Notre Dame des Fleurs: Variations on a Genet Classic

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Another week, another book release. Notre Dame des Fleurs is a collection of artistic responses to Jean Genet’s debut novel, compiled and published by Jan van Rijn, for which I contributed three pieces:

Based on the English translation of the unabridged original edition, published in 1949 by Edition Paul Morihien, it is by no means a consistent illustration of the book nor is it a cohesive interpretation in form of a graphic novel. It is a truly personal collection that throws highlights on a beautiful piece of literature, printed in a run of 150 signed and numbered copies. The participating artists in alphabetical order: Michael AmpersantAntoine BernhartWim BeullensSusie Bright – John Coulthart – Lauri ElexsenRinaldo HopfAnja MolendijkBrane MozeticJohn Thomas ParadisoRexApollonia Saintclair Jan van RijnVilela Valentin

Genet’s novel caused a considerable stir when it was first published in France in 1943. Part memoir, part fiction, part masturbation aid, the book was famously written by Genet on sheets of wrapping paper in his Paris prison cell, and is probably the first account of homosexual lives—especially of homosexual erotic lives—lived on their own terms, without any apologies made to straight society or, for that matter, the straight reader. (“Straight” here applies to criminality as much as sexuality.) Antecedents exist, like Teleny Or the Reverse of the Medal, but Teleny is more assertively pornographic, which means it wanders into the fantasy world that porn always creates, a place where desire is everything and introspection doesn’t exist. Genet was writing about the people he knew in Paris before the war, the thieves and pimps and male prostitutes of Montmartre, and doing so in a manner that had to be considered as literature however transgressive the content might be for the literary establishment of the day.

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The unique qualities of the novel present difficulties for an illustrator. Literary fiction tends to look inside its characters much more than genre fiction, summoning thoughts, moods and feelings which resist easy depiction in a visual form. I’d first been asked to consider illustrating Notre Dame des Fleurs several years ago for a Graphic Classics collection of crime fiction, a request to which I agreed then had to turn down after deciding that the task of condensing the book into a few pages was a near impossibility. For Jan’s book, rather than illustrate a scene or two from the novel I opted for a conceptual approach. My three pages are intended to be promotional materials from a parallel universe in which Notre Dame des Fleurs was made into a French feature film some ten years or so after its publication, complete with hardcore sex scenes. The latter may seem unlikely but Genet was in the vanguard of presenting gay sex on the cinema screen in Un Chant d’Amour, the 26-minute silent film he made in 1950. He subsequently disowned the film, as he disowned—or “forgot”—many of his creations in later years, but it remains a pioneering and influential work.

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Leonor Fini

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I’ve been hoping for years that a proper documentary about the enigmatic Argentinian artist might surface, and here one is at last. Leonor Fini (1987) was directed by Chris Vermorcken, and as a portrait of an artist it’s almost as good as the films the BBC used to produce for the Arena arts strand. I say “almost” because the Arena template tended to blend a biographical sketch with the life of the artist or writer at the present moment. Vermorcken encourages Fini to tell us about her early years in Trieste up to her meeting with the Surrealists in Paris, after which the discussion meanders to her vast company of Persian cats and the various forms of her painting and drawing.

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Unlike most other films about Fini, this one is subtitled throughout so we can enjoy her reading from some of the stories that accompany her drawings, and also find out which films she liked. (Fellini’s Casanova was a favourite.) There’s also an appearance by Konstanty Jelenski, one of the points of the bisexual ménage à trois formed by Jelenski, Fini and Count Stanislas Lepri, all of whom lived together in the cat-infested house. Essential viewing here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Leonor Fini: comment vivre sans chat
Angels of Anarchy: Women Artists and Surrealism
The art of Leonor Fini, 1907–1996
Surrealist women

Weekend links 401

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TIME, June 21st 1968. Cover by Roy Lichtenstein.

• “Forget the democratic processes, the judicial system and the talent for organization that have long been the distinctive marks of the US. Forget, too, the affluence (vast, if still not general enough) and the fundamental respect for law by most Americans. Remember, instead, the Gun. That is how much of the world beyond its borders feels about the US today. All too widely, the country is regarded as a blood-drenched, continent-wide shooting range where toddlers blast off with real rifles, housewives pack pearl-handled revolvers, and political assassins stalk their victims at will.” The TIME magazine feature with the famous Roy Lichtenstein cover (prompted by the assassination of Robert Kennedy) will be fifty years old in June.

• “Where do we feel at home? What do our cities look like? How do we see? In 1908, architect and theorist August Endell set out to answer these deceptively simple questions.” Endell’s The Beauty of the Metropolis is coming from Rixdorf Editions in May.

Beardsley 120: The Death of Pierrot is a series of events in Aubrey Beardsley’s birthplace, Brighton, taking place throughout the month of March.

Like the Bloomsbury Group and the Beats, the Surrealists could be incestuous, choosing lovers from inside the circle and often remaining close to their exes. When [Max] Ernst and [Leonora] Carrington reached Paris, he introduced her to Leonor Fini, his friend and former lover. Tall, dazzling, and bejeweled, Fini cultivated a baroque theatricality; every day with her was a masked ball. Recognizing Carrington as “a revolutionary,” she claimed her as an astrological twin—a feat possible only because Fini lied about her age. “This chronological charade, combined with later cosmetic surgeries, sustained the image of youth and beauty that remained vital to Leonor’s self-image, the sexuality and her sense of her place in the world,” writes Chadwick:

Imperious and mercurial, she was also generous, loving and happy to share her rich intellectual life with the younger woman she considered her double. Like Leonora, she believed that cats possessed highly developed psychic powers, that horses had mythological powers that identified them with the feminine, and that painting was an alchemical process.

