Thursday, May 31, 2007

manufactured landscapes

last night i was at the Canadian Cultural Centre here in Paris for the opening of a show of Edward Burtynsky's photographs. i've seen several of the photographs before, but i hadn't seen the Three Gorges series in full-size print--and like a lot of landscape & architecture photographers, Burtynsky's work loses its impact in tiny reproductions (i apologize for the little image here.) His series on what's currently the world's largest engineering and construction site, the Three Gorges Dam project along the Yangtze River, finally gives an understandable picture of the massive scale, and of the 1.2 million people displaced for the project. no editorializing, just brilliant photographs. the show is on all go!

The image above plays against all those wintery-white Canadian landscapes...this is "Uranium Tailings #7" (1995) from Elliot Lake, Ontario.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

pirate boat

when i lived near the MK2 cinema complex on the Bassin de la Villette, the movie theatres only took up one side of the quay....but you could see the blue glow all the way up the canal. then in 2003, they began tearing down the old warehouse building opposite, in order to build a matching complex on the east quay...the pink one in the photo. i regretted the old brick & iron-girder warehouses (left-over from the canal's industrial days 100 years ago), but as usual MK2 recreated some of the old ambiance in their rebuild, and the matching cinemas have really helped revitalize the neighborhood. last night, both quays were humming with activity--opening night of Pirates of the Caribbean, complete with boys in pirate hats--and i finally had a chance to take the tiny electric boat that muddles across the bassin. the ferry is included with the price of a movie ticket; for some reason, last night, the boat was travelling backwards across the canal. inelegant, but fun.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


last week was Cecilia Woloch's Paris Poetry Workshop--and like the previous years, I was so happy to be part of the team. it's lovely to have an excuse to devote a week to poetry, leading an afternoon workshop is always interesting...and as an added bonus I got to read at a wonderful new bookshop: Berkeley Books, along with Cecilia & Kathleen Spivack (who has done some amazing collaborations with jazz musicians).
the shop has been open for a year or so, but i only just got there, because i've been out of it's new to me. Berkeley Books is on 8 rue Casimir Delavigne, one of the angular little streets between the Odéon Theatre and rue Monsieur le Prince, heading towards the Luxembourg Gardens. great used book selection, and Tex & Phyllis have wonderful recommendations if you can't decide what to get. and i can't think of a better stop en route to picnic in the Gardens: get off the metro, pick up a perfect sandwich on rue de Buci, then stop by here for some poetry books. i can't wait to install myself in front of the Medici Fountain in the Gardens and read all afternoon...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


i visited this squat eons ago when i first arrived in that time, this old refridgeration building (owned by the SNCF train company) was located in the midst of ruined buildings and empty construction sites-to-be.
more than a decade later, the neighborhood is filled with chic new apartment buildings, the Very Big Library has been renamed for Mitterand, barges moored at the quai have become chic nightclubs, and I was worried the Frigos might have lost their anarchic appeal as they became an official artist residence. but paying rent hasn't changed the Frigos very much: the hallways are still covered in graffitti, the secret garden has grown into a great place for a glass of wine, and last weekend's open studios were a jolt of great art, terrible art, and a fabulous, chaotic sense of welcome.
the building itself was built in 1921; it contained a vast ice machine and was big enough to warehouse entire trains. huge pipes run through the Frigos, which once kept all kinds of food products chilled. but when Les Halles in central Paris was closed, the Frigos were no longer needed: food was shipped directly to Rungis, and the building was abandoned. then it waited...slowly crumbling and being walled-off...until the artists began to arrive in the 1980s.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

the hand

a new graffitti has appeared all over the city...and i approve, because it's drawing attention to the plainest of urban "furnishings", the manhole covers of Paris. there are some cities which have invited artists to redesign manhole covers (Seattle, for example) and other places where the manhole covers are totemic (New York). but in Paris, they're often pretty dull. a lot of our urban furnishings here were designed back in the mid-1800s under the omnipotent eye of Haussmann...his era saw the installation of our blue street signs, distinctive garden benches and "Morris" poster columns. but Haussmann doesn't seem to have extended his design decrees to the bland sewer covers (even though the sewers of Paris were renovated & essentially created under his watch). but this new graffitti artist seems to be making a cry for help...reminds me of the closing moments of an Orson Welles movie, The Third Man.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

