Did I Ever Mention…? (CAMAC)

 

We’ve come to the end of my wonderful two months at the CAMAC Centre d’Art here on the blog, but before moving on, I just want to share a few more things with you. For me, it’s the little things that most often seem to ‘stick’ – my delight is in the details. So without further ado, here’s a bit about some of those little things I’ve failed to mention thus far…

 

Did I ever mention that in the town of Marnay-sur-Seine (as well as in many small towns throughout France), the windows are filled with white lace curtains? As far as I know, there’s no ordinance or rule demanding this – it just seems to be the traditional aesthetic that everyone knows and loves. Some of them are beautifully patterned, and easy to admire. Others, however, are admittedly kind of awful, depicting scenes, objects, and animals like teddy bears, unicorns, and the like. With that said, though, I absolutely adore them. They are quirky and funny, and often make me laugh out loud. And in today’s world of hyper-design and Ikea patterns, I find that there’s something refreshingly honest about them…

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Speaking of Marnay-sur-Seine, did I ever mention the ‘Guard Geese?’ Just around the corner from CAMAC, you’ll find them fenced into a large yard along with some chickens. I suppose they think it’s their job to guard their little friends because when you’re about a block away (a BLOCK AWAY!), they’ll begin squawking very loudly. As you get closer, they’ll raise their wings wide and flap furiously, and when you get closer still, they’ll HISS at you! (Yes! Geese can hiss! Who knew!?) Man, they are mean… BUT I have to admit that I found their little shows of force quite entertaining – as a result, I often went out of my way to walk down their street, just to mess with them…

 

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Did I ever mention Marnay-sur-Seine’s little ‘beach,’ and the time some of the “CAMACois” went swimming in the Seine river? (Don’t worry – we were upstream from Paris!) It was the first weekend of September, when it was still warm and sunny, but not too hot – summer’s swansong. The water was FREEZING, and most people didn’t manage to stay in for longer than a few minutes, if that. I stayed in for about 10, but Ken was the champ, setting the record at just about 30 minutes! The rest of our time there was spent warming ourselves in the sun and playing fetch with the adorable dog of some fellow swimmers / sunbathers…

 

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Photo by Maja Pegan

Kristie taking the plunge…

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Our fetch-loving canine friend…

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Speaking of the river, did I ever mention the fish that lived in my studio? (Say what?!) Apparently, the artist who had the studio before me was making art with fish that she’d caught in the river and then dried – perhaps by accident or perhaps not, she left a few behind…

 

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I decided that, instead of throwing them away, I’d make my own contribution to this little scene, making it all that much more mysterious for the next artist…

 

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Speaking of studios, did I ever mention the awesome chair that lived in Laura’s? I’m a sucker for antique furniture, and think this chair was just beautiful in its way…

 

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With that said, it certainly needs some work!

 

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Did I ever mention that CAMAC has a great collection of art magazines? One day I found an article about Philly’s ‘outsider art’ scene in an issue of Beaux Arts.  As I suffer a bit from classic ‘Philadelphia Underdog Syndrome,’ this excited me much more than it probably should have. (“SEE! SEE! We ARE a great city! Even the French are talking about us!”)…

 

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Look closely, you’ll see shots of Isaiah Zagar’s “Magic Gardens” on South Street…

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Did I ever mention “Angry Uncle?” Walking around Pont-sur-Seine one day, we passed a fire hydrant, and Maja remarked without missing a beat, “Why is it that the fire hydrants in France all look like angry uncles?”

 

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 Photo by Maja Pegan

This, of course, became a bit of an ‘inside joke,’ which resulted in a plan to outfit one of these “angry uncles,” gorilla-art style. We decided a scarf, a pair of glasses, a cigar, and a mustache would work quite nicely. With that, preparations begun…

Working on the mustache…

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(Using real hair, of course!)

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Photo by Maja Pegan

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Photo by Maja Pegan

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Putting the final touches on the glasses…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

After the end of Open Studios and Harold’s exhibition opening, Maja and I decided that it was time to make our move. The mission was a great success, and “Angry Uncle” still lives on in our hearts to this day (tee hee)…

 

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Photo by Maja Pegan

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Speaking of strange things happening in the night, did I ever mention ‘The Phenomenon?’ On my second night at CAMAC, a few of us were sitting in the common space working on our computers after dinner – the weather was lovely, and we had the door to the riverside patio open to enjoy the breeze. Engrossed in my work, I didn’t realize what was happening until I looked up and saw that, all of the sudden, hundreds of small moth-like bugs were flying everywhere around the room. We stepped out onto the patio, and found even more gathering frantically around the outdoor security lights….

