Monday morning dialectic

A little joke to start the week...

Fact A: Japanese eat very little fat and have fewer heart attacks than Americans and English people.
Fact B: French eat lot of fat and have fewer heart attacks than Americans and English people.
Fact C: Japanese drink very little red wine and have fewer heart attacks than Americans and English people.
Fact D: French drink lot of red wine and have less heart attack than Americans and English people.

Factual conclusion: drink and eat what you want, only speaking English is dangerous.


Und-art my skin...

Art fleur de peau...

I am sorry to start this post with a some French, and even worst with a French play on word. But it was inspired by the performance of
Phil Hansen, a painter-photographer-artist-philosopher-performer-etc, I came across on YouTube recently. But, let me first close the French chapter before I move back to Phil.

The proper idiom is "à fleur de peau", literally "at the flower of the skin", and means that something is so tense that one feels it closely under or within his skin. Usually it is used to describe a very nervous person who has the nerves at the flower of his/her skin, ready to explode... But by extension, this flourishing expression has also been used to refer to a very passionate relationships, "l'amour à fleur de peau" (love at the flower of the skin). In a sense, we get close to the English idiom: I have you under my skin.

Layers on influence

But back to Phil Hansen now. This guy is obviously passionate about art. From the portfolio featured on his website you can realise that his work gravitates around key figures of modern History who are interpreted in his pictorial style. And at a certain stage, Phil decided to bring his work on the web, and performed an astonishing artwork in front of the camera: he painted his body with 30 different people who influenced his life, each portrait overlapping the previous one.

What really interested me in this approach was that the artistic concept had been thought through, and was not a "simple" performance (a performance which still took 30 hours, forcing Phil to sleep with his inspirers during the composition!).

Every character featured in this piece of art has had an input in the artist personal or professional life. They are proudly worn directly on the skin, as an evidence of the intimacy that the artist wants to reveal. They intrinsically constitute his personality:

Georges Seurat: He was an artist that impacted me early on. His fragmentation of images led me where I am today
Stephen Hawking: He affected my outlook on life. He made me think about what life is and what I should do with it
Mao Yasui: After I spent about three years doing very little art she pushed me to get started again. The first large scale drawing I did was directly because of her. You will see it pretty often leaning against the wall of my studio.

Epidermic psychology

Each influencer represents a layer of what makes Phil Sanders Phil Sanders. This is a nice representation of how our self is actually constructed: it is a a constant building enterprise where each encounter add a brick to constitute a whole, you.

Phil Sander's artwork, rolled.

And that led me to wonder who were the key influencers in my short life. Here is a quick list from the top of my mind - and without real order. Nothing complete though (mum, dad, I love you. Marie-Anne too):

- Salvador Dali who illuminated my approach of art with his surrealist double imaging painting style.
- Renee Brenot, a staff member of my former University, who changed my career with a sentence in a corridor.
Sigmund Freud who reinsured me when I had bad dreams.
Quentin Tarantino who delighted me with "Pulp Fiction" and encouraged me to stop linear thinking
Shizuo Koizumi and his anime "Attacker Yu!" (Jeanne & Serge in French) who made me discover volley ball and live magnificent moments with great fellows.

What about you, dear reader? Can you tell me who are the 5 key influencers who would constitute your own epidermis? I am looking forward to reading you...


How to tell if you are a Londoner...

panography of Trafalgar Square after the rainI am a photography amateur: I shoot some pictures once in a while, I enjoy others' the rest of the time. This is why I have joined several groups on FlickR beyond posting my own images on this brilliant website. One of them is called "London by Londoners" and, as it names explicitly states it, is all about photos taken by inhabitants of the Capital.

Recently one of the member posted a comment about "how to tell if you are a Londoner", quite judicious a question to verify whether or not you qualify for the Group!!! So you can tell that you are a Londoner if...

