Saturday, September 15, 2012

La femme dans le Paysage

In 1994 the Belgian painter Marie Desbarax became bewitched by a certain landscape near the city of Nivelles. A text inspired by the paintings she produced there over the course of a year, 'La femme dans le Paysage,' was written by  Fran├žois Emmanuel for her exhibition, 'Variations sur un paysage.'  It can be found on the artist's website and was integrated into the writer's collection of thematically related stories, L'invitation au voyage (2003), a book translated last year into English by Justin Vicari for the Dalkey Archive Press.  'Woman in a Landscape' describes a woman captivated by an 'earthly lover'.  Everything she wants is in this landscape, 'everything she needs to nourish her eye, to quench her thirst, to feed her flesh...'  But this is not a lifelong attachment to an extraordinary place, like Nan Shepherd's love for the Cairngorms.  It is a brief, intense affair with somewhere that would not seem particularly special to other people, 'just an acre or two land by the road'.  Every detail, each sprig, chestnut bur and pebble is precious.  She sees musical scales in the alignment of the trees - 'I want the sound of the wind in the poplars on my paper, I want those rustlings, these murmurs.'  Imagining her there with her easel planted in the ground, Emmanuel is reminded of the Chinese artist who had the idea of painting fog and then disappeared inside it.  They never recovered his brushes, 'but he did leave behind a few sketches, a few canvases, proof that the whole story is true.'

[Footnote: Psychogeographers and Patrick Keiller admirers may enjoy another of the stories in Invitation to a Voyage, 'The Cartographer's Waltz', in which a man sent to map lichen species in Arras meets a mysterious soundscape researcher whilst exploring tunnels under the town.] 

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