Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Louis Garrel, will you be my 'amant regulier' ?

Today the Lincoln Center launched '1968: An International Perspective' - a two-week season of films either made in or looking back on the unique year that was 1968.

To kick off the proceedings, what better than to begin with Philippe Garrel's Les Amants Reguliers? Made in 2005, this is an achingly beautiful look back on 1968 Paris as lived by its disaffected youth.

It's a long movie - 172 minutes to be precise - and is filmed in a high contrast black and white. I instantly thought of Pasolini (who is referenced in the dialogue as it happens) or even Dreyer, whose Jeanne d'Arc takes on significance in Godard's Vivre Sa Vie (1962). Like Godard and Pasolini, Garrel is highly selective in his use of music, favouring a sporadic, gypsy piano accompaniment and just a smattering of contemporary songs (The Kinks' This Time Tomorrow a particularly apt choice) played in the diegetic space. This contemplative, expressionistic-yet-realist style is fitting for its themes of philosophising and revolution-making. Just as Pasolini was a committed Communist and believed strongly in art's power to change society, Garrel's protagonists hope to attain something better, something more meaningful, through militant action and through art. Do they achive it, though? The length of the film pushes us to question this. Following the smoke, action and frenetic energy of a long, early sequence portraying a scuffle with the police at the Barricades, the marjority of the film follows the youths haplessly moving from one sedentary meeting to another, smoking opium, making love, and discussing art, marxism and revolution. But with May's events fading into the past, all the youths are left with is a memory, a trace.

The expressive poetry of Baudelaire and Musset is woven into the dialogue, intensifying the feeling of a failed revolution and soul-searching. And who better to play the part of the modern-day poet, than Louis Garrel? Son of the filmmaker, Louis’ Grecian profile and dark curly locks make him the perfect candidate for the literary figure in the group, reciting the French Romantic poets and writing his own musings. His presence in the film may be reason enough to go and see it, but there are far more. Contemplative and nostalgic at once, Garrel’s film leaves us to consider the events of 1968 without dictating our judgment. Just like the older family members portrayed briefly in the film, the director’s voice remains withdrawn, as he stands back and observes the young protagonists with fascination, detachment and a silent understanding.

...Oh, and thought I might just add that I met Louis Garrel back in March, following a screening of Christophe Honoré's Chansons d'Amour at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. To borrow from another Kinks song, you could say I was 'Starstruck'. But who wouldn't be?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The City that Never Sleeps - And Where Women Never Age

Last night my friend offered me one of two free tickets to Carnegie Hall. Arriving early, I waited in the lobby for my friend to arrive. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cases of mutton-dressed-as-lamb in such a small unit of space and time. There were several excellent renditions of the Cruella Deville look, complete with bouffante peroxide hair, witch-like makeup and high-necked dark cape.

It’s funny, as it was only on Sunday that I was just chatting to my friend C… about how New Yorkers really are ‘age defying’. As I stood there last night, I tried to look for one older lady who hadn’t gone to great lengths to disguise the fact that she was past the age of sixty. Scarily, I couldn’t see any. Face lifts, layers of makeup, and who knows how many hours of hairstyling stood between these women’s real selves and their public personae. Whatever happened to growing old gracefully?

And the artifice doesn’t end there. C... and I had originally got onto the topic of ‘fake’ new York when C… recounted her recent experience of trying on a dress at a high-end Greenwich boutique. Finding it unusually baggy around the chest whilst it fitted everywhere else, C… discovered there was a reason for this. It’s all in the label - ‘made in LA’. What significance does that have, you may ask. Well – think about it. LA is the land of… you said it, plastic surgery. Naturally, dresses have to be adapted accordingly. Nice.

Picture: Cruella Deville. Familiar, anyone?

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Chance Encounter on the Lower East Side

It was the Simone de Beauvoir that started it.

The other day I was in the Lower East Side and decided to go into Pink Pony on Ludlow Street, to spend a few hours reading and sketching. Entering the worn, ambient, bistro-like interior, I immediately thought of cafés such as La Fourmi and La Perle in Paris.

I chose a seat by the window next to two ladies who were finishing their lunch. Settling down at my table, I unpacked necessary items from my bag: sketchbook, diary, pens, and the book I’m currently reading: Simone de Beauvoir’s La Force des Choses: II. After a few minutes one of the women noticed the book lying next to me, pointed it out to her friend, and began speaking to me in French. I explained that I speak French but am actually English. Chatting to them for a while, I was fascinated to learn that both had been key figures in the vibrant 1970s New York art scene. One speaks with a slight English accent - originally from the UK, she has lived in New York for forty years. In answer to my question of why she moved, she answered ‘1968!’. Well, why else? She handed me her business card; the name read ‘Liza Béar’. It immediately seemed familiar to me, but at first I couldn’t work out why.

Soon it all fitted into place. Liza Béar told me she co-founded the groundbreaking, avant-garde magazine Avalanche with her then-partner, Willoughby Sharp. By giving a voice to artists rather than relying on critics, the magazine helped launch the careers of daring artists such as Joseph Beuys and Vito Acconci. I met Willoughby last summer as he had a piece in SculptureCenter’s Fall exhibition. It was also my job to update and edit his biography – hence why I had come across Liza’s name. The once radical, provocative performance artist is now sadly battling with cancer, but he was still very friendly and I remember he gave me a cheeky wink and a pat on the shoulder when I came to collect a DVD from his Greenpoint home.

