Written in 2010. Edited in 2013.
Pasted at the usual place for introductory text panels in exhibitions; just to the right of a doorway and a little below eye level; the text Here and There contains an excerpt from Samuel Beckett’s writing on Marcel Proust. Beckett writes that the artist ‘deplores his lack of will until he understands that will, being utilitarian, a servant of intelligence and habit is not a condition of the artistic experience.’ The dandied existentialism of Beckett’s sentence is beautiful.
Overlaying the iconic image of Chaimowicz’s 1978 living room, the writing is set against descriptions of rooms and spaces; undulating from whimsical prose, to critique and back again, coming up for air between surface, depth, and commas. Here and There acts as a primer or script for the exhibition, so that the viewer is two places at once, on the page and in the space. As with Camille Chaimowicz’s Celebration? Real Life, 1972 at Gallery House, London and his revisited version for Cabinet Gallery in 2000, the format at Inverleith House lies somewhere between a post-minimal scatter installation and the backdrop for an unfolding play between artist and artists, institution and viewers. It feels right that Chaimowicz should invoke Beckett’s as an opener, when his work; languid with bourgeois domesticity, seems to me to inculcate a conspiracy against will, and whose choice of forms such as a cluster of empty hard backed chairs and inaccessible books on shelves reiterate the audiences subordination to the will of artist.
I arrived at the exhibition just after lunch on a beautiful blue skied day, so that when I stepped into the first room after reading through the text Here and There, the light was streaming through the window; falling strongly, through a windowpane that bleaches its shape onto a series of monochrome painted boards pasted with black and white domestic images. Each board leaned on and overlapping another across to cover most of the gallery wall like a giant redundant Venetian blind stripped of its function. The images capture fragments of an interior, a shop window, a door, a potted orchid. Sometimes a person appears; a sedentary partial nude, always anonymous and cast as mute with no back story; a figment in a narrative.
The sense of collaboration both literally and metaphorically comes into the fore upstairs on the first floor, where the impression is of a sparse, chichi-ly decorated and discerning house. Amplifying the domesticity of Inverleith House, the room contains Dovecot (for I.H), 2010, a tufted pastel rug commissioned by the artist and crafted at the local Dovecot studios. There are new models of one-sided collaboration aka appropriation with the incorporation of another artist’s work from another place or epoch. What does it mean to merge or curate another artists work into your own?
Through another doorway set upon a dusky pink patterned wallpaper, Edouard Vuillard presages a seemingly teenage boudoir in the adjoining room with La Chambre Rose, 1910 borrowed from the National Galleries of Scotland. The painting depicts a feminine interior with heavily wallpapered walls, the window thrown open to let in a breeze of cool air adding freshness to the ornate but slightly dank room. The girl, perhaps a burgeoning Femme Nouvelle, dwells on a chair in the corner. Rendered with impressionistic verve, patches of canvas are left bare in the bottom right corner, an anti-light or shadow, casting blanks for the viewer to fill in and well as contrast. Vuillard was a Nabis painter, a group of transdiciplinary artists whose goal was a familiar one, to reintegrate art into life. Made up of sculptors, painters, a theater director, and a musician, like Chaimowicz they made posters, textiles and furniture; they also saw paintings as decoration, as a embodying certain emotions and sensations providing spiritual retreat for world-weary aesthetes.
A feeling of retreat is made available to the visitor throughout with its muted hues and gentle timbre. Pastel piqued dressing tables complete with mirrors place the viewer as actor or agent within the installation. As well as deferring potential action to the past the mirror refers the viewer to the immediacy of the present and to their role in the creative act; they take this shared experience into their unique future. A domestic interior holds two things together in perpetuity; the vague backdrop of an epoch, of a general sense of taste and the individual collection of detritus and fact, material we decide to surround ourselves with. A display of the self is necessarily subjective; even in the privacy of our homes some things are designed to communicate. Dandy knick-knacks on windowsills are as much for the benefit of inhabitants and visitors as they are for passers by. Is there such a thing as a flaneur of the home? Camille Chaimowicz envisages a nonchalant interior complete with the ideal disinterested and temporary inhabitants. Gustav Flaubert had a problem with transitions between sentence concepts. Which brings me neatly to the bookshelves. Not for one moment are we fooled into thinking that the complete works of Gustav Flaubert are available to read in the gallery, although it is tempting; vying for attention, begging to be picked up, each spine of the volume is decorated with cheerful paint. A clue to its teasing presence in the installation can be imbibed from the form of the bookshelf, Bibliotheque, 2009, the base of which is a set of pistachio coloured lacquered speech marks. This is not a reading room, we are unable to peruse them, we just have to be satisfied with our imagination.
