Saturday, July 28, 2012

Christchurch Cathedral and the City's British Past

I wrote this article for NZ News UK; it was originally published on July 24th, 2012. 

It seems certain now, for most New Zealanders living overseas, that George Gilbert Scott’s Christchurch Cathedral won’t be there when they return. While protests over the decision continue, work to demolish the building began in March. The Cathedral’s loss, however, marks the reshaping of a new identity for Christchurch.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fireworks & Eiffel Tower, Bastille Day

I've spent much of this year looking forward to Bastille Day and, as it drew closer, the fact that I was leaving Paris just a few days later heightened my anticipation. I was especially looking forward to the fireworks. I love fireworks and I love the Eiffel Tower and I was pretty sure that the combination would be even more incredible.

And it was! In fact, I'm pretty sure it's the only time a fireworks display has ever brought tears to my eyes (maybe partially due to my imminent departure). The fireworks went on for half an hour, with a soundtrack that included a disco version of 'La Vie en Rose'.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

100 Sculptures Animalières at the Musée des Années Trente

Paris seems to have animals on its mind this year, from January’s amazing Bêtes Off! at the Conciergerie to the Grand Palais’s current show. And so, it seems, does the city’s neighbour, Boulogne-Billancourt, where the Musée des Années Trente is currently host to 100 Sculptures Animalières.
This museum is quite big, but the exhibition itself is a comfortable size, full enough to satiate without overwhelming or causing fatigue. 100 Sculptures Animalières focuses roughly on the period between 1910 and 1950, with a final section showing contemporary art.
It’s easy to forget about the animals at the Jardin des Plantes, but the beginning of this exhibition is a good reminder of their importance before the internet made it easier to approach unusual species. Many of the animal sculptors working in the early twentieth century sought their models at the Jardin des Plantes. The sculpture from this period, with which the show begins, is remarkably lifelike, particularly in terms of capturing the personalities of different creatures. Maurice Frost’s 1934 ‘Tête de Cobra’ is terrifying, and one can imagine Rembrandt Bugatti’s 1906 ‘Kangarou’ bouncing out of the exhibition and into an Australian landscape.
Soon, animals become stylised, a subject ripe with experimental potential. It’s interesting to watch this progression in the exhibition, particularly in seeing which animals are focused on particularly. In general, there seems to be a move away from the exotic. Paris’s ubiquitous pigeon show themselves as stylishly modern creatures in Joel and Jan Martel’s geometric ‘Pigeon’ and Bela Vöros’s ‘Pigeon Bouland’. The bison’s unusual shape also lends itself well to sculptural interpretation.
The abstraction of the animal perhaps reaches its height with Jacques Lipchitz’s ‘Forme Animale’ from 1921, where specifics are abandoned in favour of expressing an essence. Jean Arp’s ‘Animale de Rêve’ is similarly intriguing.
The show ends with contemporary animal sculpture, which continues the trend toward animal-as-medium in a different way. Here, animals are used as devices to comment on human vulnerability, possession and faith. Wim Delvoye’s famous tattooed pig, now art object rather than living animal, is here, along with a piece by Jan Fabre, the first contemporary artist to have a solo show at the Louvre (in 2007). Alain Sechas’s ‘Le Petit Baldaquin’ is both cute and poignant. Rose K and Rose K’s ‘Le Porte Pyjama,’ a horse lying on a bed beneath a hologrammed face, ear flicking against a feather, surrounded by scissors, ends the exhibition on a rather chilling note.
In tracing the way in which animals have been used -given identities naturalistically or through stylisation, converted into geometric forms or as conduits for human concerns- over the last century, this exhibition gives the visitor a lot to think about. The pieces in the show illustrate the strength of animals as a subject for artists, but don’t entirely explain what it is that lends these varied creatures their appeal. This mystery adds to the aura surrounding these sculpture, and the appeal of this show.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

'Promenades Indochinois' at the Musée Guimet

Many photos of South East Asia have been taken in the last 150 years, and there always seems to be an exhibition of some of them on somewhere. Nonetheless, the Musée Guimet's 'Promenades Indochinois,' which mounts a small selection of Pierre Bonnet's photographs of the area in the 1920s, is very interesting.

Pierre Bonnet, La façade ouest du temple, vue prise du milieu de la chausée reliant l'enceinte IV à la pyramide, 1930

Some shots are predictable. The photographs Bonnet took at Angkor in 1930 are so much like those taken before and after his time that I initially wondered if I'd seen them before. But no, I've seen John Thomson's photographs (the first of Angkor, taken in 1867) and Emile Gsell's and the exhibition at the Musée Cernuschi in 2010... 

This isn't to say, though, that Bonnet's images aren't worth looking at or that they shouldn't be included.  His photographs show his points of interest, and it's seeing when people make different choices, and when they don't, that's fascinating.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Brief Architectural Tour of the 17th Arrondissement

These pigeons will be your guides to the delights of Paris's 17th Arrondissement.
The 17th arrondissement is largely residential and often overlooked due to its lack of obvious attractions. This only serves to make it a more pleasant place for strolling, far from extreme traffic and footpaths crowded with tourists carrying backpacks on their stomaches. Paris's north-west is peppered with more subtle pleasures than its centre, but with pleasures nonetheless.