The other lady is Coleen Fitzgibbon. She too had played an active part in the underground art scene that exploded in 1970s New York – a time when the Lower East Side and Soho were still havens for struggling artists and penniless musicians. Googling her name the day after, I found out she produced the film From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995) – as I'm a big fan of Godard’s A Bout de Souffle this was an exciting discovery. Liza Béar has just published a book called Beyond the Frame: Dialogues with World Filmmakers. I am particularly envious of the fact that she has interviewed Agnès Varda, one of my favourite filmmakers.

Photo: Liza Béar (left) and Coleen Fitzgibbon

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hanging with Yoko

Last Friday I volunteered as a helper at Galerie Lelong in Chelsea, New York, where Yoko Ono had her opening for her new show, called ‘Touch Me’. It was a fun experience. The best part was assisting the functioning of the main piece, involving a large canvas perforated with holes. Visitors are encouraged to become part of this interactive piece, placing various body parts through the holes (and yes, before you ask, one or two people were brave enough to do what others only thought about). A polaroid is then taken as a record of the 'sculpture' created. Participants can either keep the photo or write a note on it for Yoko and pin it to a board.

I helped take the polaroids. I also had a good opportunity to people watch, observing the array of attention-grabbing outfits worn by members of the Chelsea gallery scene. One particular highlight is best described as the 'Just William' look. A young, lanky gay man wandered through the gallery wearing navy shorts, a pristene white shirt, braces, and white socks, neatly held up with dark coloured ribbons. Another guy had some kind of large animal tooth – possibly shark – strapped to each ear.

Yoko made her appearance towards the end of the event. I managed to take a few polaroids of her, tiptoeing to see beyond the swarms of journalists and excited visitors. I handed them to her later - she seemed to like them.

You might be wondering, what is Yoko like 'up close'? Most of all I was struck by her elusive, star quality. Clad in a bright white suit encrusted with a silver rhinestone pattern on the back and sporting a black fedora, she reminded me of Michael Jackson. It wasn’t just the androgynous clothes, though. It was the whole aura about her – the silence, the dark sunglasses, the mystery. I suppose that’s what makes people like her so intriguing – you are never sure where the persona ends and the real human begins.

As in her earliest performance pieces (some of which are on display at the show, in video form), Yoko keeps her real self hidden. This makes the title of her exhibition doubly provocative – she says ‘Touch Me’, but all we can touch is the surface, the mask, the image. But maybe that’s the whole point. By tempting us with a false proximity, she ultimately encourages us consider how much we can understand about an artwork, other humans, or ourselves.

Working out with the thin and beautiful

Now I know the secret of those high-flying, forever young, toned and sculpted New York women. One word: Equinox. If you haven’t heard of Equinox, your exercise routine is clearly so not New York. A friend of mine gave me a 7-day pass to this exclusive New York gym last week, and I have since learned what I had been missing. In the process I have got a little fitter and enjoyed the glamorous bathrooms and swimming pool, but have also found the whole thing rather frightening. I mean, what other gym would add into its class descriptions the friendly suggestion to ‘cancel that plastic surgery appointment’ and instead partake in good old fashioned exercise?

Except the exercise isn’t old fashioned either. The dizzying array of fitness classes on offer range from elusively named ‘Dance-Sati’ to the more descriptive ‘Hard core abs’ and ‘Brazilian BUTT lift’. Arriving early for a dance class on Saturday, I sat outside the main studio whilst the ’30-60-90’ class finished – which seems to be based on military style reps, conducted with a kind of frenetic enthusiasm by all those taking part. The first thing that struck me was the level of fitness of all the people in the class – all thin and beautiful in their tight lycra, and not one baggy t-shirt or old tracksuit in sight. It was also surprising to see so many men working out alongside the women. OK, this is Greenwich, a favoured area of wealthy, cultured gays who like to look good in their designer clothes whilst they walk their pedigree dogs along the leafy red brick streets. But I’m sure that there were also a few straight guys there too. I don’t think that’s a sight you’d see in your local council gym in the UK (and I’ve spent a good amount of time in those). But hey, this is New York, where fitness speaks louder than anything else, and where men can exercise alongside women, and talk about their inner emotions (ahem- I have more to say on the latter point, but will save it for another day).

And wait – I haven’t finished. As the class came to an end and I got ready for mine, I watched a stream of women pour into the room next door to commence a rigorous spinning workout. Now that’s dedication. But that’s also New York – a city where people don’t do things by halves.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My T-shirts

I have been hand painting t-shirts for a few years now. I wear them and my family and friends have all been given them as presents over the years. One year I screen-printed photos of each of my cousins onto organza fabric and attached this to colourful t-shirts, customising with ribbons and beads. I have been doing floral designs for a long time now, usually just from my head, although I once made a t-shirt with a blue and purple floral design after visiting Monet's Nymphias at the Orangerie in Paris, and I realised after I painted it that it must have been inspired by that. 

This year I've begun selling my t-shirts and camisoles at a boutique in Park Slope, Brooklyn called Flirt. Here are a few examples of them. Once I move back to London I will set up a business to sell them. I will also set up a service whereby people can bring me their own t-shirts and I will charge a fee to customise them.

Here are some examples of my work. 

It Might As Well Be Spring

A few pictures to sum up my past few weeks in NY - Democratic rivalry spreads even to restaurant menus; Magnolia blossoms; Spring sunset from my room in Brooklyn; Irene and I at the posh vegan/organic restaurant 'Blossom' in Chelsea (thank you Ilaria for introducing us); Clémentine modelling the T-shirt I made for her.