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Paris: A Place of Perec

Exploring Paris, an artists dream come true...

I was fortunate to travel to Paris on a research trip this month, and it was absolutely magical. Paris is a city I have longed to visit, with its museums, architecture and painterly echoes of artists from centuries before. I am extremely grateful to have been awarded a grant from the Wilhelmina Barns Graham Trust which offered me the opportunity to make this trip.

Travelling completely on my own was a new but amazing experience; wandering aimlessly, sketching to my heart’s content and absorbing myself in the museums and galleries for as long as I desired. I would set out with few intentions for the day and inspired by the Situationist’s International ‘derive’, explored the urban space with an undirected approach.

In my final year of university, I wrote my dissertation on psychogeography and the exploration of urban spaces. George Perec was a French Novelist who enhanced my understanding of psychogeography through exploring the characteristics of the experience of place in an unordinary way. Perec underlines the different ways of recording time spent in a place and prompts the ideas of the ways in which to observe a place through playfulness and in an unordinary way.

Day 1 - Cafe De La Mairie

One of Perec’s novels ‘An Attempt At Exhausting A Place in Paris’, written in 1974 and translated by Marc Lowenthal is a collection of observations which Perec wrote as he sat in Saint-Sulpice Square in Paris. Aptly, I read this short text on my flight to Paris with an intention of visiting the locations on my trip.

Book Cover

On my first day, I walked to Saint-Sulpice and sat down at Café De La Mairie, which is where George Perec wrote a chapter of his observations. It felt uncanny to be sitting at the same café, likewise on an October afternoon, 47 years later.

Day 2 - Cafe De La Mairie

I ordered a cup of Earl Grey tea and observed, just like Perec.

Some things had not changed. The buses. Perec used the numbers of the buses as punctuation, a pause within the text. They were still the same. Some of the signs, sights and sounds had not changed and an instant connection was felt to Paris in the 1940’s not long after WWII. Despite living in a completely new world, half a century later, the simple number of a bus sparked a connection to the Paris of 1947. I imagined what it might have been like as I observed the ordinary and banal of everyday life.

I revisited the Café the following day and repeated the observation task, noting down everything I saw and understood as ordinary or banal.

The act of considering the overlooked and acknowledging what may seem as the ordinary drew my attention to aspects of Paris which I may never have noticed before. Gradually, the city unfolded and allowed for unusual encounters with people, buildings, streets and sounds.

My observation text will be published as a separate blog, I hope you enjoy.

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