Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Ça tombe comme à Gravelotte…

If you're not French, you're unlikely to have come across that saying. In fact, I get the impression that even those under a certain age will find it unfamiliar. It's used to describe a downpour, but its origin is far more tragic.

Gravelotte, about 11 miles west of Metz, was the scene of some extremely bloody battles in August 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. Seventy-five thousand died in three days of fighting. Gravelotte also hosts a museum to the memory of this episode of history, its antecedents and life in the occupied regions of Alsace and Lorraine from 1871 till 1918 and the 1940 - 1945. Opened in 2014 after its German-built predecessor had been closed in the late 1990's, it's an excellent structure which will tell you all you need to know and more in its thoughtfully-planned exhibition rooms. With an entire section devoted to the tensions and ambitions which led to France declaring war on Prussia in July 1870, it's a comprehensive lesson in a significant thread of nineteenth century European history.

If you do go, have lunch in the nearby restaurant and bar, Le Quinze. It's just a minute's walk away, by the roundabout.
The museum from the German War Cemetery, opposite.

Aformentioned cemetery with memorial shrine.

A cannon. How would you cope without me?

Your lunch awaits…

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Latchave and the Guerilla Girls

No, I didn't know what it meant, either. It's Lorrain dialect for To Leave, Go. That would have been unusual enough in itself had I not come across this expression in Metz, a city in Lorraine. Latchave is the name of an art installation by Thomas Clémente in the Eglise des Trinitaires, just around the corner from the extraordinary cathedral. I came across it by chance after leaving an appalling exhibition by the Guerilla Girls, devoted to thirty-odd years of moaning about the underrepresentation of female (and non-white) artists in major galleries, notably those in Europe and, principally, the US. I'm probably missing something here, but if you do then get the chance to have a considerable space for three months, why not fill it with art by women, white and non-white alike, instead of covering every available space with posters denouncing the lack of opportunities this group has had to show its wares since Eve bit into that Pink Lady?

Anyhow, after bidding farewell to the nice girl with the short-back-and-sides at the entrance, I stumbled across a former baroque church-turned exhibition space almost opposite. Free admission, so why not have a look? There was mysterious, deep electronic music playing so I guessed there was probably an explanation leaflet somewhere. Yes, there was. However good the artwork was going to be, nothing could have prepared me for the well-intended but dreadfully pretentious blurb a certain Ms Boulc'h (pronounced: Bullsh) had written for the visitors. Here's a sample: A call to insubmission against fatality, the exhibition leads us to understand that emancipation could reside in our ability to perceive our life as fiction. The anonymous protagonist who appears to consider himself invincible is Achilles, fighting against everyday events; his heel (the centre of his vulnerability) incarnated by the imposed social order. It's not the worst part, I'm afraid; the next paragraph scuttles off up its own large intestine without even touching the sides, but I'll spare you the prose. I hope the writer never marries anyone called 'Itt'.

The artwork itself is highly accomplished. Thomas Clémente is a fine draughtsman and expresses much with simple images. I was particularly impressed with the video, The Tomb. I'm not sure I experienced what the artist was intending, but the notion of juxtaposing the image of a tomb which slowly appeared and disappeared ion a forest setting made perfect sense to me.

So if you're in or around Metz at the moment, pop in to the Eglise des Trinitaires and have a look. The Guerilla Girls opposite pack up their spotlit grumble tomorrow, so you've missed that one, I'm afraid.