August 22, 2015
Ekphrasis– a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art. (Merriam- Webster Dictionary)
I had the extreme good fortune of spending a month in Paris this summer. The first week I was there I participated in the Left Bank Writers Retreat, led by the fabulous Darla Worden. I highly recommend it. On one of our forays, we visited the haute taxidermist’s shop, Deyrolle, at 46 rue du Bac, where they have been selling everything from exotic butterflies to ostriches to black bears since 1831.
The shop is above a very swanky gardening shop where you can buy a metal chair like the ones in the Jardin du Luxembourg for a mere 500 euros, (shipping not included.)
It was a hot day in June, and as I climbed the stairs to Deyrolle, I was feeling the summer heat. I had been to the shop before and I didn’t like it. On this day, I felt agitated, hot, and hyper-aware. I looked around quickly and went back downstairs to wait for my group.
When Darla asked me how I liked it, I told her I didn’t, and that I knew it sounded “woo-woo” but I felt like I was picking up some sort of energy from the taxidermy. Perhaps I was just being anthropomorphic, I don’t know, but it made me uncomfortable enough to leave.
The following week, when I was on my own, I visited the Musee de la Chasse et Nature, 62, rue des Archives, in the 3rd Arrondissement. I don’t know how to describe it, except that it is in the Hôtel de Guénégaud (1651-1655), a fabulous seventeenth-century house with a courtyard.
The museum displays antique firearms, trophies, tapestries and paintings, but also fabulous contemporary works. There is a small room decked out as a kitschy hunting lodge by American artist Mark Dion, that has a definite Wes Anderson vibe.
I had a similar response to the animals there. It was visceral, but then again, there were some creepy exhibits. The one I wrote about is called “La Nuit de Diane” by Jan Fabre.
After I left the museum I was haunted by multiple reactions to the exhibits– visual, physical and emotional. I have never had such a physical reaction to art before. I had to write about it. When I went back and read about Fabre’s piece, I learned that his owls have human prosthetic eyes, not avian.
Fabre himself said of the piece, “these figures also return the “passage from life to death.”
My friend Nita Ann read my story and said that it reminded her of the Rod Serling T.V. show, “The Twilight Zone”, which we used to watch as kids. How very apt. Isn’t that just another name for Fabre’s “passage from life to death”?
Here is the link to my story, which was published in August in Ekphrastic: writing and art on art and writing.