[March 9 2017]
On a bright and sunny morning at the Blum & Poe gallery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, a rather small and sprite lady, dressed from head to toe in shades of claret and eggplant, held court in front of a group of utterly rapt listeners. She identified herself as a young visual artist. Her name was Agnès Varda, the brilliant and poetic auteur of so many wonderful films and a primary force in the French New Wave cinema movement.
We were all gathered together for a walk-through with Varda of her newly installed show at the gallery. Photographs, dating back to 1949, video installations and three dimensional maquettes, along with three striking self-portraits from three different moments in Varda’s life comprise the show. Bord de Mer, a video installation from 2009, includes two perpendicular monitors, one mounted on the wall and the other one set into the floor, projecting looped footage of the sky and the surf, with an area of actual sand on the gallery floor extending the shoreline, with an ambient sound of the ocean playing in the background. Varda’s singular voice, so honest and true, calm but incisive, with a good deal of humor, had us all hanging on her every word. Everyone was enthralled by her sensitive words of wisdom. She explained the thought process behind many of her works, and also explained her way of seeing. It became apparent in listening to Varda speak, that she is not afraid of being herself. The conversation was utterly refreshing and inspiring. This upcoming June, her new film, Villages/Visages, made in collaboration with JR, comes out in France.
Varda in her own words — “An image does not exist if nobody looks at it.”
On the subject of Le Triptyche de Noirmoutier:
“Why the triptych? With film, we are obligated to accept the “frame.” In my mind, I don’t always accept the frame. I want to know what goes on outside of the frame. In a film, we don’t know where the character goes. The triptych shows where the lady goes when she leaves the frame and also, what is happening somewhere else, on the beach, at the same moment in time.”
On the subject of Bord de Mer:
“We live in a world of speed, and even I am very speedy. I love to do things where we regain the feeling of time, the feeling of peace.
Whenever I try to imagine the ideal landscape, I think of the seaside. Bringing real sand, it’s like the reality exists and the representation of feeling. I keep trying to work on peace. Peace of the mind and peace of the imagination. The seaside goes on forever, like a river. We pass by. But it continues.What I want is a peaceful seaside. Nothing bad is happening. The installation is about meditation and trying to feel something. The seaside belongs to everybody. It’s a beautiful nothing. A very simple but elegant nothing.”
At this point, Varda encouraged all present to take the time to view this work seated, in an unhurried manner. Magically, the energy level in this roomful of people seemed calmer, as everyone quietly contemplated the work, sedated by the sounds of the ocean and its tranquillizing effect.
So in the end, she succeeded. Everyone did, indeed, feel something. Merci, Agnès Varda.
On view until April 15th at Blum & Poe Gallery, 19 E 66th St, New York. Organized with Olivier Renaud-Clément.
CinéSalon Agnès Varda: Life as Art is on until March 21st at the French Institute Alliance Française, Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street NYC fiaf.og
Text and photo Robin Siegel