Aller, Rentrer, Retourner

Aller – to go
Rentrer – to go home
Retourner – to go back

After living and traveling in beautiful France for three months in the Fall of 2012, I happily returned to Paris in March of 2013. My original plan was to stay in France for a full six months, but sadly, I didn’t have time before my initial departure from the States to arrange a visa for that length of time. Therefore, I was stuck with the standard tourist visa available to Americans traveling to France: three months in, three months out. No exceptions. And so, I stayed three months in France, went home to the States for three months, et encore… was back in France for yet another three months! (Oh, visas – why must you complicate our lives so!?)

My arrival in Paris was surprisingly easy – I knew how to navigate the airport and the train into the city. I found my way easily to my new art residency on la Rive Droite (the Right Bank). My French was rusty, sure, but decent enough to get me from Point A to Point B. In a way, it felt like I had never left France… and that felt good. It almost felt like coming ‘home’ – or at least my ‘home away from home.’

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Of course, all these warm fuzzy feelings about being in France were dampened just a bit after battling some pretty serious jet lag on that first day in Paris. My flight arrived in the morning, so the majority of my day was spent feeling exhausted and loopy, fighting to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime hour. In fact, I was so out of it that I managed to humiliate myself by dropping and breaking an entire bottle of wine at the checkout of the supermarket – my tired brain only able to muster up the phrase, “Je suis très désolé!” (“I am so sorry!”). I said this repeatedly to the completely unimpressed checkout clerks before quickly paying for my groceries and rushing out of the store. (Although, I can’t lie – I did go back and grab another bottle of wine off the shelf. Clearly, I needed a drink).

But I digress. France! Paris! Three months working in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts! Yippie!

In the center of Paris, right on the river Seine across from Île St. Louis…

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… you’ll find hundreds of artists residing in live/work spaces both in Cité des Arts’ main building…

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The main building from across the river...

The main building from the island across the river…

… and in smaller ‘annex’ buildings nearby. I lucked out and got a spot in an annex building off the tiny and charming rue Geoffroy l’Asnier. I found living there to be much more pleasant than it would have been in the main building, both in terms of the setting and the building itself. And it turned out that my apartment was bigger than most of those in the main building to boot! Woohoo!…

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The adorable rue Geoffroy l'Asnier...

The adorable rue Geoffroy l’Asnier…

My building from the street - the 3rd floor windows were mine!

My building from the main street by the river – the 3rd floor windows were mine! (By the green light).

The courtyard behind the building that leads to the entrance of my apartment...

The courtyard behind the building that leads to the entrance of my apartment…

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My bedroom...

My bedroom (yes, those are my dresses on the walls. What can I say? The walls needed some color)…

The tiny European-sized kitchen...

The tiny ‘European-sized’ kitchen…

The main living space...

The main living space…

... and my work space.

… and my studio work space.

One of the best things about my apartment was the windows – they let in the most beautiful light, day or night… IMG_2393 12.16.51 AM IMG_3262 IMG_5112 10.56.12 AM IMG_5115 10.56.12 AM IMG_3026 IMG_3029

I also spent a lot of time watching the world go by from those windows – out of the side of my eye while working in the studio, while taking a break from work, or in the evenings with a glass of wine. There was always something interesting to see out there, and some of my favorite moments in Paris were spent sitting there, looking out…

You could see Notre Dame from the windows...

You could see Notre Dame from the windows (through the trees, on the right side)…

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Rainy spring days...

Beautiful sunshine after a spring shower…

Various parades and marches...

Various parades and marches…

The occasional protest or two...

And the occasional protest or two…

A random dancer decided that this would be a good place for a stretch...

A random dancer decided that this would be a good place for a stretch…

... and this dancer chose the spot for the filming of a music video...

… and another dancer chose this spot for filming a music video…

One evening a group of skateboarders filming a movie were outside my window for a good hour trying to land one (clearly very difficult) trick. It was so exciting when he finally nailed it...

One evening a group of skateboarders filming a movie were outside my window for a good hour trying to land a -clearly very difficult- trick. It was so exciting when he finally got it!

And then, of course, there were the horses...

And then, of course, there were the horses…

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Even when 'nothing' is happening, there is something to see...