1. You say "the City" and expect everyone to know which one.
2. You have never been to The Tower of London or Madame Tussaud's but love Brighton.
3. You can get into a four-hour argument about how to get from Shepherd's Bush to Elephant & Castle at 3:30 on the Friday before a long weekend, but can't find Dorset on a map.
4. Hookers and the homeless are invisible.
5. You step over people who collapse on the Tube.
6. You believe that being able to swear at people in their own language makes you multilingual.
7. You've considered stabbing someone.
8. Your door has more than three locks.
9. You consider eye contact an act of overt aggression.
10. You call an 8' x 10' plot of patchy grass a garden.
11. You consider Kent the "countryside".
12. You think Hyde Park is "nature".
13. You're paying £1,200 a month for a studio the size of a walk-in wardrobe and you think it's a "bargain".
14. Shopping in suburban supermarkets and shopping malls gives you a severe attack of agoraphobia.
15. You pay more each month to park your car than most people in the UK pay in rent.
16. You pay £3 without blinking for a beer that cost the bar 28p.
17. You actually take fashion seriously.
18. You have 27 different take-away menus next to your telephone.
19. The UK west of Heathrow is still theoretical to you.
20. You're suspicious of strangers who are actually nice to you.
21. Your idea of personal space is no one actually physically standing on you.
22. £50 worth of groceries fit in one plastic bag.
23. You have a minimum of five "worst cab ride ever" stories.
24. You don't hear sirens anymore.
25. You've mentally blocked out all thoughts of the city's air / water quality and what it's doing to your insides.
26. You live in a building with a larger population than most towns.
27. Your cleaner is Portuguese, your grocer is Somali, your butcher is Halal, your deli man is Israeli, your landlord is Italian, your laundry guy is Philippino, your bartender is Australian, your favourite diner owner is Greek, the watch seller on your corner is Senegalese, your last cabbie was African, your newsagent is Indian and your local English chippie owner is Turkish.
28. You wouldn't want to live anywhere else until you get married.
29. You roll your eyes and say 'tsk' at the news that someone has thrown themselves under a tube / train.
30. Your day is ruined if you don't get a copy of Metro on the way to work.
And the amazing thing is that despite these flaws... I love this city! Weird, no? Or maybe I am just a S&M fan without knowing it... Anyway here are some pictures from the above mentioned Group. Enjoy!


Forbidding is forbidden

Sad childhood.

I was walking in Central London the other day when I have come across this sign inside an estate. It was visible form the street, and I could not help photographing it. My immediate thought was to say: poor bored children...

And then immediately it recalled a May 68 famous slogan: "Il est interdit d'interdire" (forbidding is forbidden)!

May 68 is a key moment in the modern history of France. The Baby-boomers decided to oppose the establishment and the post-war society. They had enough about patriarchal conventions, submissions, and compromises... The country was blossoming and they wanted to enjoy it. And they were ready to fight for this ideal. So when the De Gaulle administration tried to repress the first student strikes, they replied with barricades and paving stones thrown at the police forces.

Say it with flowers

But they also replied with a new weapon: slogans. During the turmoil of spring '68 some brilliant slogans were tagged on the Parisian walls. Here are a few of these brilliant images or mimics that conveyed the core ambitions of the revolution:

- Sous les pavés, la plage ! (Beneath the paving stones - the beach!)
- Soyez réalistes, demandez l'impossible. (Be realistic, ask for the impossible)
- La barricade ferme la rue, mais ouvre la voie (barricades close the street but open new paths)
- On achète ton bonheur. Vole-le. (They buy your happiness. Steal it back)
- L'ennui est contre-révolutionnaire. (Boredom is counterrevolutionary)
- Pas de replâtrage, la structure est pourrie. (No replastering, the structure is rotten)
- Vivre sans temps mort - jouir sans entraves (Live without time out [time of boredom, time at work] - enjoy without chains)
- La révolution est incroyable parce que vraie. (The revolution is unbelievable because it's true.)
- La poésie est dans la rue. (Poetry is in the street).
- Travailleurs de tous les pays, amusez-vous ! (Workers of the world, enjoy!)
- Nous ne voulons pas d'un monde où la certitude de ne pas mourir de faim s'échange contre le risque de mourir d'ennui. (We don't want a world in which the certainty of not dying from hunger comes in exchange for the risk of dying from boredom.)

Although completely paralysing the country, these events revealed to the world a new generation of politicians, talents, artists, writers, advertising people... It even inspired the Beatles who composed their famous "Revolution" as a tribute to the uprising in Paris.

Generation next?

