A Sacred Space 2
Please allow me to tell you the story of how the second version of my installation "A Sacred Space" came to pass. It was a midweek evening, during the football world cup finals of 2014 and I was riding home to my new studio apartment down by the river Rhone on the outskirts of Geneva to watch the second half of a match I was particularly interested in when the urge to play piano took possession of the steering apparatus that is the handlebars of my bike and steered me to a little bar with a similarly little 3/4 piano in the Grottes quarter behind the station. The bar was closed and while remounting my bike, I suddenly had the idea of going to The Galérie, an alternative bar close by with an exhibition room upstairs that seemed to be made to measure for my installation. Many times I had thought to pass by in the months prior to this propicious day but serial forgetfulness or bad timing had scuppered all attempts at making contact with the people who run the place.
The weather was glorious and so there were many people outside on the terrace drinking beer and smoking cigarettes, etc. I salute the unknowns and enter. There is also a piano here that I had played on many occasions over the preceding years but it was in a poor state of repair and held little appeal, but the bar is almost empty and so I order a cup of tea and ask if the piano is playable, having already completely forgotten the real reason for my visit.
And so I settle down to play the ramshackle, slightly out of tune piano. It has however, certain qualities that bring out the best in some pieces and the worst in others and so pretty soon I am improvising some simple three chord rhythms and starting to have fun.
Time passes quickly and I realise that I risk missing what remains of the match and so I close the piano lid and prepare to leave. A young and very handsome young man appears in the doorway, from outside, and asks why the music has stopped. He pleads with me to play one more piece and I agree but on the pretext that he plays with me. He cannot play says he. Me neither says I. And so there we go, me going round a simple three chord loop in the middle of the keyboard and he hammering the higher keys with the skill and dexterity of an apprentice demolition worker. One piece becomes two. And two and two make five. It is hilarious and also sometimes, through sheer providence, quite beautiful, but the second half of the match is under way and I really must go. So we shake hands and laugh at the madness of what we have just done and I ask his name. Luca says he. "And what does Luca do" as I gather my belongings and finish my tea. Oh, he organises the exhibitions upstairs. No I say. Yes says he. I tell him the forgotten story of why I came in the first place. He says there and then that I can have the space for a month as artist in residence. The rest is history though not yet a written history, although it certainly should be. But then my whole life is a book, a film, a piece of theatre, a circus act of tightrope walking clowns, lion tamers and acrobats. A love story and a Hammer horror where the unifying qualities are caricature and tragedy, melodrama and banana milkshakes. Almost, but not quite out of control. Hope still, but in limited supply. Time doing what it does best, running out. Faster and faster, as the body gets slower and slower. Fifty nine but still feeling like a young man. At least in spirit. The body, not quite in accordance, but still, more than hanging in there.
And so September 11, yes, Nine eleven, 2014 saw the opening of my second attempt at creating a sacred space. Interesting to note that, blissfully unaware of the nine eleven connection, I managed to acquire, though not without great difficulty, two of the three "buche Finlandais" (Finnish logs) that I wanted. Used in colder climates for warming and lighting outside, they are roughly a metre in height and fifteen centimetres thick and are chainsawed three times at intervals like on a clock, almost along the full length, allowing them to burn, standing on the uncut end, stabilised by the relative weight difference. Assisted by a little paraffin, poured into the open wounds, they burn beautifully, from top to bottom, leaving six fragile towers of carbonised wood that fall sometimes while still burning. Each log leaves it's own fire sculpted signature on whatever remains standing. Given that shamanism had become an integral part of my life in the years after my spiritual awakening and that totems had always been an integral part of my art, the burning logs as an opening ceremony seemed to me a perfect beginning for steering my evolving installation in that direction.
Two weeks of live-in preparation allowed me the time I needed to play with the space and find the best juxtapositions of objects and mirrors, but it must be said that evolution was always the name of the game and what I was very happy indeed with on the last night was a far cry from what I was reasonably happy with on the first. Things changed on a daily basis as I looked for more harmony and a higher aesthetic. New ideas came by the lorry load as well as new interpretations and potential titles from interested visitors. I lived and breathed creation twenty four hours a day for the next month. "Wisdom"
a gifted title from a friend, priorly humorously known as "the kamikaze
warrior's shield" got the mirror treatment for the first time. It hung from
the wooden rafters in front of a large mirror, made from two one metre
squared mirrors, one standing edge to edge on the other, the whole thing
held in a specially designed and built (by me) wooden frame. I left just
enough distance between object and mirror to allow it to turn when
gently persuaded to do so by myself or a visitor. There are no photographs
here that do it or any of the installation, for that matter, justice.
The collaboration I was hoping for didn't materialise until the last few days
when a photographer, a film maker and a dancer got interested.
Candles quickly became a must for the evening showing and
although spot lighting had been installed during the show it was the quasi
religious ambience created by candle light that really caught the visitors'
attention. Opinions often differed as to the theme of the installation.
Many were immediately impressed by the temple like quality while others
were spooked by their own perception of voodoo in action. Of course that
pleased me no end. Spiritual symbolism is the name of my game and
voodoo is a bit dark for my liking but polarised interpretation is candy for an
open minded artist.
Two weeks of preparation and four weeks of exhibition time rendered
the thing a full on creative experience. I gave up my one room apartment to
save the money I needed to fund the evolutionary process and so for the third
time in six months I was homeless, sleeping in my music studio or indeed in
the gallery itself whenever possible. My daily routine was heavily influenced
by the fact that La Gallérie is a socio-cultural association that attracts a large
number of social misfits, often heavy drug and alcohol users who had access
to the exhibition space during the opening hours of the bar downstairs. This meant that I was obliged to stay each evening until midnight or else take the risk of damage or theft. I became gallerist, therapist, bouncer and entertainer as well as artist in residence from 10.00 until 24.00 seven days a week. Some pieces were indeed victims of drunken behaviour but somehow evaded major damage. It was interesting to note that the most lost of the crazy people who frequented the bar were often the most touched by the zen like ambiance, although apart from L'éternel, were not particularly interested in the objects themselves. Given that the aim was to create a sacred space and not an exhibition for the sale of my work, I regard this as a great success. Visitors were few but they were sometimes of exceptionally high quality in that there was an appreciation for what I was trying to do and their support helped carry me through to the end. Dealing with the politics and personal motivations of an association of sixty or so members was an ordeal in itself but still I have absolutely no regrets. It was a beautiful and intense real life experience.