The same frustrated sense function and utility pervades the exhibition. The rug is elevated at an angle, obtuse and definitely not to stretch out on or feel its softness beneath your toes. Coiffeuse (dressed), 2008, again with a customised rug appears to be a girls dressing table, complete with underwear peeping out of the drawer, notebooks and mobile phone ready for use and a bottle of YSL Pariseinne primed to diffuse its perfume, lingering in the air long after she has hurried out into the night. There is no actor, but the space is highly charged and performative. The things in this room belong to nobody, but like art belong to everyone at first and then if they are lucky at some point belong to someone. The grey Nokia phone, has been decorated with hundreds of delicate nail varnish spots. The sort of necessary adornment you might get into trouble with your parents for. This personal expression of spills over onto the notebook the phone rests on, the book is one of those fancy ones with a kind of brocade pattern. The embellishment is methodically applied and spot by spot usurps the original ornate design. The notion that you have ‘ruined’ or ‘improved’ something in your possession depends on your viewpoint of course. Altering objects with materials that you have to hand is a method of communication, a visual language as much as decorating a wall with a particular pattern or someone else’s art; but this is a role-play. Flaubert cried in his 1853 notebook, ‘prose, its never finished!’ it seems that Camille Chaimowicz is never done with the past but instead picks over it, revisits and re-envisages his work. You get the feeling that things could be different, the flow and rhythm of the show can be imagined in multiple permutations. In order to keep the exhibition open, ideas have to be closed down. Talking about the singular objects in the rooms misses the point; although the work gives the impression of containing multiplicities, overall things are carefully positioned and sparse, as though a discerning family are in the process of moving in or out, maybe like Chaimowicz in childhood from Paris to Stevenage. Or maybe we could be passing through a trust-funded squat.
The exhibition is perforated with empty time, free time and leisure; each person in the photographs is seen to be at rest, just talking or lazing around or contemplating something, staring out of a window. By walking through the spaces at Inverleith House you can share in this sense. Even the invigilators are in the flow; maybe reading Flaubert, sat on the gallery chairs, without looking up as you pass by. Its hard to tell which artworks originated in the past, here each is equal in the present. Rather than looking forward to create something new, once forgotten images, memories and works come together in the here and there. Repetitions and mistakes were unbearable for Flaubert but not for Beckett, likewise Camille Chaimowicz allows works and symbols to recur ad infinitum. The use of domestic accoutrements is not the only allusion to life in his work; like life nothing is done away with; here the past remains with us, not just as a Proustian evocation, but also as a series of material facts. History is flattened and excavated; the exhibition will stay with me as will Flaubert, Proust, Beckett and others filling up my empty time and moving with me from the present into the future. The had difficulty in my French lessons with tenses; present tense, past tense, imperfect tense, imperative tense, and past perfect tense. This deep understanding of time and its uses seems to sweep through the exhibition. But there are so many intelligent references and nuances here that it would become a futile Bouvard and Pecouchet attempt to remark on them all. I might be reading too much into things when I say that taking a Nabis stance (Nabis meaning Prophet in Hebrew) art is used in the service of interior design but more profoundly, Camille Chaimowicz succeeds in temporarily intergrating art into life. It is a life that is possesses the freedom and time to be quietly reflective, genteel and ordered. It is a life that most, including myself might aspire to; but sadly it is not a life that the majority, particularly as I edit this in 2013, are privileged to be familiar with.