Friday 15 March 2013

Transformations: Poetry from Art at Tate Modern, Marc Camille Chaimowicz

Still from Orphée by Jean Cocteau

For our second session in A Bigger Splash we worked with Marc Camille Chaimowicz's homage to Jean Cocteau. This non-literal reconstruction of Cocteau's bedroom features a crumpled bed, a two-way staircase, a mirror, a rocking-horse and wallpaper designed by Chaimowicz. There is no attempt at historical accuracy, though the artist did research the Cocteau museum at Menton. The installation resembles a version rather than a translation of Cocteau's imagination, though the group noted that the colour scheme was more Chaimowicz than Cocteau, pastels rather than black and white Gothic fairytale.

Still from La Belle et la Bête by Jean Cocteau
When I was doing my BA sculpture degree my thesis in complementary studies was on Cocteau's films as poetry, so this session was full of transformations for me: film as poetry, installation as poetry, film and poetry as art. We started by finding one object in the room to speed-write about. Then I handed out lines from the screenplays of La Belle et la Bête and Orphée, lines such as "Look at yourself in a mirror all your life, and you'll see death at work, like bees in a hive of glass" from a passage-through-the-mercury-mirror scene in Orphée, and "I am the door to your room" and "it is night in my world, but it is morning in yours" from La Belle et la Bête. These magical films served as guides to our work, as I'd asked everyone to watch clips from them on You Tube as homework the previous week and some even bought DVDs of the whole films

Armed with one line from each film (selected from my handouts) and a random line from Cocteau's very surreal poems, which they picked from a French chocolate box I handed around, the task was to write a poem responding to Chaimowicz's installation, and to incorporate these three lines somewhere in the poem. I gave licence to be as free as they wished in their interpretations of the art, in the same spirit as Chaimowicz, who did not worry about being slavishly literal in his rendering of Cocteau's fantasy bedroom. I advised them to focus on one object, make their theme Cocteau if they wished, or simply write about a room of their own. In fact the poems that addressed Cocteau directly worked well, as did the more personal responses. Quite a few used their random Cocteau poem-lines as their last lines and that seemed to supply a surprise element.