Tag Archives: Sculpture

Autumnal art fest

‘Slick’ by Kate MccGwire (photo copyright of the artist)

It’s freezing outside which means there are only two places to be in Paris, drinking hot chocolate in a café or in a gallery taking in some art. So far this autumn, I’ve been trying to do as much of both as possible.

Firstly, British artist Kate MccGwire came to town and held her first Paris solo show at La Galerie Particulière in the Marais area. I went along to the vernissage (posh French word for opening night) and met the artist herself, which sounds lovely, if you take the torrential rain, me forgetting my umbrella and getting completely lost out of the equation. I even got introduced her mum and my running eye-liner and dripping hair fitted in quite well with her dark, mysterious feathered sculptures. You can read my interview with Kate MccGwire for Art Wednesday here. Her next show ‘Lure’ opens in London on November 23rd at the All Visual Arts Gallery.

A few nights after ‘The Museum of Everything’, an exhibition that’s touring the world opened at a new gallery near SaintGermaindes-Prés,Chalet Society’ which is an old school that has been stripped bare. It’s a huge place that’s easy to get lost in, so perfect as an art gallery. The opening night was impressive. It was a huge party fuelled by vodka cocktails and a buffet fit for a queen. Normally, at these kinds of events it’s the done thing to act vey nonchalant about the whole thing, as if your life is like this everyday. However, the cocktails were working wonders. Everyone was tucking into the buffet like aunties at a wedding. The fun was soundtracked by DJs and live music or if people needed a bit of ‘me time’ there was a silent disco on hand.

Then I almost completely arted myself out at FIAC, Paris’ annual contemporary art fair where just under 200 galleries squash themselves into the Grand Palais. I went along to watch the super-rich casually pick out a 30,000 Euro paintings in the same way I would choose a bottle of shower gel. It was an intense hit of contemporary art and even if that’s not your cup of tea, the people-watching provides hours of entertainment.

Next door to FIAC was the Bohèmes (Bohemians) exhibition at the Grand Palais which is on until January 14th.  It’s a beginner’s guide to Bohemia, basically a concept that started off as a glamourisation of the ‘gypsy’ lifestyle and was later used to describe the depressive, drugged up life of a typical Parisian artist living in a dingy rooftop studio at the end of the 1800s.  I was more interested in the first part of the exhibition which focused on traveller communities and the misconceptions around their lifestyle which still exists today, thanks to crap TV shows like ‘My big fat gypsy wedding’ but there’s quite a few gems to discover in the second part too (I don’t want to spoil the surprise!)

Most recently, I took a look at ‘Lost in Paradise’ an exhibition at Loft Sévigné in Le Marais which explores spirituality in contemporary art. It’s a great exhibition but really heavy, raising a lot of questions about religion from different perspectives which nobody will ever agree on. I was lucky enough to get a tour, which resulted in someone getting so hot under the collar they left. All art should have that affect.

So now I have an art-shaped whole in my heart and am trying to work out what to see next.

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Swan Fake

Quell, 2011 – Kate MccGwire

Photograph: Tessa Angus, Image courtesy of All Visual Arts

I discovered Kate MccGwire’s sculptures at the Maison Rouge as part of a group exhibition – Memoirs du Futur, which focuses on the art collection of Thomas Olbricht (on until the 15th hurry!).  Although an amazing show, it was a little gloomy and macabre so MccGwire’s sculptures were a breath of fresh air in comparison. Yet, I guess it depends how you look at them, from one perspective they are beautiful and dream-like, another they are disturbing and nightmarish.

To start with the beauty; as soon as saw ‘Quell’ I thought of swans gliding down the Norfolk Broads, close to where I grew up and where my family now lives. Bizarrely, when I read the label for the artwork I noticed that the artist is from the same area, further research found that her father was a boat builder and she was brought up on the river.

Other images that came to mind were the swans on the Serpentine in London which prompted fond memories of Sunday walks around Hyde park. Then, I remembered the bizarre Dutch swans of Amsterdam. In the middle of the night I watched around thirty of them parading and stretching out their plumage bathed in reflections of neon lighting. It was as if they’d learnt their moves from watching the nearby windows or they had inhaled the fumes of the neighbouring coffee shops (I myself had done neither I promise!)

