It’s October, I’ve been back in the US for almost three months.
I’ve started and re-started this entry many times but could never commit to or endure the mental calisthenics involved in juggling the simultaneous closure and re-entry that my PDX return has demanded.
Where is that clever quip or summative moment hiding?
What cheeky observation could both encapsulate my two years in France and act as a grand salutation for me in a city that has re-presented itself as both a wonderful familiar and as a matured, wry stranger. Stories have been told, buildings razed, friend’s children have grown and I often feel I’ve stepped in at the punchline after missing the entire setup of the joke.
Leaving France was difficult and exhilarating, necessary and timely. Teary farewells to friends and colleagues were tempered by the excitement of returning to Portland and recommitting to a life not moored in a constant state of displacement. The mechanics of packing up and transporting my two-year accumulations took more time and expense than expected and the shipping, customs release and transport bills are my lingering tethers to Pont-Aven. My exhibition “Sleight of Hand” that continued on after my departure, gave me the luxury of having a shadow presence, a digital doppelganger to enact the slow dissipation of my presence in France.
Portland welcomed me back with record breaking temperatures as I began the search for an apartment. In France, I was convinced that upon my return I would quickly and easily find the perfect compound to set up shop, plant the tomatoes, hang the clothesline and get to work. I imagined a compound/acreage/tree house/fort/sanctuary that I would be able to buy and begin to build a more anchored, intentional existence here in Portland.
Two realities have challenged this: the still bloated prices in the housing market and the less than bloated salary a single, full-time faculty member makes teaching art. I haven’t surrendered the idea but need to proceed with a level of fiscal maturity and long-term awareness that clashes with my current arrested economic adolescence. It’s not a healthy plan to have more than half of your salary going towards housing, right?
The growth and expansion of PNCA has made it a very dynamic place to return to and the level of engagement and inquiry from the students and faculty is rewarding, challenging and inspiring. Ideas for new bodies of work have finally pushed through the transitional malaise and with the onset of autumn, I find myself ready to settle in and commit to these creative explorations.
So here I am.
With the profound and the pointless jostled along the same timeline. Grasping at moments, missing some, instigating others and always trying to be immersed in the now, not looking back in regret or wasting my present longing for that elusive, unlived tomorrow.
“I’m not sure I want to do anything about this”
I overheard this at the check-in counter for my connecting flight in Belgrade on my return to Pont-Aven. A British tourist was going ballistic over the apparent loss of her luggage and the JAT flight attendant’s apparent gaffe (or deliberate affirmation) with “want” versus “can do anything…” offered a delightful summation of my time in Cetijne, Montenegro.
In 2005 during my first stay and appointment at the Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art, one of our nine Post-bac students, Milena Martinovic, met and fell in love with the son of my fellow faculty member, Sam Walsh, when he, Tady, was visiting his dad.
An international, long distance, four-year romance ensued and became a matrimonial legality with celebrations in Budvah, Montengro. It was a beautiful ceremony linking hearts, cultures and families and it was an honor to witness the union.
Milena had earlier passed on my “Tournament (lumens)” catalog to the director, Mirjana of the Atelier Dado (contemporary venue of the National Museum of Montenegro) in Cetijne and she had asked me to come and put together an exhibition with the opening occurring the night before the wedding.
So here I was with facets of my life strangely coalescing and merging in a small town in Montenegro.
But I’m still ahead of myself…..
A week before the opening and wedding, I was in the bus with this semester’s students on the way to Paris to see them off to their homes and/or all points international. They were a great, talented group that made my last semester session an absolute joy.
A night in a hotel at Roissy and then off to a country that I have to admit until a month before I had no real idea where it was……..US-centric and shameful, yes, I know.
For those who also won’t admit not knowing… if Italy was a cowboy boot, the spur would be pointing directly at Montenegro.
Paris to Belgrade went without a hitch but the departure time from Belgrade to Podgorica was pushed back three times over the course of two days. By the time I rolled my bags into the airport, I was looking at a seven-hour layover. It was spent with Zorica, one of this session’s Post-bac students over coffee and snacks with a large, traveling missionary group loudly serenading us all with earnest anthems and committed hymns until airport security shut them down.