Even when ‘nothing’ was happening, there was always something to see…

I much preferred living in this setting rather than in the main building, which I found aesthetically unappealing, dorm-like, and actually kind of creepy with its long dark hallways..

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I didn’t spend much time here – mostly just for weekly French language lessons (more on that later) and the occasional exhibition, concert, or open studio event. Other than that, I would go there to use the laundry room, which involved an elevator ride to the second floor, walking the length of the building down the (long, dark, and creepy) hallway, and then walking back down two flights of stairs -that for whatever reason were only accessible from the second floor of the building- into the laundry room on the ground floor. Phew! Always a journey and always annoying (and another reason I kind of hate this building)… IMG_5336 8.32.29 AM 10.56.11 AM 9.29.24 PM

Fittingly, the laundry room itself was pretty dismal, so unlike my red-footed friend above, I always chose a more scenic place to wait for my laundry to finish – the garden behind the Bibliothèque Forney at the end of the block…

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And here's the front of the library because... well.. it's lovely.

And here’s the front of the library because… well.. it’s lovely and you should see it.

But again, I digress!

I think I can sum up my time in Paris pretty simply: stitch, wander around the city, stitch, go to a museum, stitch, go to a park, stitch, go to a market (hit up favorite neighborhood bakery on the way home), and stitch. And stitch…

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…and stitch…

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…and stitch some more…

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As you might remember, I had begun a 4×6 foot hair embroidery of a dollhouse during my residency at CAMAC Centre d’Art back in September and October of 2012. I wasn’t able to finish all of the stitching while there (didn’t even get close, actually), and so at the end of my residency, I packed up my piece and stored it at the Cité Internationale des Arts, where I had my residency scheduled for the Spring. When I finally returned to Paris and got into my new studio, I was excited and nervous – I had SO MUCH work to do! At CAMAC, I’d managed to finish only a portion of the kitchen and an even smaller portion of the shingled roof…

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This left me with about 4 and 1/4 large rooms, 4 small rooms, AND almost the entire roof to finish. Needless to say, it was a daunting task, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to do it, even in the three whole months that I had before me. With little delay, I got busy. Very busy…

My piece hanging in the studio, with my original drawing - my 'map' as I navigated the vast network of pre-punched needle holes...

My piece hanging in the studio alongside my original drawing – my ‘map’ as I navigated the vast network of pre-punched needle holes…

Finishing the entire bottom floor of the dollhouse was cause for celebration...

Finishing the entire bottom floor of the dollhouse was cause for celebration…

This bedroom took 49 hours of stitching alone!

This bedroom alone took 49 hours of stitching!

The hairs were secured on the back of the piece using small pieces of archival tape...

The hairs were secured on the back of the piece using small pieces of archival tape…

... the tape had to be pealed off of tiny strips of paper before being used. Needless to say, by the end of my time in Paris, my pile of tiny papers grew quite large...

The tape had to be peeled off of tiny strips of paper before being used. Needless to say, by the end of my time in Paris, my pile of tiny papers grew quite large…

When it was all said and done, it took me 298 hours of stitching, using 1,154 strands of hair over a period of about four months in residence at CAMAC and Cité Internationale des Arts to finish this piece. PHEW. Its size (4×6 feet!) and its level of detail were to blame for those many long hours spent in the studio…

Click on this image for a larger view (photograph by Mark Stehle Photography).

Click on this image for a larger view (photograph by Mark Stehle Photography).

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Oh, I know! Let's give that comforter a pattern!

Oh, I know! Let’s give that comforter a pattern!

... and the couch too...

… and the couch too…

... and the curtains... (WHY did I do this to myself!?)

… AND the curtains!  (Why, oh WHY did I do this to myself!?)

By the time I finished the piece, I had decided a few things:
1) Its title would be “Home Imagined (Dollhouse).”
2) It needed to be framed so that both the front AND the back of the piece were visible because the back is actually quite interesting. (It’s possible that I like it even more than I like the front, actually)…

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(Photo by Mark Stehle Photography)

(Photo by Mark Stehle Photography)

The piece finally finished and framed months later in Philadelphia...

The final framed piece at my solo exhibition at Metropolitan Gallery 250 in Philadelphia a year later…

… and lastly…

3) I will likely never make a large hair embroidery like this EVER AGAIN!

