A Fancy

Arnaud Desjardin

Arnaud Desjardin

In preparation for his show at the Camden Art Centre in 2004 Michael Marriott invited me to assist him in a trip to the Département du Nord in northern France where the collection of the Frac is based. He had chosen a photograph by Robert Doisneau from the collection: 'les coulonneux de l'aile droite' which translates as 'the pigeon-fanciers of the right wing'. The picture is a group portrait of members of a (conservative?) pigeon fancier's club sitting in front of another group portrait of the same club painted some years previously. As a starting point for the show the choice of picture had been made partly because of the trestle tables visible on both group portraits. In the photograph the large painting and the wall on either side of it seem at odds with the temporary nature of the table. Everyone is looking at the camera for the portrait; this is a set up, yet a very comfortable set up. The main attribute of this makeshift, temporary, ad-hoc furniture set-up is its simple comfort; not a luxurious comfort but something comfortable and unobtrusive, something you forget about. For Michael Marriott this would be a representation of the perfect design, something almost unnoticed, not some fetish-for-sitting-in (up to and including the industrial-utilitarian-modernist type fetish). Who wants to sit on a chair that constantly reminds one that one is sitting?

So here we were in a small French town of the Département du Nord, looking for some elusive vernacular furniture arrangements imbued with this quality of egalitarian comfort. The day was drawing to an end and we had decided to look for food. After a short walk around the centre of town we drifted towards some sort of a local festival. In an effort to walk around the festival compound we suddenly found ourselves in an alleyway where we were drawn to a shed-like space containing a table, and a few chair and some baskets for carrying pigeons like those of the Doisneau photograph. This was without doubt a pigeon fancier's shed. But the trained eye of the designer could discern that something else was going on. The two rusty, over painted plywood and metal chairs looked familiar and indeed seemed very similar to a Jean Prouvé design. They in fact were old Jean Prouvé chairs. That this modern design classic should reappear in such circumstances is hardly surprising considering the ethos behind the design and the fact that he was first and foremost an industrial designer, mass producing furniture for educational and other institutions. It only added a little poetic justice to the show and reinforced the point the arrangements the designer Michael Marriott was making in his show. The blissful comfort of the pigeon fancier's shed goes with his ignorance of the design fetish.At the time of the show I wrote: "Those chairs are still in their sheds where they belong. This is also where the making-do and improvisation present in modern vernacular productions is truly more important than the fetishisation of a modern design tradition.

Ultimately there is nothing anecdotal in the arrangements present in the show; those arrangements are all meaningful gestures. The objects in the show are a series of readable negotiations that expose the economy of their own making. Economy of Means is also an economy of the meaning of objects for a designer who wonders everyday how you make a living from meaningful gestures rather marketable objects."(June 2004)

I returned to the scene of the shed much later, after the show was over. I found the chairs exactly as they had been on our previous encounter. It was a premeditated act. I planned to arrive at a time of the day when I hoped to be in a position to take them with me undisturbed and uniscovered. The thought of not having taken those chairs upon the first encounter worked on me like a needle, the thought of those object left to their meaninglessness combined with the idea that someone else might find them left me in no doubt as to what my course of action had to be. I had to take those chairs and save them for myself, uncovering and finding them in that particular context was not enough of a solace. Partly to assuage my guilt and partly to fully implicate him I gave Michael Marriott one of the Prouvé chairs. Mine is sitting at the studio conveniently propping a pile of records. (January 2007)