L’œil du Cyclone

Dear Reader, some of you might know that I don’t live too far away from Nantes and that I can be found wandering the streets of Nantes with a camera, or sitting in the pub talking with friends. So, nothing new here then.  You might not know that I sometimes publish said photos of Nantes, and even the pub, with friends of course, on Instagram.  I also sometimes go out and participate with other photographers in what is usually a solitary pastime. 

Nantes Grand Angle, a sort of collective of photographers from Nantes, often has events (with local partners) that want to get their event onto the local social networks and get some “viral” publicity.  The game is you go to the event and then talk about it on your social accounts and people might be interested thinking well, he went to see this, why don’t I go along too.  It’s the basics of social marketing. 

Why do I usually see photography as a solitary pastime? Because I get a certain amount of social anxiety.  For most extroverts, those pushy people that are in favour now, the word “mingle” gives them a buzz that they seem to thrive on.  I, as an introvert, find the words “new people”, or even the idea of “meeting new people”, “social”, or “mingle” just fill me with dread.  It’s akin to going on one of those terrifying rides at the fair. It’s scary, thankfully doesn’t last very long, leaves you feeling empty, very awkward, sheepish, and makes you want to run away as soon as possible.  sonds like my sex life on a good day.

So against my better judgement, I confronted my fear, and went on an outing with Nantes Grand Angle.  I could always just stay at the back and be subtle and try to fade into the background.  It also meant that I would visit a new place, Le Lieu Unique, which as its name might suggest, is certainly unique!  The Lieu Unique also contains the Tour Lu (sans T pour le jeu de mot de merde en français, et oui, je suis rendu à ce point là !)  It originally house the LU biscuit factory (des petits beurres de LU, which is another pun for the Happy Birthday song).  Dear Reader, I apologise for the years of therapy that you will need to get over that last paragraph.  It’ll teach you to speak French!

Right, back on track.  The Lieu Unique, which indeed is unique as the name suggests, houses not only an exhibition for introverts to take photos of for social marketing, but a bar, a reading room, a bookshop, and if I’m not mistaken, a hammam, as well as a whopping great tower.  It is a hothouse of culture where you can get fed, drunk, steamed, and get some culture, leading to the acquisition of a little intelligence! Maybe, depending on the order you do each activity.

I was there with my fellow photographers, some of which were annoyingly extrovert, to live the experience of Art from Taiwan in the “Eye of the Cyclone.”  The Lieu Unique boss, had, uniquely, gone to Taiwan in 2018, had been to an exhibition at The National Museum of Fine Arts of Taiwan, and had invited some of the artists to come to Nantes and show their work, purely an artistic venture.  Since 2018, the world has changed not only through COVID, but also because China would like to get its hands on Taiwan for economic reasons and political ones.  Taiwan came to the front in modern terms when the Kuomintang government who lost to Mao’s Communists, fled Mao and fled to the Island of Taiwan, setting up a new independent government, that China still hasn’t gotten over and is still very upset about.

In the early 1960s, Taiwan entered a period of rapid economic growth and industrialisation called the “Taiwan Miracle».  In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the ROC transitioned from a one-party military dictatorship to a multi-party democracy with a semi-presidential system. Taiwan’s export-oriented industrial economy is the 21st-largest in the world by nominal GDP and 19th-largest by PPP measures, focusing on steel, machinery, electronics and chemicals manufacturing. Taiwan is a developed country, ranking 20th in GDP per capita. It is ranked highly in terms of civil liberties, healthcare, and human development.  Again, something that China isn’t overjoyed by.  So as you can imagine, such an exhibition is as much political as artistic.

So now we have set the scene, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.  The expo itself.  I admit not knowing a huge amount about Taiwan, however, since visiting the expo, I have read up to find out more about its history and culture.  It’s Chinese but at the same time properly Taiwanese. I will include official links to the expo and the English documentation at the end of the article.  But what I really wanted to do with this article was to talk about my experience of the exposition and the way the exhibits left their mark on me.