Regina Marler reviewing three new books about Leonora Carrington and the women artists of the Surrealist movement

As Serious As Your Life: Black Music and the Free Jazz Revolution, 1957–1977 by Val Wilmer receives a welcome republication next month.

• At Dangerous Minds: Occultism, cinema and architecture: How a ouija board built the Bradbury Building.

• When Books Read You, a Defence of Bibliomancy by Ed Simon.

• Ä Brïëf Hïstöry Öf Mëtäl Umläüts by Mike Rampton.

Joey Zone Illustration – Art from The joey Zone.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Brad Dourif Day.

Alva Noto‘s favourite albums.

Eddie Campbell, Dammit!

• Metropolis (1978) by Edgar Froese | Metropolis (1979) by Motörhead | Under The Gun (Metropolis Mix) (1993) by The Sisters Of Mercy

Weekend links 351

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Herald on Griffin (1516-1518) from The Triumphal Procession of Emperor Maximilian I series by Hans Burgkmair the Elder.

• My design and illustration work for Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling continues to gain favourable comments, a novelty when reviewers often pass over the visual component of the books under their consideration. One of the most recent examples is in the latest edition of Locus Magazine; this can only be read in full by subscribers but the Tachyon Tumblr has an extract.

Paul La Farge on the complicated friendship of HP Lovecraft and Robert Barlow. Related: The Night Ocean, a short story by Barlow & Lovecraft. Meanwhile, Lovecraft enthusiasts are still raising money for a Providence statue (spot my art and design work in the photo of the Lovecraft Art and Sciences Council).

• At The Quietus this week: Children Of Alice talk to Patrick Clarke about audio collage and English Surrealism, Lottie Brazier enters The Strange World of Annette Peacock, and Manuel Göttsching tells Robert Barry how Ash Ra Tempel became the loudest band in Berlin.

• “Mind the doors!” Eight reviewers pick ten films featuring the London Underground. Not a bad list but choosing a Doctor Who film while ignoring the great Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is an error.

• Mixes of the week: Swedenborgian Hobos by acephale, Secret Thirteen Mix 214 by Fabio Perletta, and a mix for NTS by Six Organs Of Admittance.

• More Surrealism: Leonor Fini, Surrealist Sorceress, a lecture by Dr Sabina Stent, will take place at Treadwell’s Bookshop, London, on 19th May.

• “Michael Chapman’s road-weary guitar resonates with a new generation,” says Joel Rose.

A Journey Round my Room (1794), a book by Xavier de Maistre.

Lyrical Nitrate (1991), a film by Peter Delpeut.

The Sorcerer (1967) by Miles Davis | Impressions Of Sorcerer (1977) by Tangerine Dream | Venom Sorcerer (2014) by Cultural Apparati

Weekend links 350

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Transition H50 (2016) by Jessica Eaton.

• One of my weekend posts in 2012 contained details about Taking Tiger Mountain, a low-budget feature film put together in 1983 by Tom Huckabee using footage originally shot in Tangier and Wales in the 1970s. Huckabee’s film is a strange “experimental” work of science fiction, based in part on William Burroughs’ Blade Runner script (no relation to the Ridley Scott film apart from the title), and described here as “a psychotropic apocalyptic odyssey”. The most notable aspect of the film for many will be the presence of a young Bill Paxton in the lead role, something I was reminded of when Paxton’s death was announced earlier this week. Five years ago there was only a short clip of Taking Tiger Mountain available on YouTube but since then a full copy has appeared; watch it here while you can. (The widescreen frame is cropped, and the sound is all in one channel but it’s still watchable.) Tom Huckabee talked about the film’s production (and the Burroughs connections) to Beatdom. A curio that deserves wider attention.

• “With Biller, the references come thick and fast. In The Love Witch, she channels, among others, 50s Hitchcock, Douglas Sirk’s lurid lushness, Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s deadpan gaze, Nicholas Ray’s poetry, Sam Fuller’s tabloid style and Todd Haynes’s revisionist sexual politics. […] Then add the Technicolor, widescreen, haute-Hollywood “women’s pictures” of the 50s, a touch of Hammer Studios, The Wicker Man, Rosemary’s Baby and any number of studio melodramas and musicals.” John Patterson talks to director Anna Biller about her new film, The Love Witch.

• Mix of the week is the Anxious Heart Mix by Moon Wiring Club, another excellent blend of electronica, industria and dialogue samples from the outer limits of the televisual sphere. Also of note this week: VF Mix 83, an Adrian Sherwood selection by Pinch, XLR8R Podcast 479 by Chris SSG, and Secret Thirteen Mix 213 by -N.

• “Anthropologically, this was going on all around me: it was amazing and nobody was dealing with it like that, so I just went for it.” Hal Fischer on his photo-art series, Gay Semiotics, which is on display at Project Native Informant, London, until 1st April.

• Coming in May from Luaka Bop, World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, the first-ever compilation of Alice Coltrane’s scarce releases on the Avatar Book Institute label.

Cinephilia looks back at Robert Wise and Nelson Gidding’s film of The Andromeda Strain (1971).

• Psychedelic Speed Freak: Remembering the blistering experimentalism of Hideo Ikeezumi.

• More witchery: S. Elizabeth talks to Pam Grossman about art, film and hex power.

• At The Quietus: Harry Sword on the strange world of Surgeon.

Leonor Fini playing cards

The Feathered Tiger (1969) by Kaleidoscope | Taking Tiger Mountain (1974) by Brian Eno | Plain Tiger (1985) by Cocteau Twins