This last section of the roof - the last portion of the entire piece to be completed- almost killed me.... it was just torture finishing it!

This last section of the roof – the last portion of the entire piece to be completed- almost killed me…. it was torture finishing it!

What can I say? I have a love/hate relationship with this piece, and it has been that way pretty much since the beginning. Of course, I am very proud of it and am so pleased with how it turned out. This work is a culmination of almost a decade of my art practice, and feels monumental in a way – a great accomplishment. With that said, making it was no cake-walk. (Not to mention packing it, shipping it, storing it, framing it, transporting it, and on, and on, and on – but more on all that at another time).

For one thing, there was the stress and anxiety. I had invested so much time, money, and emotional energy into the creation of this work – could I actually finish it before the end of my sabbatical? What if I couldn’t finish it? How would I find the time (and space) to complete it once I went back to my ‘real life’ and full-time job in Philly? I’d come so far and invested so much, I couldn’t give up on it, even when I wanted to.

Each step of the process came with some sort of technical problem -a challenge to overcome- only to be solved and then replaced by yet another problem in the following step. And although I enjoyed the repetitive nature of the work (it’s quite meditative), the sheer amount of time required to make the piece was simply exhausting. While in residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts, I worked 5 to 8 hours most days, stitching non-stop. (I listened to many a podcast and streamed countless movies and TV shows to keep my mind occupied while my hands worked – “Saved by the Bell” and “A Different World” re-run episodes on YouTube? Well, don’t mind if I do! I’m not going anywhere).

My journal entries from that time remind me that I was suffering from chronic headaches (a result of staring at the tiny hairs and needle holes while embroidering, no doubt), and I often referred to the studio as a ‘prison’ in my writing. “It’s so beautiful in the park today. I really don’t want to leave, but I have to get back to my prison.” Terribly over-dramatic, I know, but at times it really did feel that way to me  – especially when I was looking out of my apartment’s gorgeous windows at Paris in the springtime! I mean, come on – who wouldn’t rather be out and about in Paris instead of pushing strands of hair through tiny holes in a gigantic piece of paper? This was MY work, and even I didn’t want to be in the studio that much! But then again, I was so invested in the piece, and so excited to see how it would turn out – I was obsessed with seeing it through. In retrospect, I realize the experience of making this work was a strange mix of peaceful meditation, boredom, longing and frustration, loneliness and isolation, determination, and excited anticipation for the final result. So yeah… like I said: Love. Hate. C‘est la vie, non?

To see more (better quality) images of this piece, please go to the gallery on my website. While you’re there, be sure to check out the short documentary VIDEO I made about the making of this piece, as well. (I had to learn to use iMovie almost all by myself in order to make this video, so please watch it and make my efforts worth all that agony!)

Of course, I wasn’t the only artist toiling away in a studio at the Cité Internationale des Arts. Hundreds of artists and musicians from all over the world live and work there year-round, coming and going on their own schedules. Because of both its scale and the lack of communal space (we were all living in separate, fully functional apartments after all), Cité des Arts did not feel much like a ‘residency’ to me – or at least, it didn’t have the same feeling of the artist residencies that I’d been to up to that point. At CAMAC and the Santa Fe Art Institute, I was part of a small group of artists who shared communal spaces, cooked together, ate meals together, and ultimately formed friendships (some of which have now lasted years beyond my time at these residencies). Unfortunately, these things were not really a part of my time at Cité des Arts. I think if I had lived in the main building it may have been a bit easier to meet people, but still, I was happy to be in the charming annex. And in a way, I suppose it was a good thing that my social life wasn’t very robust while I was there because I had so much work to do!

With all that said, I wasn’t a total loner. I did manage to meet a few lovely people, mostly through the weekly French lessons on offer to the residents at Cité des Arts – a few fun-loving Australians, three delightful German women, a friendly Finnish photographer. There were random chats over cups of coffee and glasses of wine, as well as a few evenings out and some ‘field trips’ to museums. I visited with my friend Christiane a few times (a fellow resident from my CAMAC days who lives in Paris – remember her?), and I also spent some time with an American friend-of-a-friend who was living in Paris at the time (more about her in future posts).

