Imagine living in the Paris suburb of Villejuif and receiving a letter that begins like this:
Dear Paris… I mean Villejuif,
I last saw you in 2011 on a trip that your Government paid for. I was meeting a couple people they suggested and had a couple of days left to myself to see the people I wanted to see. Neil Beloufa was one of those people. I rode the train to your quieter corner of the French metropolis. I must have skipped lunch because Neil met me at the train station and the first thing he asked was if I was alright? And not in that polite English kind of way. His tone was more serious and generous. I guess I was looking a bit pale. He took me to a cafe, workers were watching a soccer game on TV and drinking small glasses of beer. I remember eating white bread with some rillettes, the poor man’s pate. After, we walked down a road, past a school and there was his studio in a big spacious white building. We had a wandering conversation as usual and said we’d see each other very soon in Vancouver.
What happened after that was pretty special, he spent a month living in the guest room of Western Front and I was kept busy producing a big video shoot. We rented a helicopter with a Russian pilot who was still trying to get his license in Canada, hired actors and took out an insurance policy for an expensive camera that we hung outside the helicopter. What Neil didn’t tell me was that he was making another video at the same time…with a cheaper camera we had upstairs in the hallway.
When it came time for the exhibition, the expensive video was on the small screen and the cheap video was on the big screen. The expensive video hasn’t been seen much since, maybe a handful of times. The cheap video has had a bit more of a life, having been shown across most continents and even at the Museum of Modern Art. Isn’t that the way it usually goes; the thing you’re planning, working really hard at and sweating for, kind of does alright. But, that thing in the corner of your sight seems to flourish like it had its own life and intentions.
Neil’s studio is a busier place these days, with more people and a film set that’s decorated half of the place like some run down hotel called Occidental Temporary. This part feels like the setting for some illicit stuff to take place, kind of like in that movie with Audrey Tautou, Dirty Pretty Things (2002). The other part of the studio looks like the little brother of the Palais de Tokyo; white walls, dirty windows, bright lights and dripping pipes. A perfect place for the best kind of art. There’s been a few exhibitions here over the past year and now Neil has invited a couple of spaces from other parts of the world to stage their own kind of Art Fair during the FIAC week.
221A is in Vancouver, running a space indoors and a vacant lot outdoors, where we put some public art works. We get some money from Governments and then there’s three big buildings that we leased out for artists studios. Their rent helps us pay our bills, our staff, our artists and every so often we publish something. It’s not new, it’s not perfect, but it works for better or worse. We’re usually pretty bored with art stuff and the design stuff too. I guess that’s why our mandate says we do both, so we can do the other thing, when the thing we are doing starts to feel a bit too cooked. William Gibson, that science fiction writer who coined the word cyberspace lives in Vancouver too. He tweets about our vacant lot. He told me Paris is a cooked city without many options left. I hope for a night you can feel like you saw another option. Villejuif, as sleepy as it feels, might be one of those weird spaces in your city that you can open up to a bit of pleasure; a good meal from a great chef and some art that you don’t already know about. Neil’s invitation only came to us a few weeks ago; maybe this exhibition is like one of those things in the corner of our sight.
I’ve been reading some George Bataille lately. Hate to admit it, doesn’t feel super hip, but I put his ideas into an essay. He’s reminding me that those hip writers today, the object oriented ontologists, smell like some spiritual animism and might just be readdressing older, more universal ideas we like to forget. Like the fact that we’re never really more than an animal in oily skin, full of bacteria and usually at fault for one reason or another beyond our control. In the sixth issue of Documents, Bataille wrote about the big toe as a way to embody his ideas of the division between the head, reaching up for greater things, while every so often you have to look down in disgust at your feet stuck in the mud. It’s about that part of your body you usually only look at when sitting in the bath…while thinking do I really need to cut my toenails again? You don’t, you go on letting your mind wander, soaking in the hot water a bit longer.
So Villejuif we offer you a bit of the Canadian Riviera’s escapism, mixed with that base materialism that Bataille loves. Walter Scott’s heavy boots on your walls, Tamara Henderson’s keep on truckin’ kinda sculpture and Julian Hou’s shoegazing and vapour waving tracks, hitting you like a dimple in your day.
Head of Strategy