Meeting Pauline by Catriona Shaw
We made an appointment to meet in front of Karstadt department store near Hermannplatz at the beginning of April when she would be in Berlin on her way back from a residency in Rauma, Finland. She told me she would be wearing a red coat.
I’m happy to write you saying :
Thank you for the accordéon!!!
Kati said that we could be friend. We don’t know yet of course.
But as I will be in Berlin from the 4th April to the 11th, I would like to meet you if it’s possible it should be great to speak about the ice, or the OTAN pub or… whatever. Let me know.
However I hope to read you soon!
It is April 2007, and Pauline Curnier Jardin has just ordered a beer at a Thai restaurant in Berlin. She is wearing her giant red woolen coat with fur trim and has her hair piled up on top of her head in a bun. It is a hairstyle that will, however, take around 5 different forms over the course of the next 2 hours. As the beer arrives she receives a phone call from one of her grandmothers, ‘Mami’, who she blethers away to for the next 20 minutes between sips. Two years into the future, in 2009, she will be invited to participate in a show in Rome called the Invisible Generation gallery Adele-C. Rome, an elegant and slightly vain city, a fairground of antiquity and a place where Pauline, part-time paparazzi-stalker of women wearing accidental/intentional monochrome outfits, will meet her elderly doppelganger, another incidental yet fated encounter – at the opening, an older lady wearing almost an identical coat appears and Pauline insists on a photograph of the two of them standing together, in front of her exhibited work . A brand new piece of work is born through a simple and coincidental instance. As I mentioned before, it is exactly encounters like these that are vitally important in the work of Pauline Curnier Jardin, as are the surrounding stories leading up to, and trailing away from them. Pauline’s work, carefully executed, originates from a sometimes instantaneous moment or emotional state which she manages to grasp either as a drawing, photograph or written text and which she thereafter methodically develops, sometimes painstakingly, in order to reproduce this ‘momentary invasion of the sense, the being’ in as sensual, poetic and tactile a way as possible. Her love for cinema (not only the film but the experience, the place) is thus self-explanatory – in the cinema we subject our seated and idle selves to a whirlwind of emotional stimuli. Pauline’s recreation and re-evaluation of this genre through her piece ‘Salon d’Alone’ presents a kind of vividly psychedelic, makeshift-cinematic and body-embracing aural experience cave that dares to describe a women’s (ultimately the artist’s) maddening state of loneliness and desperation. It’s topic seems to have been picked straight from the so-called ‘women’s films’ of the 40s yet stems from an actual source – Pauline really was completely alone in the infamous middle-of-nowhere in Finland at the time she wrote this poetic tale in order to capture her feeling of loneliness. Gladys Knight recorded a version of the Kris Kristofferson song ‘Help me make it through the night’ in 1967 where she speaks an introduction to her audience, declaring in her smoky voice at the beginning of the track:
‘I’m imagining a lot of happy people
And most of you are with someone you love
Well you are the lucky ones
All over the world there are
Lots of people who are alone tonight
I imagine most of us have been in that situation
At some time or another, I know I have
Recently I heard a most beautiful song
With a dynamic lyric, that really expresses
This feeling of loneliness
It means a lot to me personally
And I’d like to share it with you
I think you’ll see what I mean’
Pauline’s piece is a not dissimilar declaration of this supposedly shameful state, particularly as a women and of course in our current times of social networking where plugged-in i-people are led to believe they are constantly surrounded by ‘friends’ and lovers. Loneliness has become an antiquated emotion, and thus the formal choice of a slide show cinema, a live soundtrack and a narrator makes total sense as components of the piece’s final artistic realisation.
Back to 2007. As Pauline, suffering from a bout of stomach ache, leaves my apartment where I have haphazardly been ironing on a t-shirt logo for a friend musician in her presence and we have vaguely discussed working on a performance, commissioned by Lonnstrom Art Museum in Rauma Finland where she has just completed her residency, and a possible mini-tour. She scribbles the address of Ulrike Ottinger’s production company that is just down the road and enthuses about her work – I have never heard of the filmmaker before but Pauline’s adoration of her work awakens my interest. The next day she will return to Paris, where she is based.
