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Matt's Mail-Art

photo: nuit blanche, hotel de ville

The Hôtel de Ville during Saturday's 'Nuit Blanche.'

Christophe and Bertrand's 'Nuit Blanche'

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Saturday, 4. October 2003:- I happened upon Matt Rose last Tuesday on my 'day off' and when he invited me to the Mail-Art expo he is involved with, I agreed to go because it was my 'day off' and I am never responsible for anything I say on these days, which are seldom.

But he suggested I come on Saturday, and I decided to tie it in with the 'Nuit Blanche' to make sure I was out and about - so I went and got there 15 minutes before he was going to lock the place up. It was later than I planned because the Métro was more jammed than in a usual rush hour - more than two hours before the official 'Nuit Blanche' start time.

The expo is located in a building occupied by some psycho society, on a really sad street just off the Boulevard de Bonne-Nouvelle. Matt was there with keys in hand, but he took me up to the third or fourth floor - where his stuff was - so we could look at everything on the way down instead of up.

He told me there are a hundred really serious practitioners of Mail-Art, plus thousands of enthusiasts.photo: fruit stand, fontaine des innocents It falls into the category of 'conceptual art' in the sense that the starting point is always postal. Okay, you don't immediately think of ten great things you can do with a postal theme, so don't.

'Nuit Blanche' fruit bar near the Fontaine des Innocents.

The hundred artists around the world who think of nothing else, think up lots of new ideas every day anyway. Aside from the graphic ideas, there are the techniques. These involve printing mini-pictures on glued, preforated sheets - just like real stamps.

Then they do things like mail envelopes or packages with these 'stamps' on them to real people, or get real people to mail them from - say, Thailand - or they mail them to imaginary addresses all over the world, and see how many get 'returned to sender.' Some are sent registered too.

So, on display, there are real, weird, envelopes and packages, with 'mail-art' stamps on them, that have made trips through the national and international postal systems, and here they are, franked, posted, travelled and delivered.

Matt told me he got 38 out of 50 'returned to sender' of one that he sent to imaginary addresses. I mean, you have to believe this is art that works, even if it is conceptual. Try doing the same thing with a portable phone sometime.

After the tour we went over to the boulevard and found a fairly lively bobo café, looking like a deconstruction project, in what had been an elegant late-19th century café. Matt liked its new but fake 'industrial' look, but its 21st century toilet was the only thing that impressed me. It was the only thing in the place tidily finished, functional and complete.

I learned that Matt does well in the art racket even if he is really starving because he toiled in the garden of marketing for 15 years. He's been in the art game for just about as long, so I guess he got started when he was about 15.

He had a lot of ideas for Metropole that would involve me fulltime in marketing, so I have to figure out a way to get him to do them for nothing, so we can both get rich. He paid half of what my double-espresso cost for his cafe-enlarged - with water - and we went out to the neons of the boulevard, where I watched him fire up his old, black scooter - to sort of look like one of the bandit delivery joes.

Christophe and Bertrand's 'Nuit Blanche'

Matt scooted off and I walked west on the boulevard to the Rue Montmartre where I turned left to point towards Le Jardin Amoureux at Les Halles. On the way it was Saturday nighttime in a deserted part of Paris and for stretches it was deserted, sort of what a 'Nuit Blanche' can be like when it isn't officially happening.

Right at Les Halles there were a fair number of people about, but I didn't see any light shows by the Saint-Eustachephoto: video projection, nuit blanche church or the Bourse du Commerce. There were a dozen violet-purple lights twirling under the trees in Le Jardin Amoureux, worth watching for 15 seconds, but I gave them a whole two minutes.

Then I headed east. The merry-go-round that is always there was going around and I gave it two minutes' worth too. By the Fontaine des Innocents the fountain was being ignored, while all the temporary food stalls surrounding it were doing well - while the permanent restaurants around were not.

Wrinkly video projection for giving wrnkles to viewers.

The evening crowds were as thick as they usually are on a nice holiday day going towards the Pompidou Centre, but there was nothing happening near it. A lot of people were going up the centre's escalators.

Around the corner by the pool, with its spraying and twirling 365-day non-stop show, there was a screen hanging on the church wall. It showed a delayed-action video of the people watching it, with some random waves added to the stuttering images. Watching the watching people was worth three minutes.

I thought the crowds a half-hour into an all-night city-wide affair were pretty fair as I sidestepped and twisted through alleys to get to the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville. At the Rue de Rivoli it seemed that more had turned out than for the first three days of the Soldes d'Hiver.

The centre section of the Hôtel de Ville looked like it had been borrowed from Disneyland. It was lit up, in green that changed to purple, but it was with splotchy light - sometimes looking like the building was covered in ivy. Back, behind huge pavilions, there was a very long line of people waiting to get into something, but I couldn't figure out what exactly.

By the fountains at the south side of the place there was another screen set up with another video running of the people who were looking at the screen. I watched this one longer because I tried to take a photo of it. The camera kept saying, 'what is this supposed to be?'

Crossing the Pont d'Arcole there was the usual light show you can see anytime, and the whole Rue d'Arcolephoto: cocteau, pompidou beyond the bridge looked like it was stuffed with people. I could just see a thin slice of light on Notre Dame, but since it might have been the regular lights, I skipped it and ended my 'Nuit Blanche' at the deserted Cité Métro station.

Later, about 02:00, just as I was finishing the photos, the rain started. Still, there was a lot more traffic than usual going by, and groups of noisy people came by too - going from where to where?

What would Cocteau have said?

In the morning, radio France-Info said the turnout had been a million, and there had been no incidents worth mentioning and they mentioned none.

Today's Le Parisien wonders if there really were a million residents and visitors in attendance at 110 various events. But its story answers itself with the revelation that there usually are a million Parisians out and about on any Saturday night.

Their unofficial counters counted me, four times, in just the places mentioned above - at about the times I was in them. How well they counted the other 106 locales they do not say.

The free 'républicain' breakfast at the Hôtel de Ville was on time, beginning about 05:00. Some tanked up and headed off to the colorful musical pool at Saint-Merri, to swim into the dawn's gray light.
signature, regards, ric

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