Today their heritage is still visible: woman anticipation, minimum wages granted, freedom of thinking... However the cause of the revolution is also still in place. The political power remains nowadays in the hands of over-fifty year old politicians who have got more or less the same educational background. Amazing enough, some of whom were even on the barricades at that time to face the gerontocracy they now represent. And even if the university students try every now and then to demonstrate, their movements have never either the ambitions or reach of their predecessor.

40 years have managed to temper the rage... Too bad. I would have enjoyed to read more poetry in the streets, instead of such castrating signs!


When you live down here, and look up there...

mountains are on top of the world What a brilliant idea! On GeoGreetings website, you can compose a message using various GoogleMaps aerial views of buildings that happen to be letter-shaped. The animation is not bad either. Sorry for the above-featured propaganda, but after all what is higher than mountains?


Wirefull tribe

Me "Cedric", you...

This week I have started a new job and joined one of London main digital agencies. As I stepped in a building full of web designers and other funky programmers, I realised I was entering a new civilization, with its own totems and taboos. I felt like one of these anthropologists who are invited in a tribe and are miming the autochthones to demonstrate their goodwill and understanding. I had to demonstrate and display obvious signs of my technophilia...

In my new reference frame, how would I be perceived or judged by my new counterparts? I am not a nerd, but I tend to consider myself as technology savvy. As a matter of fact I tend to accumulate hi-tech gizmos. So, to mark my territory and show that I was one of them, I started to empty my pockets: an iPOD, a Pocket PC, a photo-phone, a synchronisation cradle... I was like Santa 2.0 emptying his bag with nice tacky toys.

A wireless world?

And suddenly I realised the mess that was lying on the table. Although IT advertisements keep on hammering that we have entered a wireless revolution, I seriously doubt it. This is for instance a snapshot of my desk once my Centrino-enabled laptop had been plugged and connected to the desktop display, the optical mouse, the above-mentioned synchronisation cradle... The dozen wires regurgitating from the computer were merrily intertwining my neighbour's in a sort of plastic orgy.

I will assume this is just an embodiment of what we commonly call: "connections".


I'm watching you watching me

Big Brother's is watchin' ya.

Last week-end I had decided to enjoy the relatively good weather and to walk around the city in places I had not discovered yet. But to say that I was about to wander goalless would not be accurate. Rapidly I indeed decided to look up and to pay attention to the numerous CCTV cameras which were staring at me on my way. Not that I am especially noticeable, but you must reckon that they are...

On the above picture I took in the middle of nowhere, just outside a building like there are so many, 6 cameras were monitoring the traffic and passers-by. Why? No idea.

They are thousands of them all around the country, even in London. They are owned by the police, by companies, by freaked-out individuals... Here for instance, Transport for London offers you an interesting mash-up where you can visualise what their own CCTV is capturing around the capital. Using it you should be able to track down your fiancée on her way back home so that you can have your candle-light dinner ready on time on Valentine's Day.

Moral technology?

That is one of the great things about googlemaps mash-ups, they allow you to leverage and combine existing information, and possibly to turn a flaw or a hassle into something more acceptable. Let's take another example to illustrate this assertion. Shopping.

If you have ever been on Oxford Street on Boxing Day like I have, you probably have quite vivid an image of what consumption hell on Earth can be. But thanks to SuperHighStreet, you can stroll down the high street and enter the desired shop. No more queues. No more pushing. Every purchase is one click away...

However, even if technological breakthroughs can contribute to soften them, moral issues remain. As such I am surprised by the little noise people make about the breeches in their privacy. Some do like here or here, but these are minor reactions compared to the dimension of the CCTV phenomenon.

In a sense, that is no big surprise, especially when you see the success of TV programs such as Big Brother. The show is in its 7th season, and has already had two additional celebrity variants, whereas in France, the show stopped after the second year due to lack of interest from the public and constant objections. It seems that such individual right considerations are not of great interest in the UK. Probably another major cultural difference.

Update (14/02/2007): reading Richard Adams' blog, I have come across this interesting article about Scotland which has decided to set CCTV to watch their speed cameras... This post title has never been so true!



Art can and should be fun... English curators have understood it. It is a way to attract new people in museums. But trust me, it takes some to dare slide down from the top floor of the Tate Modern.


