The aesthetics of a very imperfect, but overwhelmingly human city….

Our second feedback meeting took place last Friday, read more in this interview with Esther below….

How and why do you organize these feedback meetings?
Ivar and I think it is very relevant to place our artwork  in a broader context and to discuss the effect of doing so. No work emerges out of the void, and it is very enriching to realize what a context does, for its development and to also approach this in a playful and open manner. We are not after an art history lecture, we rather try to be inspiring for ourselves and our guests with an unexpected line up of works that we think are relevant in a contemporary context. In general, we also want to relate to the current stage that we are in with 250 Miles.

During this feedback meeting we have been watching Le Joli Mai, by Chris Marker.  How does this film relate to your project 250 Miles?
When we discussed this project some months ago, our friend Klaas Kuitenbrouwer suggested that we should look at La Jetée, also by Marker. The main reason to suggest this film, I think, was the fact that the film does not use moving image, just stills and sound. It strongly and suggestively makes use of the poetic space that emerges in the gap between the stills and the sound. In 250 Miles we planned to use sound and Google Earth cartography only, so this was a similarity… We also were after the poetic space that emerges out of two separate sources that we are not used to combining. Besides, La Jetée is very fascinating as the story is about time and space travel and plays with cinematographic strategies around audience identification. So we became interested in Chris Marker. This is how we found out about Le Joli Mai, a film about the city of Paris.  I wanted to see it because it also tries to capture a city in its core. At first glance we found already a lot of fascinating similarities. For example, the film crew needed to do a lot of technical innovation, as they were doing actual sound recording and filming together for the first time in a documentary situation on the streets. They made interviews with a variety of  people and combined in the final editing juxtaposed to one other, like a collage. This brought me to the realization that the meaning of this film, its subject matter, is not so much in the participants as such, but rather in the poetic space “between” them.

Sean and Esther, working with some of the images relevant to the concepts they discussed at the feedback meeting...

You also showed a series of seventeenth century Dutch still life painting.
What I find fascinating about these paintings is that they are disguised as a representation of a modest reality of objects, but they also refer to symbols that during that time were well understood, at least in some social circles. I could not really articulate why I wanted to discuss these  still lifes and Le Joli Mai in one setting. At first that was a very intuitive thing. It had something to do with the title: I was looking for works that I really admired, and that were strongly rooted  in the everyday, but also extended that approach into an ascetic realm. In the preparation of the evening I decided at the last moment to not project the paintings, but to print them so the guests could hold them. I imagined a physical print  would make more tangible how these paintings  relate to  “the object as subject.” After printing the images I grabbed a pair of scissors and I cut some of the objects loose. So I disrupted the original connection between the objects, (for example fruits, vases flowers, a fish and a scull) making space for a new one. Now we had a simple game that we could play. We could shift the objects around and  see if we could make a new meaning emerge in the space between them, just as I had experienced in the film. So we could test how this works with objects as well.

This is how I can best explain the relation  between Le Joli May and the still lifes. I wanted to play with this concept of letting a new kind of meaning emerge in the space in-between protagonists in the film and the objects in the paintings. So the objects and the human protagonists become almost equally powerful in determining  meaning.  I think this is a very relevant subject matter that art can articulate.

At the end of the evening Ivar also read a passage from “The Practice of  Everyday Life” a book written in 1984 by Michel de Certeau…
That book is very relevant for our work, but that does not mean that we totally agree with it. For example, there is a passage on Voyeurs or Walkers, (Chapter VII; Walking the City) where De Certeau  imagines a pedestrian who visits, and who finds, on the 110the floor of a New York City iconic high-rise a poster with the texts: “It is hard to be down when you are up”. But I think that I don’t agree with this statement and especially its implications as described in the book. In the passage that follows De Certeau radically separates , the vertical gaze of being in the high-rise and looking down on the city, from the  horizontal gaze of being on the side walk, the pedestrians perspective. De Certeau claims that the walker un-knowingly writes meaning, while the visitor of skyscrapers knowingly can read that, and the two positions are radically separated. I think that  250 Miles aims to hybridize these two positions and that it is artistically relevant to do this. I am convinced that we can  make them enrich each other and let the one be the hyper reality to the other.

Can you tell something more about this concept of the vertical versus the horizontal gaze?
I think that before digital cartography the field was very much top down and hierarchical. The map maker mostly supported the line of view of the power. The map represented one truth, that was related to the dominant power structures. The making of a map is a bit like writing history. If you can only tell one history, it is almost impossible to include many dissident or personal points of view. With the emergence of digital cartography, and especially the consumer versions of it like Google Earth, cartography opens up for more subjective, dissident and human story lines. But I think that this also is the case with other media as well. Over the last decades, for example with photography, video, and writing, there has been a broad development and cartography (the vertical gaze per se)  also joins in.

But the passage that Ivar read was another one, was it not?
For this evening we choose indeed another passage, one that we feel also directly inspired by. In this passage De Certeau speaks of footsteps, and how in the act of walking, the trajectory is drawn, made legible, but in doing so the act of operation becomes forgotten. We strongly believe that  250 Miles  overcomes this forgetfulness, and makes it possible to draw and to remember at the same time. To write, read and remember, all at the same time. A democracy of positions.

This brings me back to were we started, the film Le Joli Mai, already inverted this. The film was created more than 20 years before 1984, the year of “The Practice of  Everyday Life”. The film proposes an attitude of  writing and reading at the same time, and overcoming the gap between the vertical and the horizontal gaze:  During the film’s first 15 minutes we are emerged in a birds eye shot from the Eiffel tower down. But now we don’t stay mere readers, but we share the experience of Chris Marker, who intertwines this shot with the horizontal shots in the streets engaging with  its people and objects. We hear the protagonists, almost, unedited, speaking their minds, and in the space between them, a new meaning emerges. The film ends again with a likewise data driven vertical approach as all kinds of objective “overview”-like facts are recited, as a form of data poetry: the amount of gasoline consumed in Paris in May, the amount of births, deaths, tons of  tobacco smoked, milk imported and other facts that in this masterpiece do not estrange the audience from Paris and its inhabitant but rather assemble a collage a world of connections. A very imperfect, but overwhelmingly human city.

Esther interviewed by Pips.

Paintings:

Stilleven met een zilveren tazza, Willem Claesz. Heda, 1630
Stilleven met kalkoenpastei, Pieter Claesz., 1627
Emblematisch stilleven met kan, glas, kruik en breidel, Johannes Torrentius, 1614
Bloemstillleven  Rachel Ruysch, (Den Haag 3-jun-1664 – Amsterdam 12-aug-1750)
Stilleven met kazen, Floris Claesz. van Dijck, ca. 1615