Yes…so great to meet you…
Paris /I am happy to see my tiny flat full of candy_stuffs and still my lovely yellow room-mate laying on the sofa. I’m already leaving Paris tomorrow for working with a group of choregraphers in Rennes. It’ll be nice for sure. I love making some stupid experimental-comportement-of-the-body with dancers; and talk about it after for all during the evening(young and trendy dancers talk more than they move! I love them!)
We definitively have to think about our Finn Tour. I just need to really come back in Paris (at least next thursday) to send you my work, listen to your washing dishes and making love (i promised you a real report, i didn’t forget). I was also thinking about Lituania…?
keep doing something in Berlin, and if you can, have a look on the tips i’m so proud to gave you.
Pauline Curnier Jardin and Finland = an unrequited love story of sorts; a fascination from afar, even when close. Pauline chose Finland because it was distant, in mind, culture and in body for a woman used to cagole flirts and immediate embracing in the south of France. Not completely, however – the artist’s residency in Rauma, where she first arrived, is also very close to the TVO nuclear power plant which, when I had been there, was being developed by French engineers and scientists. Pauline, ever in search of romance, devised a ludicrous plot involving a film star, the power plant, a Japanese VOIP company director, some random TVO employees (one of which she dubbed ‘nubby’ for inexplicable reasons) and an underwater lobster lover. The story became a film script that became a performance describing a film yet to be made. Pauline, the director and dreamer, sets the scene where she explains the absurd yet tragic love story of ‘Alice’, a fictional character based on a non-fictional friend.LOV & TVO was included in our first performance collaboration, a kind of mini-showcase of our live work, which we ‘took on the road’ in Finland in Autumn 2007. I had only seen photographs of the performance and by this stage had complete confidence in Pauline and her multi-tasking experimental art forms. I had seen the video work she had conducted in Rauma with a group of children and was touched by the poetic story, the intimacy and the sensitivity towards the images and their editing. LOV & TVO is an utterly feminine piece, and beautifully so, a private bijoux box with a sole, dancing ballerina, explaining the desire to be director by ‘demonstrating’ her storyboard. At the same time she gladly displays ‘the vulgar’ aspects of life, inserting little bits and pieces of commercial-hi-tech-nonsense references or the ugliness of some human interaction. These segments are never too hard-hitting however – nothing should disturb the poetic rhythm so much that it jolts things completely out of place – not so much punk, more ‘unk’, as she herself describes it. This ‘unk’ sensibility allows the work to ramble gracefully forwards, gently grab her (preferably seated) spectator and pull them close, whispering sweet nothings of something-from-nothing, a world where Pauline’s work originates.
It is still 2007, and I have just been to Paris where I miserably failed to entice Pauline to come and watch Spiderman 3 with me (amusingly pronounced ‘speederman’). It is the night of the elections and the bid for the political throne between Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolène Royal is about to be won. Pauline is clearly agitated and needs to go home and work, immerse herself in her world of charms and dreams and oddities for a little while before she wakes up to an insidious right-wing reality the next morning.
Hey, France will be rich.
I fell in love with Sarkozy. What should I do now cos
I will be rich? My lover will be poor it’s so cute. I want to vomite on happy people since sunday. Cos I am so rich thanks to Spiderkozy. It was really great to see you. I hope you’re doing well and you are happy to be with a future rich french man. I will send you my finish’s songs selection next week. What do you think about my idea to sing some räkkäälä tube?
lemonscarf : bye bye poor people.
Are artists striving to make political statements, even when painting landscapes or making large sculptures depicting candyfloss? The politics of sex (and not sexual politics) emerge time and again in Pauline’s work, as do observations about the politics of community. Sex between men, sex between men and women, sex between women, sex between objects, the sexual nature of glass-encased ornaments and antiquities… Communities in controversy, odd community gatherings, community niceties, community errors of judgement.
