Founded by giants

(Post) French Connections

Australian Print Workshop
Paris study tour
May – June 2018

(Post) French Connections, part 1

French Connections, part 1
French Connections, part 2
French Connections, part 3
French Connections, part 4
French Connections, part 5
French Connections, part 6
French Connections, part 7

(Post) French Connections, part 2
(Post) French Connections, part 3
(Post) French Connections, part 4

3rd June:
Upon arriving somewhere new, we drop our anchor in the familiar, and head off to the Musée d’histoire naturelle de Lille by way of the secondhand book market cupped within the 17th-century Flemish-style stock exchange, Vieille Bourse. At the market, we find postcards of Versailles to draw from and collage upon, and the stall holder gives us a good price as he tells us of his first time travelling to Australia “by part-cargo, part-passenger boat in 1975, or was it ‘76?” and warns us to “be mindful of pickpockets. Keep your bags close”. We call in, fable-style, advice tucked under wing, at Le Chat Bleu, a sweetshop established in 1912 by “two elderly sisters .... in Le Touquet. Children loved the shop, and because of the sisters’ blue Persian cats, it became known as The Blue Cat”. We are not in the original store on rue Saint-Jean, but the store in Lille, which opened in ‘91, and while there may not be a Persian cat sitting behind the counter, there is charm, and we leave with chocolate and informative bookmark in hand. Scattering an imaginary trail of breadcrumbs to the Natural History museum, we fall under its sad enchantment, its beautiful lament. Many of the animals are fixed in curious positions: a startled lynx, a cautious juvenile tiger, a baffled boar, dusted with snow, a sun bear poking their long tongue out, two wallabies in a ‘boxing kangaroo’ dual, a mischief of mice, paws hovering on a tree branch. Some are in combat, locking horns or gnashing fangs, or in pursuit of prey, while others are grooming, one leg in the air and with a pink tongue poking out. From a starling about to be caught, a zebra in perpetual flight, their plight overseen by a brown bear with one arm raised over their head as if in bamboozlement, little could prepare us for specimen after specimen of birds, case after case after case. A beautiful lament, in every sense. Welcome to Lille. Mind how you go.

* * *

Mint. Pistachio. Bon. Winding through the old square, early Sunday morning.


4th June:
Our reading of place is in constant change: nothing is fixed, everything is fluid. And we, too, in our responses, are unfixed, fluid, from one moment to the next. And so this morning, the curling, radiating, tiny streets within the old town of Lille looked nothing like those we’d said goodnight to yesterday. With a click to the left, outside, and a spring forward, inside, a different combination is revealed to us. In a handful of hours, a complete shift that comes with finding your feet and forming new patterns, and the heightened awareness (and exhaustion) of travel. When you take the chores and domestics out of the day, it is our world, our everything. The business of reading a city, a street, a collection, and checking our temperature as we step. More please.

* * *

This morning, which as I type this spell check autocorrects to ‘this ornament’, we headed to LaM (Lille métropole musée d’art moderne d’art contemporain et d’art brut) to see their collection and struck gold. Gold primarily in the sense that we had longed to see the collection, but also in that it was the first Sunday of the month and as such free. While it was between temporary exhibitions, the permanent collection, from Fernand Léger’s Woman with Bouquet to Barry Flanagan’s two hares boxing upon a cruciform base, from modern to Art Brut, was equal parts raw, ordered, inspiring, absurdist, and honest. The joy of making was writ large. We are now wound up and itching, ready to spring forth and just make. Good drawings, bad drawings, any drawings, they all have merit, they all lead us somewhere, or make us feel something, whether it is an idea that comes forth, a reminder to practice direct observation, or something more sustained. The act of drawing, making, writing, collaging is in itself important.


4th June (continued):
“In 1945, Jean Dubuffet began documenting and collecting “works produced by people unscathed by artistic culture”. He chose to designate such creations by the term ‘art brut’, a phenomenon now regarded as an integral component of 20th-century art. Art brut first found its way into the [LaM] in 1999, through the donation of the L’Aracine collection — the largest public collection of art brut in France, now numbering over 5,000 world by historical figures, including Aloïse Corbaz, Fleury Joseph Crépin, Henry Darger, Augustine Forestier, Madge Gill, Jules Leclercq and Augustin Lesage, as well as contemporary #artists such as A.C.M, Mitchel Nedjar, André Robillard and Judith Scott. These works are exhibited in the hand-shaped extension to the museum designed by the architect Manuelle Gautrand. Fragile and sensitive to light, the collection is regularly rotated, to ensure the works’ preservation.” — LaM

Hand-shaped! *gasp*

* * *

It is not often you get to met someone you’ve known for fifteen odd years but never had the joy of meeting them in person, but today we did. Today, within the Palais Beaux Arts, we met our dear blogging friend Éireann (@eireannmor). Face-to-face, after years of blog conversations and emails, support and participation in each other’s projects, such as her MIEL books 1110/5 publication and other such things.

Meeting you today, Éireann, was beyond lovely. We couldn’t contain our excitement and felt ourselves to all be hovering on the one magical plane. To further heighten our sense of being petite giants forever misreading distance when it comes to maps (halve the distance, and halve it again), that you could pop over from Belgium to see us in France made our map shrink further still in bewilderment and, more importantly, warmed our hearts, our minds, filling every pocket within. We feel so grateful to know you, and look forward to our next encounter, who knows where or when.

Meeting and clicking with a blogging friend in real life has further made giddy our travel mash-up minds. Upstairs is a fairy floss of Calder, Brueghel, coffee, and friendship.


4th June (continued):
Farewell Lille. Hello Utrecht. (We almost missed seeing this feline, but they had clocked us, many steps in advance. We crouched low, said hello through the glass, and bid adieu to France.)

* * *

While we wait under the grey sky, a quick canter by torchlight through the antiquities of the Palais Beaux Arts with Mary Magdalene and René Dary from The Phantom of the Louvre (1965), and a look at things to come in 2019 (Relief maps of Lille; door screech).


(According to legend, Lille was founded in 640 by Lydéric and Phinaert giants, hence the title.)


Image credit: Lille, France, 2018