The first exhibit, Exhibit A, or Battle City – Scene, by Chang, Li-Ren, model, just blew me away with the complexity of the modelling and the realism recreated in model form.  The artist came over for the oeuvre installation and I can imagine a rather rotund Asian chap on all fours adding details to his masterwork.  Not based on reality, but the artist just wants to give an impression of what Taiwanese urbanism looks like.   There are cars, housing, and motorbikes, but the whole place is devoid of people.  It’s very eerie, yet totally fascinating and a photographer’s dream.  The whole thing is massive (7600mm x 8100mm x 2600mm), and the attention to detail is fascinating.

Exhibit B, Future Shock, by SU Hui-Yu, video, talks about a dystopian future, unfortunately, a not-too-distant future according to the artist influenced heavily by the American author Alvin Toffler, where people are drowning in information, and unethical technologies.  Maybe it’s happening already?  Definitely though provoking and frightening in equal measure.

Exhibit C, Braindead travelogue, YUAN Goang-Ming.  At first, you have the impression of traditional Chinese brush art, but with non-traditional means, like using markers, but also gold and jade.  From the centre of the painting, shoot out 10 disks of images showing the artist marking his territory in the landscape.

Exhibit D?  I’m going to keep the rest of the exhibition secret, because the idea is that you go and have a look yourselves, especially if you live in Nantes!  Did you really think that I would or could reveal all?  No!  Leave them wanting more!!!  Oh ok, you can have a few more pictures, but that’s your lot.  Go down there and have a look.  It’s free to visit; and you won’t be left unmoved…  You really get a feel of what life is like in the “Eye of the Cyclone.”

Links and all that:
Le Lieu Unique
Nantes Grande Angle
The documentation in English (pdf file 0,99Mo)

I would like to thank Nantes Grande Angle and our guide, Tanguy, not only for his welcome to the uniquely Lieu Unique but also for his great expertise. The poor man even had a look at this blog to see where I would publish my write-up. Brave too, and probably already in therapy. I hope I have done him justice!

Art in Nantes

This time last week I was looking forward to getting  out with my camera (I’ll let you guess which one) and getting me some art!  The sun was guaranteed, and temperatures were on the up.  I would get my art and go to the pub for a pint or two with friends.  

On the Gram I had seen quite a few photos taken in the Castle Courtyard showing art inspired by French decolonialisation, and the Atlantic Slave Trade, by the Benin artiste Romuald Hazoumé. The Expo is open to the public until the 14th November 2021 in the Castle.  Romual Hazoumé, born in 1962 in Benin, creates sculptures using plastic jerry cans, giving a subtle critique of political figures and political systems in modern Africa.

Hazoumé recycles matter, junk, and objects that have served their purpose, which he uses in the original state, or deformed to represent his vision of society, events, or planet-wide concerns.  The artist revisits History, conserving a present link to the news.  His research is shown in monumental and hard-hitting works of art, showing his militantism against all forms of slavery, corruption, traffic, that are translated into witness of what is happening right now in the world.

The question of migrationary fluxes and their consequences, questions the western world, and the African continent, and asks further questions about egalitarian exchange, has become central to his more recent works.

I therefore think about slavery and our role in it:  the original African slave trade, followed by the Arab slave tribe, followed by the European slave trade, and eventual abolition, in Europe and our Colonies, and taken up again in Africa with migrations due to war and economics.  We hear all kinds of tales about Africans being sold to Libyans so the migrants “can repay their debt,” and then hope for a better life if they survive the crossing of the Mediterranean.  Some don’t make it and are washed up tragically on our shores.  The image of the three-year-old boy who washed up dead, Alan Kurdi, near Bodrum broke all our hearts and brought the war in Syria to the headlines, and especially the human cost of this war.   I’m not saying that the migrant crisis is the same as the slave trade, but there are parallels. 

I was always aware of the salve trade, having been brought up in Hull, where our local MP, William Wilberforce, was responsible for the abolition of slavery in the British Empire with the Slave trade Act in 1807.  This always gave me a real sense of pride of being from Hull!  France was to wait until 1815, with the decree coming into force in 1826.  We would have to wait until 1848 for emancipation in the French colonies. 

