indeed, just as the virus itself evolves over time, pushing forward in its inexorable path, biologically and geographically it has gradually yet relentlessly altered everything in the fabric of human life. In the same manner that this infectious disease has the capacity to shut down vital bodily functions, the fight against it has led to the lockdown of every community and activity therein. The entire world - directly or indirectly - has entered an eery period without precedence in modern times, one merely hinted at in the disaster-and-doom film genre. I can’t help but think back to the terrifying1970’s BBC series Survivors that marked me as a child. I wonder what long-lasting effect our present situation will have on today’s children, as they actually live through this nightmare scenario on every level, with or without direct health issues ? 

Scene III
Whatever happens as spring turns to summer, with the passing of the weeks and months and we understand more of the nature of this disease, we will surely learn more of ourselves, as individuals, and as collective groups and finally civilisations as a whole. This is a journey, and I hope that it can be a process of metamorphosis, towards the better.

Detail - Scene II
Levalet’s work in the station follows similar themes to the many others that decorate Paris, and numerous provincial towns and cities in France and beyond. They are a clever harmony of art and urban surface - offering a witty trompe-l’œil which is underlined by the choice of title. Here at Gare Saint-Lazare a traveller is represented in a series of Indian ink collages, set out over three panels, leading towards the Parisian streets beyond. As we descend the escalator, the character seems to emerge from his suitcase, gather his hat and jacket before tumbling down head-first, to plunge into the suitcase once again. This cyclical movement is often a key feature in Levalet, progress in statis or statis in progress… Ontogenenis is part of a street art display with other artists from Quai 36 - a group that has given itself the mission to transfigure public spaces in order to make art accessible to all. Started in 2015, Quai 36 initially set out to enhance the often dreary experience of the 700,000 daily commuters who trudged along the platforms and concourse of one of the largest stations in Europe - the Gare du Nord - but it has since spread further afield.

Scene II - detail
At the top of the escalators by the tumbling traveller, in one of the corners of the main station is seated a postman. Enthroned on a huge pile of snailmail sacks, all piled on two functioning La Poste letter boxes, is the protagonist of the Bureau de Plaintes, discretely reading one of many complaints that will surely engulf him. He already seems to have been forgotten by most of the passers-by in the station, assuming he and his 2-dimensional friends had been noticed in the first place…

Bureau de Plaintes - Levalet
As I had trouble tracking down the third Levalet piece at Gare Saint-Lazare, I asked several employees of the cafés and stores in the concourse if they could indicate its whereabouts. Curiously, they had never seen or heard anything of Levalet’s art, which struck me as sad and yet disappointingly familiar since most people rarely lift their eyes long enough from their chosen screen to notice anything these days. By deduction, I went down to the platforms and through the ticket gates, in order to find Prendre de l’Hauteur. And there it was – a suited figure, clambering up one of the metal pillars, so unassuming yet intent in his movement that no one paid him any attention either… 

Prendre de l'Hauteur - Levalet
Coronavirus has made us and our human endeavours seem small and ineffective. We have been humbled by the ravages of a global conflict in which we all share a common enemy – there is no ‘them and us’ in today’s war. Just us humans against an invisible, silent adversary that has cast a long shadow over our civilized lives. Our foe is a non-sentient entity, one which is not driven by greed, hatred or desire. It has made us all acknowledge its presence and power and in so doing, made us bow down to the might of Nature itself. Confinement has forced the majority of us to quite literally stop and take stock of ourselves, our lives and our loves. Will this period of enforced respite from all our humdrum activities mean that we too may metamorphose in its aftermath ? Will we give more time to the things that we have let pass us by, as we have scurried on, short-sightedly chasing after our latest goal or deadline ? Will we realise that the pre-Coronavirus obligations in our lives - along with our lifestyle choices - had largely contamined us with equally insidious illnesses? The list of our human failings would assume biblical proportions... 

We were not in charge of our (largely privileged) lives, but had been belittled by them, reduced to drone status and it has taken the tragic impact of this disease to open our eyes to this. Don’t even let me get started on what we have done to our planet and all living creatures therein. Nobody willed this situation, but something good must emerge from it, and a reality check would be as good a start as any in this latest human journey. We are just travellers that come with a formidable amount of excess baggage.

Consigne à vie  - 1985 - Arman

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