Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Bric a Brac Baskets

Summer is bric-a-brac season, and each Sunday these outdoor markets occupy public squares, parks and football pitches all over France. Sometimes they are called bric-a-bracs, sometimes brocantes and sometimes vide greniers, but the subtlety of this nomenclature eludes me because they all look like car boot sales, with a few professional dealers thrown in.

Sellers need to enjoy watching the sun rise. Pitches are established on a first come basis before dawn and, if you are an amateur, it is necessary to be awake enough to haggle with the professionals who scan the contents of your car with their torches as you wait for it to get light enough to set up stall. If not, you discover when you do finally wake up that the things they bought from you in your early morning stupor are now on their stalls at twice the price.

Keen collectors also arrive early but those who go for the spectacle, and barquettes of freshly cooked frites or a glass of wine for 50c (unheard of in a bar) arrive at lunchtime, when eating has become the priority for sellers and buyers alike.  The picnic tables are laid, the camping chairs clacked open, corks popped and Sunday lunch is enjoyed surrounded by many of the same possessions that previously graced the diner’s homes. These are now no longer wanted, liked or needed and sit sulkily on the grass hoping to attract new and kinder owners. If you find something you want to buy at this time of day you are far more likely to get a good price simply because you are taking up valuable eating time. 

Visually raking over the tables laden with the physical manifestations of consumerism, I try to understand this foreign semiotic language. What could possibly have made someone want to buy a coat rack made out of the bent feet of goats nailed to a wooden board! And why does no one want to keep these lovely coiled straw baskets that are the tradition of this region and which embody so much of the history of rural existence here as it was only 70 years ago? What do either of these observations tell me about the people who once owned these objects?

That these Poitou Charente baskets employ the same materials and techniques as those of the Shetland tradition seems too coincidental for me to ignore and the temptation to become a rescue centre for these filthy, abused and neglected baskets has overwhelmed me. Invariably, after failing to persuade myself that I do not need another basket, I part with a few euros, (I don’t usually haggle as knowing the hours of labour that went into their making they are, for me, too cheap already). As the coins slip into the sellers pocket, I am aware of the burden of responsibility I am taking on. Now, I will have to find some way of dealing with this rapidly increasing collection of large baskets that will give these humble objects back some of their simple beauty and dignity. 
Click here to see more baskets

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Keeping It Simple

On the 17th July I returned to Issigeac for the “Foire aux Paniers” and to get first hand evidence of the public reaction to the exhibition of my latest work “Tri and Leaf”.

Unusually, I had total control over how my work was presented in this beautiful space, an opportunity I welcomed, and I chose to keep it deliberately sparse in text and not to use any plinths. The audience were only given simple labels with just the date of making and a description, in French, of the materials used, as it is not always evident that they are re-used, recycled or grown materials.

Lid hat
Now, more than ever before, I want my work to speak for itself. The visual and the literal are two distinct languages and whilst I absolutely believe that one can inform and interact with the other, when I make my work I make it with a visual imperative. If it doesn’t work visually it doesn’t work for me, no matter how many words I may write about it and I therefore want the onlooker to experience what they see and feel (because they always touch my work) unencumbered by my written words, which are far less adept than my ability to manipulate materials.

So, the only texts I provided at Issigeac were the simple labels and a copy of the “Urban Baskets” catalogue for people to look at if they felt so inclined. No name panels, no biography, no 'artists statements' and perhaps even more importantly now, for me, no price lists as the work was not for sale. This has been coming for a long time, but now I feel strong enough to do it, perhaps because I am old enough. My reasons for this decision are too complicated to discuss here, so it will be a separate post, essay or book!

Although I didn’t want to burden the visitors to ‘Tri and Leaf’ with text panels I did want to know what they thought of the exhibition. So, I provided them an opportunity to write words if they so wished by placing a school exercise book and a pen on the table which remained there for the last two weeks of the exhibition.
On Wednesday of this week I went back to Issigeac to take down the exhibition and read their comments. If you click on the picture below you can read for yourself some of the things that were said.

As for the Foire, I hardly had a chance to look at it but RenĂ© Parachout was there again with his lovely baskets and it was nice to catch up with some friends in the basket making world.

Rene Parachout
If anyone reading this fancies exhibiting basket related works in this beautiful space during the month of July they should contact the Tourist Office at Issigeac as they are open to proposals.