So how about the disturbing qualities of the sculptures? Firstly, swans themselves. Although graceful, beautiful and mysterious birds you would never try and pet a swan. It could be an urban myth, but they are said to be able to break your arm, failing that I’m sure they’d try and peck you to death. Attempt to defend yourself and you’ll be in trouble with the Queen of England as apparently they are all her property (perhaps another urban myth).

However, you then realise that the creepiest thing about these sculptures is that they aren’t swans. These bodies don’t have heads; they are always stuck somewhere or tucked away. Why should there be a head anyway? Perhaps because our brain tells us from experience that it should be a swan? Maybe the bends and wriggles belong more to a serpent than a bird? This made me think of the worm scene in BeetleJuice, which isn’t difficult because as a teenager I watched this film about 100 times.

The biggest surprise about these works though is that the ‘swans’ are actually made of pigeons’ feathers. Although that doesn’t bother me, there are some who despise pigeons. People in the countryside shoot them and I’ve seen city-dwellers kick them mumbling ‘rats with wings’ under their breath. Pigeons are swans’ ugly, poor cousins. In London it used to be an attraction in Trafalgar Square to feed the pigeons and let them walk all over you as seen in this film (skip to 3min47) but now that they live on our discarded McDonald and kebab leftovers they are seen as dirty pests.

In an interview MccGwire once said how she is interested by the shift in perception that people experience when they find out that the feathers are from pigeons. Often they feel squeamish, despite the knowledge that the feathers are sanitized before use.

MccGwire first came up with idea of using feathers as an art material when she moved her studio to a river barge to get closer the nature she was studying. Next-door is a disused boatshed that pigeons had made a home. She started collecting their molted feathers, which was considered dangerous at the time because bird flu had just broken out. To supply her need for huge quantities of feathers she now works with a network of over 200 pigeon-racers and fanciers who send her feathers in molting season.

The move to feathers has been a turning point in her career as it has attracted the attention of global art collectors such as Charles Saatchi and her cabinet pieces and on-site installations have been exhibited all around the world.

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Wing man

Bryan McCormack, When Joris Ivens Meets Hraesvelgr, 2010

I’ve passed this sculpture several times, it’s at the top of a steep hill and I’m always happy to see it, but at 12 metres high it’s a little too tall to hug. The hill is in Domaine National St. Cloud, a beautiful heritage park that was one of the places Louis XVI hid during the French revolution, Marie Antoinette’s rose garden is still there. Its lakes, topiary and fountains is like something out of Alice in Wonderland, but the view of Paris in the distance brings you back to reality. Due to its location on the outskirts of the city it’s always very quiet which makes you feel, like Alice a bit of an intruder.

The sculpture is by Irish artist Bryan McCormack, I couldn’t find much information about him other than that he was born in 1972. However, the commissioning of this sculpture was obviously very important as it was inaugurated by the Minister of Culture, Frédéric Mitterrand (also nephew of the ex-President François Mitterand), along with the first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

Perhaps it is the subject of the work that made it so prestigious. Joris Ivens, who is referred to in the title of the piece is a Dutch film-maker, and in Paris cinema is like a religion. In England someone would ask you, “have you seen that new film with Kirsten Dunst in it?” in Paris they would say, “have you caught the latest Lars von Trier?” It’s not even about snobbery, it just seems to be ingrained into the culture, like a taste for wine and strong cheese that other cultures can take or leave.

Joris Ivens directed over 80 films between 1912 and 1988 and continually re-visited the theme of wind. This sculpture refers specifically to the 1966 film, ‘Pour le Mistral’. The Mistral is the name of a powerful and mysterious wind that blows around the coast of the South-East of France in cities like Marseille, Nice and Cannes. Located along the Mediterranean Sea, these are hot cities in the summer but a pleasant day can disappear in a few minutes when the Mistral sets in. Ivens was often nicknamed the “Flying Dutchman”, another reference to wind as it relates back mythology of a rebel ship that is forever doomed to sail the sea’s high winds.

The other name mentioned in the title, Hraesvelgr, is that of the Nordic wind giant from Norse mythology often represented holding a globe with wings on his back. Half-man, half-bird, Hraesvelgr could not fly himself but by flapping his wings he would send his children, ‘the winds’ around the world on his behalf. McCormack’s sculpture features strong fabric wings held up by flexible cable so that they can move along with the wind, harmonising with the trees around it.

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Filed under Public art, Sculpture