It’s now 2009 and Pauline and I go to the Louvre. The Louvre is not for the poor people, we wear lemon-coloured scarves in the Louvre. What is it that people are staring at, admiring in the grotesque and inordinate baroque marble statues in the sculpture park: Pauline’s perspective is clear – it’s all about sex and friends that don’t move, trapped eternally in inanimacy with their own desires. Camera at the ready, she is taking photographs, she steals photos, she is being accidentally photographed in the corners of tourist flashes in a Chinese deadened wonderland of material chronology, in the Louvre, barbaric, primitive and obtuse. At home, Pauline compiles and reframes the images as an animation with ghostly piano music, a wordless porn film, featuring tastefully ornamented protagonists and un-protagonists, stars beheld and admired by the bourgeoisie alongside the accidentally-general public. Sticky, awkward laughter as horses almost licking testicles loom towards the screen, and small, sometimes incidental, genital details become the central focal point of the camera. mapping a sexually rampant tale. Antiquity quickly turns into a harem, a male whorehouse, an all-female brothel, a collection inanimate(d) figures starved of sexual satisfaction. ‘Amis’ confronts spectators with their own dirty minds and desires, but also reedifies these emotions as humorous and valid in the context of a highly regarded history of art and the colonial artefact.
We are very European… Pauline gathers these innocuous socio-political emblems and constructs her work. Dried up mother’s day flowers, colonial booty, some bread flour, a snow-covered hill, a firework scattered evening. Whooosh! We arrive in 2010. Bonne Année, Paulette. A new Pauline, with the desire to try new things – a fresh start in a new city, Berlin. A new year’s resolution and with it, new material: oil pastels. We haven’t spoken of drawing yet. Pauline is a writer, a teller of tales. Pauline told me via Skype of her decision to ‘try’ using oil pastels, the desire to experiment. She explained she had, amongst several experiment oil pastel works, committed a drawing crime, one that all draughtspersons should be afraid of – she had made a ‘design’ drawing. This drawing was intended to be scanned and sent out digitally as mass greeting celebrating the new year, 2010. The drawing in question is entitled ‘Bonne Annee’. Instead of a critical diagnostic of the aesthetics of this drawing, it might be more apt to talk of the initial functions and varied resulting quality of drawing in general. The drawing depicts two naked figures on skis, their shame hidden by two pine trees that are somewhat too small. In the background the words ‘Bonne Annee’ are scrawled in black. The handling seems, dare I say it, rather awkward and somewhat manually unskilled, initially looking like an art brut piece by a naive artist, slightly puzzling when you know that Pauline has studied art and accomplished much ‘better’ pieces of work. I started this essay talking about encounters – in fact it is the encounter with the artist that here solves the puzzle and perhaps the overriding motto throughout all of Pauline’s art – being aware of the artist’s personal stories, in other words the artist herself, the drawing and its function makes perfect sense. Drawing is a space for experimentation and liberation – Pauline, a difficult year behind her, attempts to review and liberate her emotional state not only by using a medium that is unfamiliar but also by portraying a heavily kitsch, commercial image and destroying it in the process, relieving and simultaneously reflecting what had happened the year before. Bonne Annee exists as a kind of new years resolution more than anything else and the decision to ‘show’ the work to the public (it might also have remained hidden away from the public eye) is an attempt to not display a kind of manual prowess of art, rather an attempt at a new meeting of souls, an embodiment of feelings, humour, tragedy and niceties, the artist’s way of saying ‘this is who I am, if you don’t like it then leave it’. An encouragement if you like to ”hang out with Pauline”, for a bit at least. For Pauline, it seems to me, art is an encounter. It counts as a way to meet people, a presentation of character.
1. Email dated 12.03.2007. In fact I didn’t know what she was talking about when she mentioned the accordion in capitals. She was talking about an old rank that I let one year ago in the flat she was living in Finland
2. The work, titled The Prosôponpons, suddenly became a cinematic backdrop, ultimately acting more as a stepping stone for this cosmic encounter and finally, in the photo, existing as a blurred absurd image that one might reference more to a Jean Rouch parody documentary.
3. cf. The Syndrome of the Purple Rose of Cairo a text of Pauline Curnier Jardin, published in PALAIS