Picture an art fair. Even if you’ve never been, it’s easy to imagine people rushing by the galleries’ booths, trying to take in as much as possible in the shortest of times. The experts are looking for the next big thing, eager to find it before someone else does. The neophytes stroll past, sometimes too intimidated to stop and look and ask questions.
Now picture a centennial tree, bearing the signs of the time it has seen go by, its roots firmly anchored in the ground while its branches stretch towards the sky.
The contrast between these two images could not be more extreme. And yet, somehow, these two time planes met at the latest edition of Paris Photo at Grand Palais with Cedric Bregnard’s collective performance, “Racines du Ciel”, presented by Lunn Gallery.
I have a thing for photography. Some would say I have the eye, but I know for a fact that I do not have the skills. So I go to galleries and art fairs to admire those who do, but I’ve never come across anyone like Cedric.
When I meet him, surrounded by half a dozen people, he is instructing them on how to use China ink to paint over a life-size picture of the oldest oak tree in France. The black and white picture is overexposed to the point of being barely visible, but here and there, where Cedric’s helpers have already operated their magic, splashes of black ink reveal the structure of the tree.
As I stand and admire the collective effort, Cedric comes up to me and asks if I want to give it a go. I hesitate. I’ve never used China ink before but I know it’s unforgiving, and I’m afraid of ruining the picture. Cedric gently coaxes me into trying and, after a few hesitant brush strokes, I let go of my fears and enjoy the rhythmic movement.
It lasts only a few minutes, but for those briefs moments, I am totally absorbed in the task. When I look around, my co-workers, all fleeting artists like myself, have the same focused expression.
It’s hard to put the brush down, especially because the work is just beginning, the tree only partially revealed. Upon leaving, I ask Cedric to send me a picture once the collective performance is achieved.
The end result is, well, a black and white picture of the oak tree. Except that, for having witnessed the process leading to this result, I realize that it’s now much more than a photograph. It has both captured a passing moment, when Cedric captured the tree, but it has also been painstakingly put together by all the participants to become what it is now.
In the run up to his new performance, set to take place in Paris the weekend of February 1-2, 2020 at the Eglise des Blancs Manteaux in the Marais, we meet again for a chat.
The Swiss-born artist caught the photography bug in his teens. After attending the Vevey School of Photography at the end of the 1990s, he went on to teach there and also at ERACOM Lausanne.
Once again, I’m surprised by his guru-like aura of calmness and spirituality. He is a humanist, and the Roots of Heaven adventure aims to show that, in a world where everyone is focused on the “I”, there is power in the “We.”
Cedric tells me the hesitation I experienced before trying my hand at painting at Art Paris is the most frequent reaction he encounters with grown ups. The contrast with the unbridled enthusiasm of children, he says, is striking. But once the adults let go, slow down and enjoy the process, that’s where the power of the We, the collective, really kicks in.
Cedric does not want to reveal too much about his upcoming endeavor, but I am looking forward to discover how the theme of Sainte Geneviève, patron saint of Paris, will inspire participants this time.
I have registered to help for this inclusive painting project, and you can too. Slow life, slow travel, slow art.
“Racines du Ciel Performances” Paroisse Notre-Dame des Blancs-Manteaux, 1 rue de l’Abbé Migne, 75004 Paris, on Saturday, February 1st and Sunday, February 2nd.