Monday, January 25, 2016

L'Eau qui Dort ... is having Nightmares

Michael Pinsky, L'eau qu Dort, 2015

Every fifteen years, since the Canal Saint-Martin was created by Napoleon in 1802, it has to be cleaned. The canal that was once a functioning waterway connecting the Seine to the northern reaches of Paris, looks just like Marcel Carné’s reconstruction in Hotel du Nord (1938) and nothing like its live appearance in Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934). And at the moment, barricaded and empty, it looks like neither. It is undergoing what the French call Chômage. Yes, it’s unemployed and unemployable.

Like most things in Paris, disposal of unwanted household items takes time. Each object must be registered online and garbage collection ordered, before it can be placed on the street with a reference number. Given this process, Parisians sometimes find it easier to dump their worn out safes, fridges, chairs, tables, beds and bikes (both motor and push pedal varieties) in the canal. And why take the shopping trolley back to the supermarket when you can just throw it in the canal? And what better solution for disposing of the spare body parts taking up space at home? Because it’s Paris, each object is catalogued and the list made available for public information on the city’s website.

Michael Pinsky, L'eau qui Dort, 2015
A little further up the canal at la Villette, before the chômage began, the artist Michael Pinsky dredged up the refuse at the bottom of the basin and made an exhibition of the arm chairs, filing cabinets, beds, and the inevitable shopping trolleys, and bicycles that had been dumped. Accompanying the discarded objects that appeared to float on the water as art works, speakers along the edges played the curious music made by young people who used the discarded refuse as their instruments. The sounds were like an avant-garde orchestra, clunking and whirring and scraping, sounds that reminded me of machines, chimes in the wind and household objects in use. As the weather changed and the sun rose and set each day along the canal, the atmosphere created by L’eau qui dort was haunting.

Michael Pinsky, L'eau qui Dort, 2015
As I passed the exhibition on my morning run, I was all at once, enchanted, mesmerized and shocked to see what Pinsky dredged up from the bottom of the canal. I was shocked, not only by the objects he found, but the method that Pinsky used to retrieve them. He simply lowered a line and “caught” these fully formed treasures, it was that easy. The treasures doubled as signal to the degree of waste and unseen pollution spoiling Paris. Every visitor I meet waxes lyrical “Oh Paris, it’s so beautiful.” Those of us who live here know that, like any city, it’s not as it appears on its façade.

Michael Pinsky, L'eau qui Dort, 2015
L’eau qui dort coincided with the Climate Change Conference taking place on the other side of Paris at the end of November 2015. Thus, visitors and passers by were also provoked to recognize the participation of Paris in the devastation being caused to the environment through our own un-thought through actions to litter. In a world in which we are increasingly made aware of the urgency of recycling, creating sustainable environments as a way to return to an integration with our natural habitat, to save the planet for the next generation, Pinsky’s project ticks all the right boxes. It is a wake up call to the irresponsibility of people who pollute the environment through improper waste disposal. As an exhibition, it recycles trash to create an inspiring installation that is really both aesthetically pleasing and unsettling. As I ran along the canal during the weeks when it was in place, the installation filled me with wonder and joy. There was something really mystical and extraordinary watching the out of season sun on the waste of a waterway. And at the same time, it was a bold wake up call to the unseen ways that we all contribute to the devastation of the environment. Together with the three month process to clean the canal Saint-Martin, Pinsky’s project leaves us fully convinced that all those elegant Parisians need to take more responsibility for the health and well-being of their beautiful city.

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