THE STATUES OF PÈRE LACHAISE
The project ‘Mon Ami’ whilst created in a graveyard is not about a graveyard.
It’s more symbolic of a spirit, friendships including that of relative strangers.
Paris attracts me and fascinates me. A city where the souls of strangers I can only dream of as ever being ‘friends’ rest.
In the empty streets of Atget’s early twentieth century Paris there’s a spirit of life, yet his pictures were often void of people.
This period in time, although past, was still recent enough for me to create a picture of it in my mind. Old remnants offering what the city must have looked like, in the form of cobbled streets, bridges, trees and buildings. Yet the period was long enough forgotten for me to never know anything real of the day to day life of the people from the period.
Sometime prior to this project I was gifted a book by a friend, JP Masclet.
The book was created, edited and contained the work of his grandfather, the photographer Daniel Masclet. The book celebrated works from Daniel Masclet’s circle of friends, the Montparnasse crowd of the late 1920’s early 1930’s. Titled ‘NUS’ this precious gift had been cellophane air sealed in 1933 when it first was published and remained sealed ever since. Eighty-five years later opening it, I drifted to another time for I could smell the air of Paris being released. Whilst I couldn't see this aroma, it still existed, and touched me with a sense of then.
How precious such little fleeting moments are, before becoming a memory and thereafter of what we hope to remember them to be in our imagination.
Père Lachaise in Paris was chosen as the visual representation of this ‘spirit’, a soul unknown or unseen, perhaps a wishful friend who in reality was a stranger. A quiet contemplative place I feel to an extent found me.
The Masclet family kindly allowed me to stay in their family apartment at Quai de Bourbon on Île Saint-Louis, the home Daniel’s wife, Francesca bought in the 1920’s. Much of the furniture was as it would have been then and the view over the Seine directly below still carried the spirit of daily life just in another time.
When I arrived that first day I made a phone snap of the staircase that led to the apartment and sent it to my friend. He replied by sending me a photograph made by Atget of the very same staircase, from almost the same spot, all these years before. I previously wasn’t aware of this Atget’s image.
During this project I also made a portrait of my friend and fellow artist, Douglas Gordon. Douglas brought some bread and we toasted Getrude Stein and the many others who surrounded us in Père Lachaise, respectfully, fondly and always in appreciation of those around us. We spent a pleasant couple of hours that day discovering links we previously never knew existed between family members. Again life is a strange web of coincidence.
These statues are symbols of existence even after death. Erected by or installed as memories by strangers hoping to give others a mark of respect, as a memory, a broken heart or for some, a measure of their own ego. They only exist because of the past yet always hope to be part of the future.
‘Mon Ami’ is the physical representation of this ‘spirit’, ‘energy’ or ‘connection with the unseen’ I’m trying to understand. It is beyond memories yet cannot exist or survive without them. It is offered as a comment of both those we meet briefly in this life and equally as a respectful thought to those we wish we had in another life, strangers.
What other passing minds have looked upon these cold granite, stone or slate statements with private thoughts, asked their own questions or sought answers. Hopes of a greater belief or imagined conversations. They ask little of us as good friends do but often silence can speak the loudest.
Created from the earth, sculpted to a deathly tribute yet somehow warm, wise and reassuring.
Père Lachaise I do believe found me, and friends helped lead me there.
When we ask questions we often find the answer come from within and when we know what we hope for then I do believe other forces, often unseen, help and support our efforts.
We all will one day be part of yesterday, never knowing when that day will embrace us… but sure it will and come that day let’s hope our friends will smile fondly and who knows perhaps strangers will also seek answers from our existence.