Let your stomach chant

The French community in London is huge and of course they are blogging. I have recently went across a post written by Miss Nina (sorry, in French) which was echoing my previous post on "Yogurt singing":
It refers to a person who does not know a song and simply produces guttural sounds or associates sound-alike English words to pretend he masters the lyrics.
I cannot resist the opportunity to highlight that we, French, are not the only people who cannot get the proper lyrics of some English songs. And we are not the only one either to refer to our fridge to fill the gaps.

According to an article published in Metro, when you listen to a song and cannot figure out what the lyrics are, you would then tap into vocabularies intimately related to pleasures (like food or sex)... For instance, Vengaboys' "We are going to Ibiza" had been hummed "We're going to have pizza" by more than one Americans who had never heard of the Balearic Islands, or even Bob Dylan's "Hey, Tambourine man" which had gone orange as some heard "hey, Tangerine man"...

And some dare to call me a Stomach on Feet!?! But I know my classics... Here is short selection of food-related tunes, just to ease everyone's life:


Feel the heat

Since January 2007, smoking is officially banned from all public places in France. In the UK, however, the progression of non-smoking areas is lagging behind... It is amazing how you can get used to fresh air. As a matter of fact, that was probably the main cultural choc I faced when arriving on British soil.

Take a breath.

The night I wanted to have dinner in a nice restaurant, ordered nice food (I know this is completely contradictory with what I wrote earlier, but it happens), and nevertheless had my night-out messed up by a bunch of local smokers. This made me realised how advanced we were in France in the fight against tabagism. But you know what it is, you only realise how much you care of something when you miss it.

Miami-based creative agency Crispin Porter+Bogusky has launched a new campaign for anti-smoking organisation, The Truth. Faithfully to the association activist tradition, the agency developed a visual idea to strike minds and generate additional buzz:

Another brilliant idea by CP+B

With such initiative becoming more common on European grounds, smoking will soon be "parti en fumée" as we say in French (gone with the smoke).


Food for the eyes

London is definitely one of the leading European Art capital. It hosts some wonderful jewels to be discovered here and there beyond the unmissable Tate, Saatchi or even the National Galleries.

My panography of the WappingProject.

For instance, during this week-end wandering, I have come across a brilliant place: a former hydraulic powerhouse reconverted into a fancy restaurant and an art gallery. The Wapping Project is an astonishing place where you can eat top-notch food next to a former turbine. Not to mention the video installations, the giant fashion photographs, or the modern dance happenings... When art leaves the formal galleries and get finally in touch with the audience!

This place reminds me two other places in other European capitals where I enjoyed hanging around. In Paris, the Palais de Tokyo offers a very similar approach. This national museum of contemporary, cornered in a "tiny" 22.000 sq.m. palace that resembles more to a blockhouse than a museum, now welcomes major contemporary artists. It also offers some brilliant food at its in-house restaurant, Tokyo Eat. In Berlin, the Tacheless combines also in a reconverted building a cinema, some artists studios, an exhibition center and... a Biergarten.

An outside exhibition in Tacheless (1998)

It seems that nowadays culinary art seems to matter a lot for contemporary artists. After all, the major revolution of the post-photography art was to move from a accurate natural depicting to more poly-sensual experience. So why the mouth be left behind the eyes?


Tea for me, tea for two.

After food, here come the beverages! France has its red wine glass, Italy its espresso... And the UK: tea.

Even if I am not sure that it demonstrates anything about the product, this viral film by Modem Media seems to be inspired by my own life. When my colleagues ask me if I would mind a tea break (what happens every hour, roughly), the world-famous French courtesy forces me to acknowledge their request.

As a matter of fact, I cannot decently always pretend not to hear their discussion, or elude their glances by a subtle move to the printer... In such cases, I face my responsibilities, endorse my role of the perfect gentlemen -but why this damn phone cannot ring when I desperately need it to?!?-, and head to the kitchen to make a few cups. Here a sweetener, there just some milk, here one sugar and black...

But the perfect tea break skills do not consist in memorising the endless combinations of beverages. No. It lays in your ability to carry them back to the proper desk, usually 3 or 4 cups at a time, without spilling a single drop of the precious liquid on the ground or burning your fingers. Add some difficulties such as few stairs, a regurgitating paper bin, a running PA...

I am sure that tea-cupping will be soon featured at the Olympics, and Great Britain will of course trust the podium. Finally.