LOSING NOTRE DAME > APRIL 15TH> 2019
APRIL 15TH 2019
Riding in a taxi from school I saw a giant plume of smoke above the Seine. I said ‘oh my god’ Notre Dame is on fire. Everyone else in the taxi said ‘no it isn’t’. Their response was simply disbelief, who could imagine that an 800 year old structure could be in the process of burning, it had been there forever, and now, on fire? Mais non, non non non. As we crossed the Pont Neuf it became clear that yes, Notre Dame was indeed burning.
On a personal level I felt a sense of panic at losing something that had been one of my touchstones since my first visit to Paris in the 80’s on a backpacking trip. They say the first time you see something is the only time you really see it, and it’s true. After that first encounter though, I’ve had the great fortune to see her many times. I have sat in front of those ancient stones and sketched her in all kinds of weather, climbed her million stairs to gaze out over Paris, and marvelled at the mysterious gargoyles. And just last Christmas we had the chance to be there for a concert by candlelight, of voices from all over the world echoing of her ancient stones.
And then on April 15th as day slipped into night, walking towards her, not knowing how much the fire had grown, it felt strange to imagine losing her. And I realised I was not alone in my feelings. Pressed in by hundreds of people, tears in their eyes watching as a building burned, and it wasn’t just the building burning, it was parts of my / their histories, our collective histories contained in those stones. It was parts of their memories burning; the first school trip, walking past her in the spring, in the snow, as sirens wailed all around in various recent crises in Paris, it was my first sight of her, and someone else’s first communion, it was everyone’s memories of her, there hanging in a balance as the flames leapt, and the smoke billowed, and les pompiers fought hard. At one point I marvelled at a firefighter hanging in the sky over the Seine, suspended mid -air firing water at the flames. Like a high flying trapeze artist, but in this performance, no safety net, and so much to lose. How much his arms must have ached.
As the sky darkened the streets filled, and the voices around me repeated, ‘putain, c’est pas possible’, ‘mais non non non’. It became a chant, non non non. There was a sense of urgency, clearly no one could imagine losing her. To be there in that crowd of people crying, praying, chanting, singing, and more praying, it was easy to understand how much that building meant to everyone.
As I went to sleep that night I tried to imagine Isle de la Cité without her, and I couldn’t imagine that ‘place’ without ‘those’ towering stones. But it also gave me the proof of something that I have been feeling for a while, certain buildings are like anchors in time. And we humans who walk through the streets of this or that city reflect our lives off the walls that contain us. And some walls, some buildings in our landscapes are more present than others, they resist the forces of nature, they remain, and when we are standing in front of them we feel our own mortality in the physical world. A feeling of smallness, of the passage of time, that before we arrived, and long after we are gone Notre Dame will still be standing. And although the fire burned through the night, les pompiers fought hard, opening every water valve in the heart of the oldest part of Paris to save her, and all our histories.
Night became day, and it was a relief to walk up to her and see that although the scaffolding was twisted, and melted, and the roof was gone, and the beautiful glass of the small rose window no longer existed, her mighty facade remained, her structure was intact, and with her, our collective memories remained intact.
There is something powerful in the chronology of the physical world, something that will be lost in the digital world, where things will co-exist in a flattened out band of information. Things will no longer be carved in stone and tangible, we will lose our anchors in time, and the monuments we share in the physical world.
ARTIST’S STATEMENT 2018
‘The mind is its own place…’, Milton.
The Vanishing Point
Different places on earth have different vital effluence, different polarity with different stars : call it what you like, but the spirit of place is a great reality. D.H.Lawrence
I have traveled far, and followed maps through many cities, on many continents. My journeys have shown me the importance of place. Now we move further and faster through space, and our relationship to place has changed. It is this theme I explore in my paintings and mixed media works.