I got into Podgorica at about midnight and was driven to Cetijne by the curator’s husband Lazar. He gave me an informative history lesson and generous description of the region and I was very excited to immerse myself into this unknown.
The Atelier Dado is right in the middle of the main pedestrian plaza in the heart of Cetijne and as I lugged my giant bag filled with exhibition bits, sandals, suit jackets and gift galletes to my front door, I felt the last of the end of term tensions slip away. I was meeting with Mirjana first thing in the morning so I curled up in my bed in the small apartment that was part of the gallery and collapsed.
I though that the French had dominance and mastery over café culture’s blissful acceptance and agenda free embrace of simply passing time but if there was an international tournament to dedicated leisure, my bets are on the good citizens of Cetijne. I swung open my doors the following morning and was greeted by a sea of outdoor seating, umbrellas and apron clad folks bringing round the next tray of espressos and cappuccinos that were delicious, dark and highly caffeinated.
They were also 1.10 euros! A refreshing change from the overpriced, agitated brown water in Pont-Aven.
They had surprisingly set me up with an open tab at a small restaurant across the plaza from the gallery and I met Mirjana there to have my first two euro ham and cheese omelette that was the size of a folded Sunday New York Times. Must unpack the running shoes….
After a lovely discussion about how the week would proceed, we were back on the road to Podgorica to have the large format vinyl banners printed for the exhibition.
Thumb drive in pocket we were off only to be stopped by the road construction that would randomly close the main road for extended periods of time making it a crapshoot getting in or out of town. Here I first witnessed the rather free-form, cavalier driving habits of the region which would later in the week have me suppressing shrieks of terror in a cab tearing through and around the high mountain roads on the way to the wedding.
It’s amazing how fast you can sweat through a suit.
We completed this errand with an obligatory stop for coffee and a snack and were back in Cetinje were I met the gentleman who was to be my “assistant” for the week.
If by assistant one means opening the door, asking if I was cold and then disappearing for the day, then he was tops in the field. His invisibility, I found out, was an ongoing issue that unfortunately came to an ugly head during my stay and I was rolled into the drama simply by association. By mid-week, my attempts at “hello” on the street were met with a disdainful snub.
Great……cue international incident.
The other gentleman helping me out had their own, varying conceptions of “task”, “completion” and “focus” and each executed them seemingly independent of my needs or desires or in any recognizable cooperative way with each other.
Before I continue, let me paste in the Montenegro “Ten Commandments” that were widely available in the souvenir shops circling the plaza.
Let it be the contextual bracket for my following rant….
Any suggestions or request would be met with a plea for the necessity of checking with a “colleague”. This would involve leaving the gallery and if it was a good day, a return before nightfall with an answer or the needed tool. More often than not, it meant finding the cluster of “colleagues” two cafes down enjoying a beverage. Three would eventually return and between them would have a hammer and a drill. Of course the colleague with the drill was not the holder of the drill’s battery and a different colleague had the bits and wouldn’t it really be better tomorrow what with the road construction and all…….?
Guy behavior seems to transcend international boundaries and I realized I could have been working anywhere when after understanding and then finally proceeding with the task I clearly recognized similar strategies:
1. Push really hard
2. Step back
4. Push again
5. Wiggle and/or rotate object of attention
6. Step out to have a smoke
7. Claim it can’t be done
8. Scratch (different place)
9. Reschedule for tomorrow
I had to take a really deep breath and try not to be even more of a privileged, “why isn’t everything available to me?” irritating prick.
“NO, not a prick, …just American” my French “colleagues” pointed out to me when I was sharing these stories upon my return.
Morning runs through the town and out into the surrounding region kept the tensions down and the delicious red wine and obscene cakes at a caloric stand-off. Time was going by very rapidly and I realized that with all I had to do with the exhibition, my parallel mini-vacation was going to be rather limited so my morning runs exposed me to the landscape, architecture and character of the region.