in the Palais

yesterday evening i took a shortcut through the gardens of the Palais Royal and was surprised to see these, inflating & deflating, installed what i like to think of as Colette's garden. if she were still looking out her window, the French writer would no doubt have had something sly to say about them.i think this is part of the installation by Shim Moon Seup--being in front of the Ministry of Culture, the Palais gets a rotating series of public artworks throughout the year--and right now, it's Shim's work, titled VERS UNE ILE. not sure how the island fits in, but the toppling balloons were really entertaining...though with typical Parisian hauteur, no one else walking by seemed to pay the slightest attention to them, and there's no information actually near the installation.

Monday, May 07, 2007

in the carpark

today i'm meeting someone on rue dauphine, which is conveniently near my favourite parking lot. not that i have a car...but i like this carpark because on the second level below ground, there's a long surviving section of the medieval wall of Paris, built by Philip Augustus in 1190. (photo to follow) Eric Hazan argues in L'Invention de Paris that the city is still walled...but today the wall is the "peripherique" highway that circles Paris. so maybe it's appropriate to find one of the oldest city walls far underground in a downtown carpark.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

France votes again

I am intrigued by an article in the Figaro last week which describes how the new President of the French Republic (whoever it turns out to be) will be able to redecorate the presidential palace according to whim--there's a vast repository of antique furniture and objets-d'arts, and a massive redecorating budget set aside for every change of government.
it turns out though French presidents have fairly predictable whims: most have stuck with the Louis XV desk selected by General de Gaulle--though Georges Pompidou daringly hung a black abstract Soulanges painting behind the desk. apparently he liked watching people's reactions to a painting that was shockingly contemporary for the otherwise 18th and 19th-century room. I wonder if the Chiracs have finished packing their bags (photo is younger Chirac at the famous desk)...and if they're going to miss the building. the Elysee is a marvellous "hotel particulier" from 1718, rarely glimpsed behind its elegant gates. it's remembered as the mansion of Jeanne Poisson, la Marquise de Pompadour; as far as I know, it's the only presidential palace in the world that was once the home of the king's mistress. but "La Pompadour" was one of the most brilliant women of her time and advised Louis XV on everything from international battles to interior decor...i imagine she would have been fascinated by the recent round of debates and interviews concerning the current contenders for her old home.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dawson break

the ice has finally broken on the Yukon River! this great photo thanks to the intrepid K. Lachkar--who walked across the ice bridge on the river as it got slushier and slushier...
(i think that huge piece of ice puts today's Paris wind into perspective!)

Friday, May 04, 2007

after the villa Savoye

i'm already planning a 2008 trip out to Yvelines (not far from Paris), because a new house project is coming to this area...not a housing project (though several Paris suburbs are taking new steps on that, too). no, this is a sort of companion to the radical Modern villa built by Le Corbusier out in the same Yvelines area. the project is a brand new architectural prize, the Prix International D'Architecutre Durable, which plans to build a series of 21st century houses in the Seine Aval area--one per year from 2008 until 2058.

it's an exemplary idea but I'm always leary of houses that aren't meant to be lived in. Le Corbusier's 1930s villa Savoye is a masterpiece of modern architecture & exists as a sculptural example of what a building can do...but it was originally designed as a house, to be inhabited by Savoye and his wife. so while I like the principle of the prize, i'm more interested in finding out exactly what each house will be used for--and that apparently will be left up to the locality where each house is built.

once this year's winner is chosen, the first house of the project is due to be completed in fall '08 in Chanteloup-les-Vignes. it's slated to be a "house manifesto", open to visitors. and the shape of the house will very much depend on who wins--the first round of nominees includes Balkrishna Doshi, the Indian architect who once worked with Corbu, the French architect Francoise-Helene Jourda, and Wang Shu, the Chinese architect whose recent construction in Hangzhou used tiles from demolished buildings. we'll have to wait & see...