The Act created fines for ship captains who continued with the trade. These fines could be up to £100 per enslaved person found on a ship. Captains would sometimes dump captives overboard when they saw Navy ships coming in order to avoid these fines. The Royal Navy, which then controlled the world’s seas, established the West Africa Squadron in 1808 to patrol the coast of West Africa, and between 1808 and 1860 they seized approximately 1,600 slave ships and freed 150,000 Africans who were aboard. The Royal Navy declared that ships transporting slaves would be treated the same as pirates. Action was also taken against African kingdoms which refused to sign treaties to outlaw the trade, such as “the usurping King of Lagos”, who was deposed in 1851. Anti-slavery treaties were signed with over 50 African rulers.

In the 1860s, David Livingstone’s reports of atrocities within the Arab slave trade in East Africa stirred up the interest of the British public, reviving the flagging abolitionist movement. The Royal Navy throughout the 1870s attempted to suppress “this abominable Eastern trade”, at Zanzibar in particular. In 1890 Britain handed control of the strategically important island of Heligoland in the North Sea to Germany in return for control of Zanzibar, in part to help enforce the ban on slave trading.

How sad they would be to see the world today!  The Artists shown in the Expo, created works to show modern slavery, one of the works being based on the story of Alan Kurdi, which is a dice, where people put their faith in their God, and try and make it to a better life in Europe, seen as this Eldorado where they will be free.  Sometimes I think the only difference between them and my own story is that I was born in a different country.  We may worship God in different ways, but when it comes down to it, we all have the same aspirations, a better life for our children, to be able to feed, clothe, and give them a roof over their heads. 

That was a pretty intense introduction and not as comical as some of my other articles, but this is a serious matter, I’ll get less serious in the next paragraph.  We cannot but feel something deep inside us whilst contemplating these works of art.  Put yourself in the position of a Syrian parent and it just comes home to you… 

I will try and get a little less heavy, and continue the story of my day.  I left the castle  and walked up towards the Cathedral, thinking that the Psalter’s Garden would be a lovely place to have a modest picnic, and reflect on what I had just seen.  I didn’t have anything to eat, but knew where I could change that.  There is a lovely bakery that makes really amazing sandwiches.  Trigger warning.  I am about to tell a Dad joke.  Why do you never go hungry in the desert?  Because of all the sand which is there…  You know what?  I’m not even sorry.  So I went back to the Garden, with food this time, which helps a picnic be a picnic.  I found a bench, parked my backside on it.  So relieved that it didn’t make any noise as I sat down.  This garden is one of the favourite places of a friend of mine who has consented to be a guest writer on my blog.  As I ate I transferred the photos from my camera onto my phone so I could create a story of the day for the Gram, which would go on to be a series of reels (short videos for Instagram). 

I had eaten, thrown my trash into the bin, and headed off to get on a bus.  Yes, me, on a bus.  For the last 20 years, and country living, public transport has become a rare occurrence.  You know how satisfying a pint of beer that somebody bought for you is?  Or how sweet the pint offered by the pub landlord?  I think you do.  It is always sweeter and finer and so satisfying.  Well, somebody  in the city council here in Nantes had the brilliant idea of making public transport free on a weekend. What a wonderful idea!  Now public transport isn’t beer, which I’m sure you, Dear reader, are well aware of, but there was a certain satisfaction of being able to get on a bus and not have to use a ticket, and knowing that a ticket inspector would not inspect the ticket that you didn’t use.  In my life I have learnt to savour these small mercies offered to us.

I was enjoying the ride so much that I actually missed my stop where I had to change busses.  Normally this would send my anxiety into overdrive, but not today.  I just got on the bus going the other way, and went back two stops.  Changed busses, and arrived at the terminus, which was the Hangar a Bananes, where the big massive crane is, that you might have seen in some of my photos.  As part of the Voyage à Nantes in 2011, the whole place has been given a new lease of life, and in the afternoon and early evening, it’s a great spot.  You might want to avoid it at around 2am to 3am, as it can get a little worrisome.  I, however, was there from about 2pm to 3pm, so unless a rather rotund gentleman wearing a Panama hat, and with a camera around his neck, scares you, then you’re fine!

