Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Urban adventurers wind up the keepers of Parisian treasures

By John Lichfield in Paris
Published: 26 November 2007
The Independent

A group of urban adventurers has wound up the French state by creating a clandestine clubhouse in the dome of the Panthéon, one of the most celebrated buildings in Paris.

The group devoted part of its nocturnal occupation of the Panthéon to repairing the building's 19th-century clock, which stopped working in 1965. But when informed of this public-spirited act, French officialdom was less than grateful.

The government has made several unsuccessful attempts to prosecute the group, who are mostly professional people in their thirties, with the latest case thrown out of court last Friday.

The phantom clock repairers belong to a team called "Untergunther", which is part of a wider movement called UX. Originally, it held parties in the 17th and 18th-century catacombs under the city. But since the discovery in 2004 of a clandestine cinema deep under the Place de Trocadéro, many of the secret access routes to the catacombs have been sealed off.

Members of UX, including students, but also lawyers, nurses and even a public prosecutor, have turned instead to nocturnal invasions of public buildings and Métro stations. "Lazar", a spokesman for the Untergunther group, told the French national newspaper, Le Monde: "We are not squatters. These are urban no-go zones. We use them for non-political, creative gatherings, such as film festivals and renovating the country's architectural heritage."

In the gallery under the dome of the Panthéon, which contains the remains of France's official artistic and political heroes and heroines, Untergunther created a kind of informal clubhouse. Armchairs, a table and an electric hob were hidden away in packing cases after each visit.

Entry was child's play. A group member hid in the building during opening hours, stole a bunch of keys and copied them. The group also entered through a passage from the sewers, which emerges under the tomb of the early 20th-century moderate socialist leader Jean Jaurès.

One member of the group – Jean-Baptiste Viot – was a professional watch and clockmaker. With his guidance, Untergunther rescued the Panthéon's timepiece from four decades of official neglect.

After a year of work, they informed the Pantheon management in September 2006. The Centre for National Monuments took legal action, arguing the action might inspire malicious imitators. The proceedings got nowhere until four members of the group were arrested in the Pantheon at 3am one night last August and accused of damaging a gate. This case was thrown out last Friday for lack of evidence. The government is now considering a new law to make it illegal to enter public buildings after official hours.

And the Panthéon clock? The monument service admits that it works perfectly. The clock has, however, stopped once again. The Panthéon management, wound up by Untergunther, is peevishly refusing to wind up the clock.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

vernacular photo of the week

Accumulating random photos I have found myself tricked into new fictions: Was I there, or not? Was that me? For example: looking at a black-&-white First Communion image of a young boy, I was trying to recall the photo session, which eluded me entirely. Appalled with my faulty memory, finally I remembered: that wasn't me.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

vernacular photo of the week

Vernacular photos in their anonymity, their lost histories, become receptacles of our projections & fantasies. While I feel a bit iconoclastic in terms of reading photos: thinking that reality is actually not all that visible, & that photos cannot be read clearly at all, that their secrecies are always intact & elusive; still it is w/ a sense of the uncanny that I find myself veering towards certain images. Is this a kind of wish fulfillment done in fragments?

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cameron Jamie

Last night, on the way home walking down Bedford Avenue, I stopped at Spoonbill & Sugartown, for a just-before-going-home browse where I purchased the Walker Art Center catalogue for a recent show of Cameron Jamie.

A few years ago my first encounter w/ Cameron Jamie's work was the book Rugburn, which is photographs of Jamie, in what looks like modified Dr. Dentons & a wrestling mask, wrestling in an apartment with a Michael Jackson look-a-like. With no other context (who is this person? what is going on?) than what I saw before me it was such a great delight - the humor & excess have not diminished for me yet. Jamie was also an editor of a Taschen book of Theo Ehret's Exquisite Mayhem, of erotic photographs of "apartment wrestling" such as that duplicated by Jamie & the Jacko look-a-like - all of which piqued my interests - both in terms of seeing more of Jamie's work & also finding more apartment wrestling pix.

(Also, a few years ago with Tim Lehmacher, in a junk shop on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint I found a few - when I went back a few weeks later to get more, the store had disappeared. It all seemed like a dream).

The catalogue from the Walker is the first museum show of Jamie's work, in the US. The binding is eccentric - slipcased in gray cardboard, with a faux "typed" name on the front, the glue binding is exposed rather than covered - it is deliberately poor, unfinished, abject looking. Other than a foreword, an introduction by Philippe Vergne, & a poem by Charles Bukowski, there is no other identifying text. The book exists as images only, of artwork, installations, photographs. As such, as well as with its "industrial" binding, it reads more as an oblique artist's book, than a museum retrospective.

Identified as a child of the San Fernando Valley, Jamie's work primarily embodies the fantasies, fears & dissociations of a teen culture one would associate with a generic US suburbia, not necessarily the Valley in particular. Although I can't help but think that southern California is a sort of ur-Suburbia for the rest of the country. A place both new (without history, without depth) & obsolete. A place with the semblance of home, a home at its phoniest, & yet not home to anyone: who could belong to such a place? Made from blueprints of cliches, charted with commodities, which are the true subjects of this post-war domestic idyll. Jamie's work also addresses the flux & indeterminacy of adolescence as it makes sense of a society of junk, transforming the weird, the obscure and the lurid into rituals, into cargo cults centered around horror movies, old porn, loud music.

When I see Gillian Barberie on Good Day, LA, speaking about living in the Valley (hanging with her girlfriends Carmen Electra & Pamela Anderson), or more luridly, some of the late-night fare on Skinemax, such as Bikini Escort Company, I think to myself: this garbage is the dreamed-for Valley, this is mall-nirvana, but what it's really like is what I see in Cameron Jamie's work, which is more withdrawn & yet rages more too (besides being more interesting - no offense to Gillian Barberie). One could call it a kind of documentary of frustrations & horrors & stupidity too.

Monday, November 5, 2007

from the blog

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Twenty Million Books / Three-hundred thousand members.

We recently hit another big milestone—20,000,000 books and 300,000 registered members!*

The exact twenty-millionth book was All Day Every Day by David Armstrong (2002), added by BernardYenelouis last Wednesday night. BernardYenelouis, who gets a gift-account for his good luck, has a library filled with interesting photography books. In this case, he was actually the first to add the book.

It's an interesting light on the books members have. I usually stress how books bind people together. I once almost broke the system proving that while, as the idea goes, everyone may be six-acquaintances away from everyone, if you consider books as the connection, they're more like three books away. But people's reading tastes are also amazingly diverse. Over 1.7 million books are singletons on LibraryThing, and five million books belong to a work in ten or fewer members' libraries. Sure we have a hundred-thousand Harry Potters, but the "long tail" of books is very long.** Chris Anderson has shown this in book sales, but the long tail of ownership is much longer.***

Twenty million feels pretty big to us, but we're not quite sure where it puts us on our—admittedly asterisked—climb up the global libraries list. We're in the top five, it seems. The largest, however, the Library of Congress has 30 million books. That's going to be a fun one!