I contrast concrete places and monuments, with abandoned and transitional places, to reveal how we are continually building and reshaping the physical spaces, the cities we inhabit. Overlaying, discarding, and preserving, based on what we ‘collectively’ view as important in the shared spaces we occupy. I echo this process in my work, evoking, erasing and preserving certain lines. I start with concrete things and let them disintegrate. The end result is paintings which evoke places and their temporality. My work explores place, time, and space, and what it means to be here now leaving marks in paint, and colours; fading, racing towards the vanishing point.
And it is there in the vanishing point where things get very interesting. In my work it represents a point of departure, where matter meets mind and you enter a less material space. To some extent my work uses the concrete, and its physical processes to evoke and construct limitless spaces for the mind.
— Celeste Olalquiaga, Megalopolis: Contemporary Cultural Sensibilities
‘Bodies are becoming like cities, their temporal coordinates transformed into spatial ones. In a poetic condensation, history has been replaced by geography, stories by maps, memories by scenarios. We no longer perceive ourselves as continuity but as location, or rather dislocation in the urban/suburban cosmos. Past and future have been exchanged for icons: photos, postcards, and films cover their loss. A surplus of information attempts to control this evanescence of time by reducing it to a compulsive chronology. Process and change are now explained by cybernetic transformation, making it more and more difficult to distinguish between our organic and our technological selves. It is no longer possible to be rooted in history. Instead, we are connected to the topography of computer screens and video monitors, these give us the language and images that we require to reach others and see ourselves.
Almost a relic, the body is exercised and sanitized to glorification. It is the last refuge of identity. Like the vanishing city, the body remains as the only concrete proof of existence. Yet, scattered and fragmented under the weight of technology, body and city can’t be recovered by means other than those that displace them: they must be recorded or registered anew. Video replaces the personal diary. Made up of images, urban culture is like a hall of mirrors, its reflections reproduced to infinity. Confronted with their own technological images, the city and the body become ruins. Even technology is attacked by an obsolescence that renders it old instantly. We are faced with a transitory landscape, where new ruins continually pile up on each other. It is amid these ruins that we look for ourselves.^
In the Embers of Lost Beauty
June 21st 2015
This sums up my work at the moment. Wandering around Europe in awe of the crumbling beauty, the past lingering in lost places, year by year ancient buildings disintegrating in waves of urban erosion. Facades remain, propped up, and supported, straining under the weights and measures of time. Time keeps on slipping into the future, and as far as the eye can see concrete spills into the void, and creates a certain lack of oxygen.
CUBIFICATION is a word I made up a few weeks ago to describe the contemporary experience. Cubification is the standardization of everything. Fittng into smaller and smaller spaces, organic spaces are becoming cubified. The seats on the train are smaller therefore you must be smaller. Each year the lines in the parking lots are redrawn smaller, your car should be smaller, in fact you shouldn’t have a car you should have a bike. Should and more should. Freedom is being filled with should and more and more people are telling you what you should do, wear, eat, and there is less and less space for freedom. Less freedom and less time, time is being cubified dissected into smaller and smaller particles- Zeptoseconds- smaller and smaller divisions of time so you can get angrier and angrier at the person in front of you who has taken one zeptosecond too long to buy their ticket to get on the train which is now even smaller. Rage against the machine.
” The city no longer exists, except as a cultural ghost for tourists.” McLuhan
1- What’s on the other side of the vanishing point?
2 -“light is therefore colour” (J.M.W.Turner)
3 -Aether; the substance of light.
4 – from Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
“The universe,” he continued, “this universe that we know, began in almost absolute simplicity, and it has been getting more complex for about fifteen billion years. In another billion years it will be still more complex than it is now. In five billion, in ten billion — it is always getting more complex. It is moving toward…something. It is moving toward some kind of ultimate complexity. We might not get there. An atom of hydrogen might not get there, or a leaf, or a man, or a planet might not get there, to that ultimate complexity. But we are all moving towards it — everything in the universe is moving towards it. And that final complexity, that thing we are all moving to, is what I choose to call God. If you don’t like that word, God, call it the Ultimate Complexity. Whatever you call it, the whole universe is moving toward it.”