The history of art has always been littered with controversy. Perhaps the most famous set of all are those related to representations of female nudes in which Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538) and Manet’s Olympia (1863) take centre-stage. But art, in many cases, seems to have progressed because of these controversies – Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) also springs to mind – and Robert Mapplethorpe cannot be excluded from this selection of perhaps ‘revolutionary’ artists.
Robert Mapplethorpe, Ajitto, 1981.
Our day began by seeing a retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s works at the Grand Palais. Beautifully curated, it began with the later part of his life, presenting images and comparisons between the human body and sculpture – including Ajitto (1981) from The Black Book – to ending the show with a display of his Polaroids, contrasting against his usual work with a medium-format Hasselblad. One should also not disregard his controversial images about homoeroticism – Larry and Bob Kissing (1979) – and sadomasochism – Sucking Ass (1979). A long-time friend of Patti Smith, the artist photographed many images of the singer as well as a number of portraits for prominent figures like Andy Warhol and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Having spent too much time at the exhibition, the group left early and I made my own way back to Reid Hall. Lunch was pizza and I treated myself to macarons, this time pistachio and salted caramel flavours, of which I decided to eat first before the pizza itself.
Macarons and pizza.
The seminar of the day was delivered by Alex Preston and Lauren Elkin on the themes of creative writing and the Oulipo. I found Preston’s interests in creative writing rather similar to my own. He has a focus on personal experiences; that each work of fiction is in fact a work of non-fiction grounded on personal experience – we are still seeing the viewpoint of the author. We were asked to do two things: the first was a way of digging information and asking questions that we would ask our own characters with the aim of making people uncomfortable as they talk about their deepest secrets and experiences, and the second was a hand-drawn map of where we grew up in and record the events that happened at each place, making us realise that every piece of writing is a narrative or record of events.
Elkin’s work on the Oulipo was also extremely interesting, being a work of literature that focuses on the idea of potential and multiplicities, founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau. However, these are guided by literary constraints which are invented by the author upon researching old systems of literary constraints. We focused on Georges Perec’s Approaches to What? (1973), Jacques Roubaud, and Jacques Jouet’s Metro Poem, with a few references to Marcel Duchamp and Paul Klee.
Tea at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Paris.
Next was the prime highlight of the day and reason why we were dressed more smartly than usual: we had a visit to the British Ambassador’s Residence in Paris, close by the Place de la Concorde and the Madeleine. Quoting one of my friends: “This is the most British I’ve ever felt!” – the reason being the invitation to tea after a tour of the residence and a general history of the place. Unfortunately for me, there was a lack of painted ceilings, except the dining room where elements of Rococo foliage could be seen attempting to consume its ceiling.
People relaxing in the Tuileries Gardens.
After being temporarily and happily British in the French city, we decided to walk through the Tuileries Gardens on the way to Alex’s book launch at Shakespeare and Company. The sun was shining on a cloudless afternoon, locals rested on the grass and by the fountains, while tourists crowded around the Louvre’s iconic pyramid. The Pont des Arts made its way into our journey with several group members in awe of the countless ‘love-locks’ that clung themselves on to the bridge’s railing, never to be released with the key that lies at the bottom of the Seine – at least that’s the idea.
‘Love-locks’ on the Pont des Arts.
Along the sides of the Quai d’Orsay were street vendors selling old books and ‘original’ prints. I couldn’t resist the urge to browse their collections. In time we arrived at the bookstore and were guided upstairs were Alex and Lauren were already seated, ready for the publicity talk and interview from the latter – I sat at the front row. It was a thoroughly enjoyable interview. I didn’t expect Alex to be a literary critic and reviewer as well as a lecturer of Creative Writing back at the University of Kent. Being a self-proclaimed reviewer myself, I found many similarities with him that I hadn’t expected. I bought his new book In Love and War after the talk and had a brief chat with him while he signed the book – I even gave him my card to promote this blog. As with all book purchases at Shakespeare and Company, the new book was given a special stamp from the most famous bookstore in Paris.
Alex Preston promoting In Love and War in Shakespeare and Company.
The walk back to the hostel was relaxing, with the streets fairly empty and the sun ready to descend. With a want for dinner, a group of us walked down to Boulevard du Montparnasse in search for food, only to come back to Boulevard Saint-Michel to a small restaurant called Green Dog we passed on the way. This modern-looking eatery offered gourmet hot dogs on their menu – the result was fairly close to something from Shake Shack. Safe to say, I enjoyed it very much with a latte to sip.
A group of hungry students.
My gourmet hot dog.