Postcard from Bordeaux, France: And the artist went out screaming…

Above: “There are other worlds but they are in this one,” surrealist poet Paul Eluard, 1895-1952, artist Dora Garcia, 2018

The substantial 1824 brick building, Entrepot Laine, that houses Bordeaux’s Contemporary Art Museum originally was designed as a warehouse for produce shipped in from French colonies. Neglected on a wharf on the Garonne on the edge of the Chartrons District, it was purchased by the city in 1974 and repurposed to showcase French and international works of contemporary art.

When we were there the nave of the museum was dedicated to “Absalon Absalon,” an exhibition continuing through February 1 that showcases the interrupted work of Meir Eshel (1964-1993). After a stint in the Israeli military service, Eschel moved to Paris in 1987 and enrolled in a workshop in the Ecole Nationale Superiure des Beaux Arts. He changed his name to Absalon, a rebellious son featured in the Old Testament. The biblical figure of Absalon was vanquished and murdered, forever associated with the idea of revolt ending in tragedy.

As his work began to meet with critical acclaim, Absalon moved into a studio designed by Le Corbusier. In 1993, a solo exhibition at the Musee d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris showcased the prototypes of his “Cellules/Cells.” According to CAPC, these were:

white constructions built based on the proportions of measurements of the artist’s body and designed to be installed in six different cities for living in. Designed as “mental spaces” by Absalon, the Cells define a form of life based on resistance, habits, mechanisms and constraints, as forms not of alienation but of emancipation. What was involved, for Absalon, was living on his own terms by shedding assigned identities.

Visitors to the exhibition are invited to explore these somewhat claustrophobic freestanding cells, tiny houses designed before the current proliferation of them that has added comfortable amenities the artist’s lacked.

The artist envisioned that once his cells were finished, he would devote himself to his film projects. As complications from Aids began to cut his productivity, he spent the last year of his life making videos, performance art. According to CAPC: “…videos, which are all in conversation with each other, and the same economy of labour: still shots, broadcast in a loop, with editing reduced to a minimum.”

The artist screams repetitively in this excerpt from his video “Bruits,” or “Noises.” The notation beside the looping film in the museum quotes the artist as saying:

I wanted to strip myself down, to get at something rawer, more direct, less metaphorical so I made a film that is a scream to the point of exhaustion. My interest in this scream was two-fold: On the one hand it was about exhaustion, the fact that I start in a very powerful way and that inevitably, because my voice becomes exhausted, the sound decreases until the moment at which I completely lose it; and, on the other hand, it was about recording a direct experience, impossible to repeat twice.

Some of the other artists’ works pictured above are from another exhibition continuing through the end of February, “Around the Day in Eighty Worlds.”

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