We had darkened the gallery early in the week and the tomb-like quality had me pawing at the shuttered doors so by mid-week I was daily joining colleagues in the afternoon for a beverage or two. When in Rome……
The exhibition was progressing fine and I ended up doing a great deal of work after the sun went down. As always, these things progress exponentially so I began to allow myself strolls, promenades and drawn out aperitifs in and around the central plaza. Here is where the town really defined itself for me. From about 5:00 until 8:00 PM families took over the streets with kids riding bikes, kicking balls, snagging cotton candy or popcorn from the vendors who would set up nightly, plugging into bases of lampposts, storefronts and any other “available” outlet.
I was fascinated by a game played nightly by a group of young girls. They would take a large hoop of broken, repaired, broken again, re-knotted elastic, hook it to various points in the plaza (tree, post, door) and then play an elaborate game whose rules I could never consistently identify but involved jumping over, under, occasionally on and around this stretched parameter line. A breach of the collectively understood protocol would be met with aggressive shouts and the pure, damning disdain of determined children at play.
After 8:00, the streets were turned over to the older crowd who saw the boulevards and cafes as their personal catwalks and they rose to the occasion. The young women were dressed in what can only be described as “background extras in an 80’s music video” fashion. Skin tight jeans with the obligatory bleached areas mottled throughout: thighs, waist, backside and t-shirts festooned with glittered proclamations of party decadence. My favorite was “Dance Pop, Can’t Stop” in encrusted silver glitter on a flaming pink shirt with the bottom cut into thin strips in a way I haven’t seen since participating in some hilarious drag shows in Chicago…
Big hair and even bigger, platter sized sunglasses completed the look and it was nearly impossible to identify the age.
Mature 12? Desperate 52?
The men hit the streets in sleek variations of the track-suit. Not in an ironic, Williamsburg, neo-Run DMC way but with a rather aggressive, masculinity affirming swagger. This stance was strangely countered by bold displays of affection that sent confounding mixed signals that I… resisted pursuing. Men would walk with linked arms and when talking face to face, a hand would rest gently on the companion’s shoulder.
Greetings were with a kiss on the cheek and a lingering handshake.
Brutal “accessory dogs” (Dobermans, Rottweilers) extended the swagger and provided an object of attention and conversation between the passing cliques of Cetinje residents.
Visited the local market where an amazing assortment of products, produce and procured items overwhelmed the senses. Discs of local cheese were nudged up against zinc buckets filled with brooms and axes. Plastic wrapped bales of cheap souvenirs, toys and kitchen accessories were draped with clothing and garden hoses. A corridor between two open plazas was where the fresh fish were, kicking and bouncing about in the long gray trays.
Adjusted lights, added more charcoal, tweaked video color and then the show was done and it was opening night.
My French colleagues, past students and my new Montenegro friends showed up and it was an absolute delight to have their support. Students from the Art academy were projecting their video projects on the exterior of the building and it was a perfect accent to the evening’s festivities.
Many glasses of delicious Vranac wine were raised and emptied and I stood back and soaked up the beauty and energy of the evening and the generosity of the community that graciously welcomed me.
A mini one day vacation the following Sunday had me strolling the beaches of Budva and then off early that following Monday to return to Pont-Aven…..for the next act.
Hundreds of amateur photos culled from liquidated estates, broken families and abandoned histories were shuffled into boxes at a street fair in Berlin. They were priced by size and age and the historic relevance carried no more currency than the personal with a birthday celebration costing the same as an advancing military formation.
I picked through this anonymous archive and bought ten images.
The photos are either staged, performed acts or the record of people witnessing the particular, uncanny or unique: severe snowfall, coronation of a massive church bell, children’s theatre production, workers inspecting a truncated structure, tug of war.
Each of these shots is an enigmatic riddle simultaneously posed in multiple languages. The players are unknown, the locations ambiguous and the impact of the documented event remains elusive. It’s these peculiar incidents and paused theatrics that continue to engage and confound me.
We suspend our disbelief to embrace the illusion.
We willingly participate in acts of delusion and fabricate elaborate, renewable facades to shield the inevitable.
(Cue the magician)
Perhaps I should speak only for myself.
My reflection, after all, is the only one I see.
The gestures made end at the length of my arms.
Suspended in disbelief, I clutch the illusions I’ve fostered and hold them close to my vest.
