My Dream of Tinguely
Chalk and Butter, Diaz Contemporary, Toronto June 9 - July 9 2011.

August 11th, 2010

(We are in a dream. My dream. The first one I ever had of making an artwork.)

On the périphérique, we are driving out of Paris. I feel somewhat scared to be driving on the highway on a scooter. I am holding on tight to my driver, my arms circling him as my whole body is leaned on him. Arriving in an industrial neighborhood in an eastern banlieue, we cross over a bridge, over La Marne river, from where he points out an open-air dance hall. We slowly pass downtown, arriving in an industrial zone, now inhabited by cinema studios.

We zigzag in the parking lot until we find our lot, in front of his atelier. The building is huge. It has thirty-meter high ceilings. Its triangular peak has windows to catch the northern light; a day-long natural lighting system that offers the best conditions for a photographer’s eye.

After walking across a long pitch-black corridor which allows us to cross the first shared atelier without disturbing their work, we arrive at his studio. The room is bright, the light is soft. A few flowery moulds are stored on one side, a washed-out ghostly Virgin Mary statue surveys all of our movements. Le Minotaure overshadows everything. The room is a mess of metal pieces, wood works, machinery and all sorts of mad engineer, magician-like artifacts. We pass it almost without noticing, as we have a specific task ahead of us.

Aligned on the wall, isolated from everything else, the two works are there. One vertical, one horizontal. They have never been seen. Hidden away in a collector’s safe, they had just changed hands, as we say in the business. Their storage had inevitably caused the pieces to deteriorate, as their mechanical parts require continuous upkeeping. The new owner wants the motors to be restored for the paintings to be activated again.

We look at them briefly. One tableau has a black background, four very thin white rectangles and three circles, a blue, a red and a white one, all of different dimensions. The second tableau has a washed-out white background, but is more colorful. Its movable geometric forms are more disparate, and includes triangles, one azure green and the other of a greyer green. I touch the black pentagon to see the kinesis of the painting. There is also one big pale blue circle, three rectangles, a red, a grey and a thin forest green one.

I ask if we can turn over the paintings. I want to photograph their backs, their insides, their guts. We manipulate the paintings very carefully.

Behind the paintings are boxes that contain the mechanisms to animate the geometric forms. They have never been opened except by the artist himself, fifty years ago. The boxes are made of pressed wood. We lift the covers, one after the other.

What we find are wood reels on shafts, with pulleys that rotate with the aid of a black rubber engine belt. It is a small-gear steel and copper motor. The pulleys are sculpted by hand, and we can see the traces of time left by the rubber band. The black strap is tender and floppy in one, while it seems to have been constricted and disintegrated into powder in the other box. The metal used to tie the pulleys to the frame looks like recycled tincans.

I load the film in my camera, set it on a tripod, and proceed to take the pictures of both paintings separately.