Lutèce Diary, 30: Hop to it or, the Universe in a Grain of Lapin

by Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2019 Paul Ben-Itzak

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PARIS — At a vernissage in a store-front gallery on the rue Cascades last night I received a graphic proposition with reproductive implications: 46 variations contained in (or slightly spilling over from) a single rabbit’s profile, sometimes reversed (from right-leaning to left-leaning) and revealing the infinite possibilities if not for skinning a rabbit than for being creative in and around its skin, at least when your name is Kristin Meller, who seems to thrive on setting rules (or limitations) when she’s making art, here in the sense that the universe for this ongoing series is circumscribed by the exoskeleton of Peter (or Pam) Cottontail. And Beatrix Potter has nothing on Kristin Meller.

I’m in a quandary because the minute I start attaching words to what Meller’s going for here — I almost said “has achieved” but her universe isn’t finite like that, and she explains that this is an ongoing series (divided into six sub-series: Cosmic, Bush, Blood, Space, Dreams, and Dust, as in Decay) — I’m imposing on her art a language that isn’t hers. In fact, in creating now 60 linotypes and resultant linographs (in French, linogravures) with the rabbit as a starting point, theoretically associated with themes related to dreams, death, and blood, Meller told me last night, she didn’t think, at least not with her brain. “It was a graphic proposition.” Or as I observed to her after she told me this, “I see so many artists these days who *start* with a cute concept that’s immediately obvious, and here you’ve done the inverse.” There’s nothing cloying about Meller or her work. (Neither can one describe it as ‘naive’; she’s too politically engaged and technically sophisticated for that.) If the rabbits do suggest stories, I have the feeling that these narratives, or personages, came afterwards, following the artistic impulse. Which is not to say they’re ho-hum, or limited: Where I saw a peacock in the layers of multi-colored plumage covering one rabbit’s body, Meller described a fish, referring to its shape. And it helped me find a more global idea — and that conforms with Meller’s political  societal concerns — to hear her explain that in four linographs grouped together on the wall near the window facing a newly liberated green space across the narrow winding street high atop Belleville, one suggested a Japanese person zooming along on a scooter trailing exhaust; the other a Mexican vomiting (although Meller might have put it this way: “That one’s Mexico, and that one’s Japan” — the colors of the former did indeed mimic those of the Mexican flag) ; another a balloon at the heart of which floated, somewhat tenuously, a vaporous, fragile, surrounded planet, which balloon a spike threatened to pop (“When I see a balloon, I want to pop it” Meller told me gleefully); and another the earth bursting. In other words — Meller confirmed this to me — the climate crisis. The statement was much stronger than the hashtag for the French Green party in the upcoming May 26 European Parliament elections: “Votez climate.” How can one ‘vote’ for the climate? The problem isn’t the climate, but that — as the British might put it — it’s hotting up.

Speaking of getting fried, another series posted near the door opening to the stairway leading down to the courtyard outside the atelier Meller’s shared for more than 25 years with her partner Raul Velasco — who had cooked up a batch of his patented beans and avocado-infused pico de gallo for the vernissage — featured rabbits who, like transparent electric fish, all seemed to be electrified in their reddened veins within as if they’d received a sudden shock. “It’s blood,” Meller enlightened me.

Another pair resembled amoeba, two more opposed an interior vagina and a wheel whose spokes were comprised of multiplying male sex organs (maybe) and my favorite a pair of rabbits coupling but so elegantly that ‘fusing’ is a better term.

Here’s to more fusion and less frisson for all of us.

PS: If we’ve not illustrated this article — you can check the exhibition poster published earlier this week here if you like — it’s because Meller rightly says she doesn’t want people looking at her work online, she wants them to come to the gallery. Which you can do if you’re in Paris through May 28, perhaps making a Bellevilloise day of it during the week-end of May 24 – 26, when the neighborhood celebrates its artists with the Portes Ouvertes de Belleville.

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Hear them breathe: Brookoff up close

matt image smallCrashing through the membrane: I still remember the first intimate ballet showing I was privileged to see, in Joffrey Ballet co-founder Gerald Arpino’s no-frills basement studio near the Church Street Safeway in San Francisco. The intake and exhalation of breath, the contours of the leg muscles and the grasping of hands right in front of you; there’s nothing like it for appreciating the hard work and honesty that goes into dances rigorously created and earnestly performed. Even moreso when the choreography is built around connections: of partners, of circles (evoking the primordial dances around a fire so eloquently described by Curt Sachs) — of the delicate digits of the pianist to the expressive hands and torsos of the dancers and the musicality of the dancemaker. New Yorkers will be gifted (much as I protest the recent lazy perversion of our language which turns nouns into graceless verbs, trampling the correct and more elegant versions in the process — right? — this term seems to ring just here) with such an opportunity Saturday in Brooklyn, when Mathew Brookoff and his Brookoff Dance Repertory Company occupy the Duffy Studio of Brooklyn’s Mark Morris Dance Center from 5 to 6 p.m., variously occupying Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces and a Schubert Impromptu in the veteran choreo’s anything but impromptu duet entwinings. (I plead for an exception for that one from Messieurs Strunk & White.) In addition to these new sculptures in motion, Brookoff also expands his recent group work “Fracture” (above) from six to 12 dancers. Free and open to the public. Pictured at the rear, from left to right: Andrew Harper, Tiffany Mangulabnan, and Jordan Miller; in front: Ali Block, Amy Saunder, and Brian Gephart. — PB-I (inspired by Harris Green)