You will however see the Anneaux de Buren, or the Buren Rings standing to attention in a long line that follows the river.  Do not worry either, about, one ring ruling them all, stray Wizards telling you that you will not pass, or small people with very hairy feet trying to find a place to eat breakfasts…  There will be people enjoying a drink and a bit to eat, or going to the Canteen for lunch or dinner, and if you further enough down you might be able to walk on the moon, visit the very depths of the ocean, and if you’re lucky, you might just be able to spot an elephant!

I was aiming for the HAB Gallerie, which is the Hangar à Bananes Gallerie.  The clue is in the name.  I wanted to go to see the exhibition with works by Gilles Barbier.  Again, I had seen photos on the Gram, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  It, too, was free, so why not.  I’m not saying I had spent the day consuming art, but possibly, kind of.  I’m not quite sure.

For the first time, the artist was showing his paintings of the “Pages du Dictionnaire” lifted from the Petit Larousse.  Which is not the same as the Petitblond, but can be equally satisfying.  Did you see that little play on words about beer there?  You might have to speak French to get, so to all non Frenchie people, I apologise.  I thought it was funny, and on a slightly higher level than the desert joke.  Apparently, to get the most out of this blog you have to be a photo geek, into photography, and ever so slightly Francophile.  If that is not you, then I hope you can find something that pleases you.  I’m working with what I’ve got people!

So where was I?  Yes, looking at a slightly surrealist exhibition, including huge paintings of the insides of a dictionary, cum encyclopedia, which for those born this century, is what old people used before Google!  Shit I feel old all of a sudden!  So these massive paintings of the 1966 edition, which are very detailed and as interesting to read as to contemplate.  It’s an ongoing project and he’s got to P.  As any one would after drinking all those Rousse beers!  Hey, I found that funny!

Dear Reader, I am obviously a complete idiot, and because of my idiocy, you are about to get a different ending to this article as I didn’t press save, even though I was convinced that I had. I had even scheduled this article to come out at a certain time and end everything. Jesus saves, and so should I!

I think it was something along the lines of talking about the enigma that is the art of Gilles Barbier. It’s slowly coming back to me so you’ll get the main points. In the early 2000’s a company put out an advert saying that they would pay an obscene amount of money to the person that would get their logo tattooed on their forehead. The deed was done, and I was reminded of that when seeing one of Gille’s very realistic sculptures. It was as if the person had gone full hog and got tattoos of so many logos. The sculpture is of an old lady lying naked on a chaise long, covered in various logos. It was one of the most disturbing things I seen all day, and at the same time so fascinating. It really makes you think about the permanence of a tattoo, and makes you wonder what on earth people were thinking! It was like the ultimate corporate sell out. There were more sculptures of heads spewing forth diatribes, others of melted cheeses with philosophical quotes, and to finish, a sculpture made out of femurs and human hip bones. Talk about stripping ideas down to their very core.

If the purpose of Art is to make us question ourselves, or at least mark us in some small way, or even just not to allow us to pass by with indifference, then the Art in Nantes had fulfilled its role admirably. I’m really looking forward to the Voyage à Nantes 2021 and seeing what they have prepared for us! Nantes isn’t a perfect place, but they are good with culture, and free public transport on a weekend! Not sure about free beer though. They might not be ready for that even though quite a few Nantais might…

Right just to finish, as you might have guessed, the camera for the outing was the X100F. Last week I talked about the website FUJI X Weekly, and it’s author Ritchie Roesch, and I decided to try one of the recipes. Kodachrome, just the mere mention of it will make older photographers just get really nostalgic. Well the young Mr Roesch decided to take on a trip to Nostalgieville, and I thought I would give it a go. Most of you know that I am more into black and white photography than colour, but the blues of the sky, and the colours all around me, and the strong sunlight made me want to give it a try. Soooo, I did. I found the recipe to be more akin to Portra 160 and very slightly overexposed, just the way I would do if I were using the film. But I loved the results and will be using it more often during this summer period.

Thank you for humouring me and my quickly rewritten end to this article. See you next week, and we’ll see what I come up with!