Back in September 2015 we started reading and thinking about Fanny Claus, Manet, Baudelaire and the motif of the balcony. We wondered about making links with Manet’s painting in the Quai d’Orsay ……about visiting Boulogne where Manet manet first may have had the idea of the balcony painting, about links with Goya, about Baudelaire’s flaneur in Paris and about light and dark, inside and outside, about the protection and danger of the balcony, about painting and contemporary digital art.
One thread of early research lead us to thinking about the strange perspectives in Manet’s work e.g. Dejeuner sur l’Herbe, http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/collections/index-of-works/notice.html?no_cache=1&nnumid=000904&cHash=0ac4f8868a
and the debate about Manet’s the Bar the Folies-Bergère
– is the view possible or not? – having always understood that the perspective was thought to be impossible and part of the mystery, meaning and of the importance of the painting we were interested to come across this link http://www.getty.edu/art/exhibitions/manet_bar/looking_glass.html which demonstrates an angle of view that might make the picture possible…
In any event, the final impression of the compositions in some of Manet’s work, including the Portrait of Mlle Claus, is widely recognised as uneasy, almost a collection of collaged perspectives, which presents a new ‘Modern’ sensiblity, detached and isolating… it seemed important to root our work in the contemporary as much as the past
Ideas about lighting, viewer and composition continued to develop as we read Foucault’s “Manet and the Object of Painting” ………. his idea that the bright flatness of the front-on lighting on Manet’s models implicates the viewer – who was previously concealed in the darkness of the theatrical lighting of chiaroscuro – in a direct and confrontational line of view, that in part explains the outraged public response to works such as Olympia, and Dejeuner Sur L’Herbe….. this prompted a line of thought in our research that might have continued into the territory of exploring ‘the Gaze’ – on the balcony, who/what are we looking at, at what and how is Fanny looking, how is the painter looking at her?….and then the research took another turn.
On a web search we discovered that Fanny Claus played in the first ever all-woman string quartet, which had great success and in a website, http://www.sophie-drinker-institut.de/cms/ an independent research institute specializing in musicological women’s studies we found that she had great great grand-daughter still alive, a painter, who had recently had an exhibition in France in a gallery in Cordes sur Ciel, in the Tarn district, close to brook & black’s studio, in the same gallery where Tiffany had organised a show of her mother, Jacqueline Black’s paintings a few years ago.
This descendant of Fanny Claus, Sophie Prins Gapinski, was the same age as us, and was living in Paris. We left messages through emails on several websites that may have been able to contact her, and then struck success through telephoning the mayor of Cordes and asking if Sophie’s email could be sent to us from the gallery records. We were in contact.
The violent events in Paris in November, asserted a darker backdrop to the project and brought the focus back to the present context and tension in so many of our cities’ streets…..and when we eventually organised to visit Sophie in January, on the drive to Paris we passed the gathering mass of people at Calais, police, wire, fences …when we arrived at Sophie and her husband Tadeusz’s flat in Boulogne Billiancourt, for the first part of our visit the conversation circled around the current anxieties and tensions, the movements of people and the Syrian war.
On arriving at Sophie’s home we were surprised by another ‘coincidence’. We had decided by this point to ask Sophie to continue a line of work that brook & black had used in previous installations:
the motif of the woman who paints onto the glass of a window or screen, and then having painted herself out of the picture, cleans the surface to re-emerge from the painted surface.
We had planned to ask Sophie if we could video her squeezing paint from the tube out onto the window/picture glass in front of her and then start to paint. It was a jolt of surprise to walk into her flat – before we had even talked about the work – to see this image in her living room.
Beyond this visual surprise we could never have predicted or hoped that Sophie and Tadeusz would be as welcoming, enthusiastic and helpful as they were, and that Sophie would have played her part so imaginatively and sensitively, creating, undirected, moments in the video that are really poetic and surprising, and for finding and reading the text that forms part of the soundwork for the installation in Gallery 65. We cannot thank them enough and we are really delighted that they are both coming over to see the work on the week of Live Friday.