 

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It was strangely beautiful and, yes, a tad creepy – it made your skin crawl juuust a little bit. The sound of it all was absolutely amazing, though – what was just the flapping of thousands of tiny wings sounded like the rushing water of a waterfall. Watch and LISTEN to this VIDEO (be sure to turn the sound on your computer UP!)…

 

We never quite understood what it all was – some sort of mass hatching and/or mating? Many of these little creatures died that night, leaving a blanket of white on the patio the next morning…

 

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A week or so later, Maja and I found evidence of the same thing occurring along the river in Nogent-sur-Seine as well, probably on the very same night it happened in Marnay…

 

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As you can see, even though CAMAC is a relatively quiet place, it has its moments of excitement (well… at least, exciting for Marnay-sur-Seine. Perspective is everything!). Did I ever mention the time that firemen arrived to the ‘compound’ to take care of a pesky wasp’s nest in the roof of the tower? This happened during a particularly quiet period at CAMAC, and was the most exciting thing we’d seen in days! We felt like little kids, fascinated with the bright, shiny red truck and the brave firemen (ha ha)…

 

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The special wasp-suit…

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Speaking of all things emergency-related, did I ever mention the night Harold walked into the common room, his hands dripping with blood? Yeah… umm… needless to say, we were alarmed! While working on his big installation, “Landslide,” he bent over to shift one of the tripods, causing a large stone to fall from up high and hit him on the back of the head. Lucky for him, it didn’t knock him out and he was able to reach the main building for help (turns out it was only just a small cut on his scalp)…

 

A little reminder for you of Harold’s installation, “Landslide”…

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The culprit stone, smashed in two after hitting Harold’s head and then the floor… Let’s hope it was the floor and not his head that caused the damage!

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Icing the injury…

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Never fear, he was in very good hands…

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More excitement found us in the form of Maja’s birthday in October. The only resident to celebrate a birthday while at CAMAC, we went all out to plan a great celebration which included Raquel’s homemade “Chavocado” (a blended chocolate / avocado dessert – a bit unusual but very tasty!), Christiane’s amazing mistletoe birthday crown (naturally – remember Maja’s mistletoe installation?), and the creation of our very own private ‘bar’ in a rarely-used room next to the computer lab. We drank Belgian beer (Leffe – Maja’s favorite), played a few fun rounds of “Who the F*** Am I?” (a great party game where you take turns asking ‘yes or no’ questions to determine which famous person / character your opponents have assigned you), and we even danced a little salsa to our favorite song, Bonito,” by the Spanish band Jarabe de Palo. (For Maja, Raquel, and myself, this became the unofficial CAMAC ‘theme-song’ by the end of our stay)…

 

The presentation of the Birthday crown at dinner…

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Photo by Jón Özur Snorrason

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The strange and wonderful “Chavocado”…

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The custom-decorated CAMAC ‘bar’…

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Complete with LOTS of red balloons (Maja’s favorite color)…

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Maja reading our group card, which was covered in goofy pictures of the Birthday Girl herself…

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Playing “Who the F*** Am I?”…

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Photo by Maja Pegan

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Photo by Maja Pegan

And of course, dancing a bit of salsa…

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Speaking of CAMAC ‘night club’ action, did I ever mention the concert? One night in October, a band was invited to put on a live show for the whole town in our library. I never got the full story of exactly why this was happening – one day the furniture in the library was being cleared out and a tent was being set up outside… et voilà, instant concert! Through the grapevine, I heard it had something to do with a local program that aims to bring live music into small towns. I never really confirmed this, but no matter – it was fun for us regardless! Unfortunately, I can’t remember the band’s name (for shame!), but I must say that these young musicians were very talented – excellent harmonies and great stage presence…

 

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Photo by Jón Özur Snorrason

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Speaking of night time at CAMAC, did I ever mention how lovely the ‘compound’ can be at dusk?

 

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But of course, with dusk must come the dawn. I was lucky that my bedroom received beautiful morning light – I couldn’t keep my camera off it…

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Lastly, did I ever mention the polaroid wall? On the first floor of the main building, a large bulletin board hangs tucked away in the corner, jam-packed with polaroid photos of previous residents and staff. I fell in love with it immediately, and was excited to see me and my fellow “CAMACois” join the ranks when our time there was over…

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Unfortunately, as we all know, polaroid film and cameras are going the way of the dinosaur. The CAMAC staff had only one piece of film left, and wasn’t able to find more for purchase (or didn’t feel like putting in the effort to do so, anyway). I refused to let that be the end of it, and so set about the task of creating ‘polaroids’ for each of the “CAMACois” using paper. Not exactly authentic (nor nearly as long-lasting), but it’ll do in a pinch!

 

(Even “Angry Uncle” made it onto the board!)…

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And so it goes – portraits of the “CAMACois” were hung, and another chapter in the story of the CAMAC Centre d’Art came to an end. As I’ve said before, my time at CAMAC was immensely important to me on a number of levels, and I feel truly fortunate to have lived and worked there. Many thanks, again, to those of you who supported my fundraiser on USA Projects last Spring – your generosity made this amazing experience possible!

 

And now, I must bid you adieu for just a little while. At this writing, I have about a week before heading BACK to France for a residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris for three months. I’m excited to embark on the final phase of this crazy and wonderful sabbatical year, and can’t wait to tell you all about it here on the blog! With that said, I have a lot of catching up to do first – a three-week ‘petite tour de France,’ a residency at the Santa Fe Art Institute in New Mexico, and ‘hibernation’ time in the snowy Midwest… posts about all of that still to come! Until next time, au revoir!

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