Shifting manners, methods and levels of madness to face the crowd, I adjust my tics and temperament to match this year’s model.
Relative truth and absolute beauty are the two sides of my palmed coin and heaven help me if, when tossed, it lands on the edge.
I shuffle through my newly acquired photos and realize how easy it is to merge the riddles and tease out new fictions with the randomly auditioned players:
“That structure being inspected is the failed roof that collapsed after the brutal, late season blizzard. The bell is a civic memorial to those lost in the March disaster and the annual reenactment by the children of the heroism displayed during that fateful, frozen week continues to honor the departed…”
It’s a photographic Rorschach test of my own narrative predilections and further evidence of my need to order the random occurrence of living by generating comforting, familiar tropes to hang my reason, hopes and hesitancies on.
(Enters stage left flourishing a silk.)
Are you not confounded… muddled… mystified?
I give you now these poised and pointless moments that will rise or sink to the metaphoric levels to which you deem them worthy.
Ignore what it is you think you see!
These visible wires and swinging traps are simply this poetry’s punctuation marks.
But please, dear ladies and gentlemen, grant me a moment to set the snares and load the shot.
When I return home, these photos will be mixed with my own mementos. This rogue integration will rupture the veracity of my lived documents and slyly embellish the offered evidence of my having been.
(Applause dies down. Walks to center stage)
It’s our hollow belief that exhaled smoke and spattered mirrors could double this venue’s capacity.
To have you see what I need you to see takes such little effort.
Every option is here, suspended in the wings, swaying to the rimshot cadence.
Was it Berlin?
It’s the sleight of hand, hesitating slightly before the reveal knowing that what truly dazzles can only be seen during the briefest intermission.
I want to post my latest “weigh-in” and mileage numbers before we head out to Paris and then Berlin this weekend…
The temptations (of which I will embrace and indulge in) of giant bucket sized beers,
platters of sausages and kraut and closing time Kebabs
current weight-91 kilos (200.62 pounds)
amount lost-15 kilos (33.06 pounds)
goal weight for the PDX return-88.45 kilos (195 pounds)
I’m now running 5.5 miles a day (except one weekend day) for a total of 33 miles a week.
Our Pont-Aven running gang (Melissa, Cedric, John and I) has been obsessing over this really cool software Cedric found on line. It’s called TrailRunner and it allows you to map out route distances, grades and a whole bunch of other cool features I’ve yet to dip into. The blue, red and green paths are some of my morning routes through town and out into the countryside.
Geeky, yes…..but fitness geeky!
My running continues to be an amazing way to venture down roads and discover areas I haven’t yet explored. I’ve huffed and wandered my way into absolutely stunning moments- the sun illuminating the last lingering blanket of morning fog just as my iPod serendipitously shuffles to the perfect supporting soundtrack moment.
As we slip into a beautiful Bretagne spring, I’ve become an alert witness to the budding growth, flowering change and deep transition occurring not only in the surrounding meadows and fields but also in my lungs, heart and head.
I’ve posted a version of “Prestidigitation-A Folly In Eleven Acts” on Sevenload.
It’s a low-res version and it breaks my heart to see it so scrappy after the big camera purchase but it’s a good way to share it and hopefully receive some constructive feedback. The real deal will be in all of its pore defining, grey hair accenting high-def glory! I hope it won’t sputter and snag along like it does on my ancient (four year old) iBook.
If it does, wait for it to completely load and then proceed.
A second supporting video, large format stills, a series of bottle dioramas (stay tuned for images) and wall drawings integrated with planar set fragments will complete the exhibition “David Eckard-Sleight of Hand”.
A portion of the exhibition will be in “Call and Response” at The Museum of Contemporary Craft, in Portland, opening on June 18th.
My cohort and friend Anne-Julie Raccoursier, who is currently teaching here at Pont-Aven, has already given me some great advice on rethinking the repetitiveness of the background music and re-editing it to be more chapter/illusion duration specific.
I couldn’t agree more.
That is one of the things that continues to poke me in the side as I view it.
I hope to tweak and fiddle around with it a bit more this weekend. Enough time has passed and I’m able to look at the piece a bit more objectively and really fine-tune it.
I look forward to your feedback!