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.
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.
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|