The Gulf

At the airport we all passed through one of those long empty transit corridors where you have the option of walking or taking a travellator. Young and able bodied, I walked. Standing alone in an enclave along the wall there was a sculpture cast in heavy metal. It depicted the gulf of man, the gulf between men.

I was in Lille only for a few days but it was long enough to begin recognizing people in the street and become a member at the public library. I stayed with a projectionist. One morning I met him in the alley behind The Majestic and he smuggled me in to see the new film by Jean-Luc Godard, Socialisme. We had to cross through an empty theatre 6 in order to get to the other theaters. He showed me to a seat and before leaving to start the projection he said something about meeting him in the stairwell if I wanted to see the projection room. I waited a minute then followed him out in the same covert manner with which we'd entered. He was not in the stairwell to meet me. There was no way back into the right theatre and I'd left my belongings in there. Pressing my ear to the door of theatre 6 it was clear there was already a film playing inside. I paced around for a while thinking and trying to avoid the CCTV cameras. Aside from leaving the cinema through the way I'd come in, without my things and without my film, I had no other option but to traverse theatre 6 and disrupt the screening. The door was at the lower-right corner of the screen. American, digital animation, overdubbed in French. I looked into the faces of the audience-members illuminated by light reflected from the projection. They looked directly at me or through me to the screen - I didn't stop moving.

The Godard film was hard to watch, the images were digital and very sharp. It ended with the words 'no comment' and then the lights and music of the screening-room came up immediately without any credits. I waited for my friend again after the film and this time he was in the stairwell. Showing me around the projection room he talked about how important it is to play the right music in the theaters before and after a screening. This was a part of his role as projectionist and it annoyed him that other projectionists gave little thought to it. He was right, intrusive music entering the cinema after a film can chase out other resonances. The after-image is dissipated in the face of inapt sound, a bucket of water sloshed over a puddle of milk.

In the evening I met him again at a manifestation supporting the solidarity of 'sans papiers' - immigrants without adequate legal rights. I chanted in unity with them as we marched through the shopping district. At one point we crouched down on the cobblestones of a busy pedestrian mall and responded to the calling of the man holding the loud-speaker. His voice was distorted and it was difficult to discern the exact words but I shouted back all the same, replicating sounds in the way children do when they want to sing along but don't know the right lyrics. People walking were forced to hug the walls of retail stores in order to get past the protest.

I took a train out to a huge contemporary art institution in the suburbs surrounding the city for a formal interview - it went well but I was not a successful candidate. Another train carried me to Paris. I stayed with a group of friends living in a small apartment and working in art galleries and advertising agencies. As we talked it became clear we shared, individually, a concern for freedom and balance. Self-interest. How do you find work, necessary, that doesn't destroy life? How can you justify working as an artist? Do you have to decide in advance that you won't stop loving someone? Is this a way of insuring yourself against the deterioration of your body and the loss of physical appeal? My french was limited and furthermore we hardly knew each-other. We were able to test out thoughts and ideas. One is closer to others when the intimacy is immediate, novel and superficial. In communicating we can feel closer with people to whom we are not significantly linked than with those we love more profoundly.

There was an expression that surfaced, 'mettre le doigt...' meaning roughly to put a finger on or in something or someone. We talked about attempts to address issues in conversation that are more comfortably left to private reflection. Our dialogue formed a weak body of which we all were an organ. It had a single-mind vibrating with ideals and grand intentions that couldn't be transferred into actual physical movements. We were able to gesture towards radical desires and unrestrained disclosure whilst carefully avoiding self-humiliation. What if I have gone too far in isolation we thought. I learned that the expression can also have sexual connotations, which seemed somehow appropriate. Significance and desire, fear and organs, dissatisfaction, self-satisfction, inadequacies and desperate community, spirit. There was also love present - only this redeemed the inadequacy of words and flesh.

On sunday there was a middle-aged woman in the square near the quay who held a handicam and filmed constantly through the eye-piece for over half an hour. She recorded children playing near the fountains, a brass band busking, tourists, lovers together, vendors vending. I watched her for fifteen minutes then started filming her. I got closer and closer but she didn't notice anything outside of the lens. Finally as I was about to leave her camera fell on me from a distance. I took my own out of it's case again and started filming her again although this time reciprocally. We stood like this for a while and I tried to figure out whether she was aware of the situation in which I felt we were implicated together.

That night I went to see a film called Tournée at the nearby theatre - directed by Mathieu Almaric who I'd seen acting in other films I respected. Here he played in his own film as the producer of a burlesque show with american dancers touring in France. It was a film about desperation and how some people make persistent attempts to enjoy living despite the state of things. The images were lush and unpolished but still gleaming at times, in the way grease does when smeared on a wooden tabletop. After the film I walked along the quay. It was lined completely with groups of young people drinking eating smoking talking. It was 10:30pm and light outside. They seemed happy.

The plane was landing in Montréal and for some reason passengers started to applaud. It wasn't an extraordinary moment but uncommon enough that for the duration of the clapping an optimism welled up inside me then subsided.

july 2010