Here is some footage of me participating in Rhys Chatham’s guitar ensemble at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris.
Les InRocks writes about my man, Kim Giani.
Everyone should read the fantastic graphic novels “Blankets” and “Habibi” by Craig Thompson. I find them extraordinary…
If one is in a relatively small country that also happens to be crammed with sites of enormous historical and cultural significance, one quickly becomes aware that tourism can sometimes be difficult–if not dispiriting. Indeed, observing how people interact with museums and monuments and landscapes can be hilarious and sad and bewildering all at the same time.
I recently went to Giverny–the village where Monet lived for the second half of his life, and where he painted his most famous works (his series of Les Nympheas being among them). The train was sold out, English and Japanese was ringing in my ears, and I had the sensation that we were slowly turning into cattle as we got closer to our destination. Upon leaving the train at Vernon (the nearest town to Giverny), the tourist horde was directed to a fleet of buses just outside the station where a quarter-mile line quickly formed for tickets. Thanks to my guide book, I decided to rent a bike and rode the six kilometers to Monet’s beautiful village and home–admiring the Norman hillsides while having the wonderful sense of exhilaration of riding outdoors in an unfamiliar place and not being sure if you are going the right way (and not really caring).
Monet’s house was unquestionably beautiful–impeccably furnished and decorated, uniquely and exuberantly colorful, and befitting the all-around mythical quality of the man. However, the remarkable crush of people was hard to bear. Unable to linger in any room or to have any moments of reflection, borne along by the tide of people from place to place to place, it was practically impossible to experience the supernatural qualities of the property. Everywhere, people filmed themselves walking in the house and gardens, paying no attention to where they were; couples were fighting; and perhaps the only person I saw enjoying himself was a small boy chasing birds and throwing stones into the water (to the great chagrin of his mother and to the delight of everyone else).
Perhaps the saddest thing of all was Monet’s amazing but neglected collection of ukiyo-e–the Japanese woodblocks which adorn every room of his house. Beautiful original works by Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Utamaro were completely ignored by tourists in pursuit of finding Monet’s broom closet or chamber pot. There was nothing documenting them in the gift shop (although I could have bought some Monet boxer shorts).
But so it goes. Next time, I guess I will try to chase more birds and throw more stones at water lilies.
Chartres is about one hour by train from the Gare Montparnasse in Paris. The city gives way to gray suburbs and then to rolling empty yellow fields where cows graze while watching the passing trains. The ride is comfortable and quiet and cuts through the forest of Rambouillet–where the trees are so close to your window that they seem to grow from the rails themselves. The train rounds a bend, emerges from the shadows of the forest, and reveals the cathedral standing tall as a mountain against the low flat horizon. Some minutes later, the train stops, you grab your bag, leave the station, and find yourself standing in front of what surely is among the greatest triumphs of Europe.
The facade is irregular and asymmetrical, one tower Gothic, the other Romanesque. The lintels of the Royal Portals are beautifully carved out of local stone and tell the stories of the Annunciation and the Nativity, reminding one from the outset that cathedrals were places of education for the illiterate masses–that they were a source not only of spiritual solace but of information about the god they were praying to. As one enters, the sense of harmony and power is overwhelming: one’s astonishment at the height of the ceilings is matched by the profound depth of the nave; the famed “Chartres blue” stained glass filters the sunlight and creates a sense of serenity and silence; everyone stands hushed in awe (except for the teenage students on a field trip). One observes the windows and the carvings, the tourists and the pilgrims, and cannot help but feel moved by the continuity of history, the endurance of art, and the fading dispelled power of God.
Orson Welles liked it too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ksmjh8LL2zA
Michelangelo Antonioni (dead at 94), Ingmar Bergman (dead at 89), Merce Cunningham (dead at 90), Cy Twombly (dead at 83), Lucian Freud (dead at 88): these artists have all died natural deaths in old age and have all been extremely important to my thoughts and self. Yet, upon reading the news of each of their respective passings, I responded by being somewhat unmoved–that is to say, I sighed and looked up their work on-line before returning to my daily routine.
And so I was surprised to find myself in tears at learning of Chris Marker’s death at 91 recently. The great cinematic traveler-poet-essayist-historian has always held a significant place in my personal artistic pantheon. His obsessions with memory, time, history, and cats have always spoken to me at a profound level; and the grace and poetic elegance with which he expressed himself have always left me inspired.
The quality of Marker’s work that stands out for me–which I am sure others far more qualified than I have pointed out–is that he is never there. He remains outside of the historical images of A Grin Without a Cat, observing the rise and collapse of the Marxist Left from a distance; he veils the text and images of Sans Soleil by making it epistolary, creating a moving poetic postcard sent from everywhere but the location of the narrator herself; he exists outside of time in La Jetee, making the past and the future intersect with a present that has not happened yet.
And this is perhaps why I find his death so moving. A man who seems to have never existed within the world, who never allowed himself to be photographed or represented, who spent his time observing rather than being observed, was subjected to mortality–something hinged to a world where he did not belong.
Chris Marker was a magisterial ghost.
And I never imagined a ghost could die…
“I danced frightening things. They were frightened of me and therefore thought that I wanted to kill them. I did not want to kill anyone. I loved everyone, but no one loved me, and therefore I became nervous.”
Nijinsky’s diary is a remarkable work. The honesty and sincerity is almost painful to read.