Sometimes art is so utterly powerful that it makes it difficult to convey with words the immediacy with which it hits you. It is as if in a fraction of a second hundreds of memories, fantasies, feelings and connections were simultaneously activated. So it is for me with the series Flying Houses by French photographer Laurent Chehere.
(recommended soundtrack: Les yeux de ton père by Les Négresses Vertes, here).A house floats on a grey sky surrounded by a flock of birds and in my mind I have Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, because that’s how her adventures started. It has been my first favourite book ever. I still cherish the sense of wonder in looking at the floating house from my copy of the book. And from that little personal association a Pandora’s vase is disclosed. In Chehere‘s houses and buildings floating in the sky one can easily recognize the typical architecture of Paris. Narrow buildings, mainly in light colours, with the characteristic wrought iron balconies. Some of them appears run-down. Almost all of them are decorated (or vandalised) with murals and graffiti. Laurent Chehere‘s inspiration comes from the architecture of Paris, especially the variegated one of the 19th and 20th arrondissements. But once he has captured the buildings with his camera, it is just the beginning for the meanderings of his imagination. With a masterful process of photo-manipulation, the French photographer transports these real architectures in the sky. He metaphorically elevates them in a weightless fantastic world. Though they can conjure up a certain fairy-tale atmosphere, these Flying Houses retain the traces of their grounded life. People inhabit them, their colourful clothes hanging on the roofs and balconies, satellite dishes transmitting the signal to their flats inside. These house ooze everyday life, even when they carry the signs of their imminent demolition. If there is one image with which I would describe my impression of Paris, that would be exactly one of its buildings. They give to the city its uniquely recognizable identity. In Paris I used to walk with my nose up, looking high to the roofs and mimicking inside my head Meg Ryan’s version of I love Paris in the lovely French Kiss (which in the Italian dubbed version oddly became ‘I hate Paris’s roofs). Very few buildings do not lend their walls to some amazing or amusing murals. The way walls offer themselves without any friction to street art is surprisingly natural and harmonic. It seems as if they eagerly and proudly accept the sings of the new times. A Paris’s contemporary postcard could be Serge Gainsbourg portrayed in 2011 on a cream-coloured building (with oblique roof) in a paste-up by Jef Areosol.But Laurent Chehere‘s series is not a mawkish idyllic celebration of Paris. The aliveness of his images bears witness of the unresolved complexities inherent not only to the city, but to contemporary life as such. With indisputable poetic spirit, he captures dereliction, misery and violence as well. These houses float not because they are elevated to a delusional idyllic state. Inspired by Paris’s all too concrete materiality, Chahere‘s imagination transposes them in the sky, where they are Paris and the all world altogether, in a magical balance between specific and universal, the real physicality and the reality of imaginative language. It is in this way that reality opens up an invisible world of emotions and fantasies, uniquely personal for each of us. In the words of Edgar Degas: ‘Art is not what you see but what you make others to see’. Laurent Chehere‘s Flying Houses are on show in Paris until December 8th at Paris-Beijing Galerie.
All images courtesy of Laurent Chehere