And of course, I met a few other Cité des Arts residents at various exhibitions, concerts, and open-studio events. With so many artists around, it’s needless to say that a large variety of work was being produced there. Here’s a little snippet of what I saw…

The studio and works-in-progress of one of my French-class buddies, Sandra HeinzIMG_3469 10.53.18 PM IMG_3464 10.53.18 PMsandra IMG_3472 10.53.18 PM IMG_3473 10.53.18 PM

Installations and sculptural pieces by the French artist, Martine Bartholini

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Broken eggshells line the floor of a small enclave in this installation…

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And eggs find a home in old bicycle tubes in this piece…

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... and probably my favorite piece of hers...

And my favorite work of hers…

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Quirky and fun drawings by Swiss artist Alessandra Respini, about liars, lies, and lying…

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Her studio wall required a closer look…

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The studio and exhibition of Yeo Chee Kiong from Singapore…

Works in progress in his studio...

Works in progress in his studio…

... and hanging in his final exhibition...

… and hanging in his final exhibition…

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He also exhibited great photos of models wearing his creations…

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An exhibition of photographs by Michel Bouvet in the Cité des Arts’ main gallery – lots of walls, windows, and doors from all over the world (right up my alley)… IMG_3448 10.53.17 PM IMG_3452 10.53.17 PM IMG_3450 10.53.17 PM IMG_3439 10.53.17 PM IMG_3461 10.53.18 PM

My favorite work at Cité des Arts, by far, was made by an American artist, Patricia Smith – a Philly native! (Represent City of Brotherly Love!) I absolutely LOVE her drawings and how she talks about them. Be sure to take a look at more of her beautiful work on her websiteIMG_5097 10.56.12 AM 8.17.59 PM IMG_5099 10.56.12 AM 8.17.59 PM IMG_5092 10.56.12 AM 8.17.59 PM IMG_5093 10.56.12 AM 8.17.59 PM IMG_5094 10.56.12 AM 8.17.59 PM IMG_5096 10.56.12 AM 8.17.59 PM IMG_5100 10.56.12 AM 8.17.59 PM

And although it wasn’t may favorite work by any stretch, this performance piece by Hungarian artist, Nemere Kereski, was pretty entertaining. During an open-studios event in the main building, he blocked off the hallway just before his studio door so you couldn’t actually go inside – in fact, you couldn’t even walk past his studio! All you could do was talk to him through the cardboard barrier and ask questions about his project. To me, it seemed that he was playing with ideas of open/closed, inside/outside, the nature of art and the art world, yadda, yadda, yadda. But what I found most entertaining about the whole thing was the questions he was asked by his visitors and the silly conversations that ensued. “Do you have any drugs in there?” “Are you hungry?” “Will you ever come out?” It was certainly the most unique ‘studio visit’ of the evening!

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And in case you are wondering: yes, he did talk to his neighbors whose flats were located behind the barrier – they were cool with it…

I also attended a few concerts while I was in residence at Cité des Arts. I listened to an Icelandic vocalist sing opera and Icelandic folk songs, I went to the concert of an excellent accordion player (one of my favorite instruments), and I ventured out to the Serbian Cultural Center, near the Centre Pompidou, to hear Swedish and American Cité des Arts residents play country western songs. Yup. You read that correctly – a Swede and an American playing country western music in the Serbian Cultural Center. I mean, with that combo, how could I resist?!

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Country western isn’t my favorite style of music, but I have to say, the band was really good!

Was it the best residency I’ve ever been to in which I made friendships that will last a life-time? Well… no. Did I get a TON of good work done in my studio? Oh, YES. And even though I was able to meet some nice folks and see some interesting work at Cité des Arts, I tend to think of it now less as a ‘residency’ community and more like ‘subsidized housing for artists.’ Living in the center of Paris, directly on the river Seine for 440 Euros a month?! I’m pretty sure you’d be hard-pressed to find a deal like that anywhere else in that part of town. I stayed for only three months, but it’s possible to live there for up to a year. If the stars align in just the right way someday, I would love to go back for an entire year – wouldn’t that be très magnifique?

But alas, who knows when (or if) that will ever happen. For now, I have the memories and the (many) photos of my wonderful three months living and working in the City of Lights. Next on the blog, wandering the streets of Paris!

One thought on “Aller, Rentrer, Retourner

  1. Pingback: Wandering… (la Rive Droite) | Home is Where the Hair Is

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