Shadow Walker – travelling monk
In november 2011, I was invited for an artist residency by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson Arizona, MOCA.
My main activity is to do portraits, my aim being to reveal the unalterated nature of the sitter, ... as is our shadow.
I decided to go to the desert of Arizona in search of my shadow. Usually, we take our shadow for granted, though, she is our closest companion. Like the sun, she is there, generous, and we never pay attention to her. That was the inclination for my journey.
My body as a flame. My body as ashes, traces as a shadow. My body as a bow. (As a film arc light.)
Like the desert, the ageless trace of some past ocean, our own shadow is a fossilized image of our true and perpetuable nature. In the same manner as we still perceive the fossilized radiance of stars and galaxies from millions of years ago. As well as the straight line that initiates at the center of the earth, crosses our body and goes to the stars, belongs exclusively to us, (as long as we are alive), the same occures with our dear shadow. Nobody can share our shadow.
I went to the desert, I spend time alone in the museum at night, and that particular “character” came to life, part shadow, part shaman. A reminiscence of the Death in “The Seventh Seal” of Ingmar Bergman, a reference to the journey of Joseph Beuys in “I like America and America Likes me”, to the performance of James Lee Byars, and to the inherant shamanist roots of the local indian culture.
I had the attributes of a shaman, a hat, (a hamish hat), and a stick. A stick I received from the Masaïs, 20 years ago, after having lived 3 weeks among them, in the Massaï Mara, Kenya, as a mark of some kind of initiation. A “talking” stick, the stick each Massaï man has, that allows him to speak among men. It is made out of the center of an aged tree, carved, then buried in the ground for 3 months. “Bâton de Palabre” in french, it is all over traditional Africa.
This character danced in the museum, in the desert, walked and walked, leaving some traces. I used to put my basic point & shoot camera on a tripod and filmed and photographed myself in the surrounding.
Now, I want to bring this shadow character to special places, museums, like the Louvre, the New York stock exchange, Petra in Jordania, Central Station in NYC, Fuji Montain, you name it. Each time a different adventure, each time a different trace. It is a very discreet character, people don’t notice him much, even if he is strange, all dressed in black, and moving at a particular pace. He doesn’t look like a threat, even if he is a “memento mori” character for sure. In some places, I would move in a crowded surrounding, in some places, it would be better “in the still of the night”, in emptiness. Filmed by the security cameras.
The visual traces might be maps, photos, films, topologies, drawings or paintings.
Having lived in Brussels, Italy, Japan, Paris, the Emirates, Los Angeles, New York, it seems I am a nomad artist. And I still have many places to go. As a wandering monk.
ps: this experience in Tucson was very particular. I like to meet people where ever I go. This museum is a former firehouse. The rooms for the residency are the former bedrooms of the fire fighters. Conceptually, there is something particular about a fire house in the middle of a desert... This is a land of native americans. The first ones I witnessed were at the foodstore. They were looking like the hispanic people I know in the US, the ones who works every where, but they were way too fat and seem too lost to work. The next day, someone told me, those are the local indians, no hispanic. A destroyed people.
Constantly, in Tucson, in the distance, you hear the sound of the slow trains. The military industry in Tucson AZ, is very important, “Patriot Missiles” are produced here. I imagine this litany of trains bringing missiles where they are needed, for security or for action. This sound reminds me of the trains that used to bring people to the nazis camps. Trains of death.
I was all by myself in the desert of a destroyed native civilisation, with death weapons travelling constantly in the distance, me, trying to make relation with my shadow, and trying to feel what it is to be a desert vegetation, like a cactus....
I have to stress two strong influence for this adventure: The coyote performance of Joseph Beuys in NYC, and James Lee Byars. As a young adolescent in 1974, I witnessed his performance in brussels: “The perfect Love Letter is I write ‘I love you’ backwards in the air”.
I reinacted it in the Tucson Museum.