Radio Margo

Diary of an art writer – day 1 (short entry)

I am working on a project for a monograph with my dear friend Sara Shamsavari, who specialises in portraits. Therefore, at the moment, my job consists in reading a lot (which is what you do as a writer anyway) of theory and of art books. In particular, I am re-reading Erving Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday life, because I am interested in understanding how much of the practice of portraiture is an act of performance.

 

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Diary of a translation – day 1

Translate the work you want to see in the world.

I am lucky enough to have been commissionned to translate a book that has shaped my learning since I discovered its author on my semester abroad ten years ago: Teaching to Transgress – Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks. It took me months to find a publisher that would accept the project, and finally got a reply from Syllepse, a radical publishing house. I had been told by other publishers that bell hooks’ work was « dated, not very relevant in France ». Here we encounter a first problem: representation. When I thought the debate on Afro-feminism and intersectionality which existed in activist groups in France was starting to reach academia, a white man was telling me it was irrelevant. How can we access the materials and theory we need to debate – and I speak from the perspective of a white female – if publishers refuse to fund the translation of such materials?

bell hooks. Source: galoremag / Photographer: unknown

My desire to translate this book was born from a need to have conversations about race and power relations with the teachers around me, friends and family, all white. French universalism « does not see skin colour », and so does most of the feminist theory I had access to while growing up.

 

1946 in Casablanca

This is a graphic short story I wrote and drew as part of a one-week course at the Royal School of Drawing, Shoreditch. Let me know what you think!

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The Walking Man and the Sea – A Baltic love story

Written in March 2018

To get to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, you have to take a train from Copenhagen Central Station, which will take about thirty minutes, and then walk for another ten to reach the museum on the shores of the Baltic Sea. One could think that art did a favour to this windblown corner of land by making it one of the most acclaimed museums in the world. An easy mistake corrected as soon as you enter the light and airy rooms of Louisiana, named after its funder’s all three wives.

I have seen art by Picasso and Giacometti many, many times. Giacometti, notably, has been featured in several retrospectives. I remember recently discovering his drawings or tiny busts with amazement. However, as time passes, I find it hard to be moved endlessly by his walking men. I have been looking at this work since my A-levels ten years ago. I remember we had to write a commentary about art in space and instead of writing, I chose to write a comic strip where sculptures responded to each other, the Demoiselles d’Avignon squashed up in their window and the walking man ironically immobilised by his cast bronze step, anchoring his elongated body forever.

The large windows shed another light on Giacometti’s sculptures, which did not exist in a vacuum anymore. This time the man was moving, he seemed to be walking away from the light, inside the building, and, on the day I visited Copenhagen, from the park, covered with snow, surrounding the museum. The view of the lake and the sun through the window made the sculpture into a silhouette, all height and bones. The sublime experience of bronze against ice, of that fragile sculpture in a building on the seashore, of the elements pressing me to look at it, replaced the sensual one of seeing Giacometti’s fingerprints on the clay. I am sure that had I visited the museum on a summer day it would have been yet another revelation, but I fell in love again, as the maritime winter revealed Giacometti to me as never before.

 

The garden of the museum features sculptures you may have seen before, Barbara Epsworth, Alexander Calder or Joan Miro. Yet you probably have never seen them with the Baltic Sea, and the shores of Sweden further away, as a backdrop. It is human-made beauty against natural beauty. The emotion I felt while looking at “Little Janey-Waney”, by Calder (1964-1976) could not have existed in a closed room or an urban setting. The big curvy man by Joan Miro looked like it was guarding the hill. Richard Serra’s “The Gate in the Gorge” (1983-1986) is a site-specific sculpture, and yet I noticed many visitors missed it as it was below a bridge leading to the cafe. It made for the beauty of it, this sculpture vanishing in the landscape, when others, such as those mentioned above, were exposed by it.

The sculpture Little Janey-Waney, by Alexander Calder, surrounded by snow

« Little Janey-Waney » Alexander Calder

It made me reflect on the dialogue between an artwork and its location, how both reveal themselves, in an almost chemical manner, by coming into contact. Helsingor is only three train stations away. As sure as Hamlet became himself in his castle overlooking the strait, the bronze and the iron objects developed textures and nuances against the white sky and sea. On the train back to Copenhagen, I wondered whether the artworks even existed before they came to Louisiana.