Richard Canard/Simon Warren and the Idea of the Flaneur

 

A few weeks ago I sent out a call for mailart and letters on the theme of SMALL THINGS.  I've been posting the pieces I've received at THE LETTER PROJECT, a blog I've been keeping for about three years.  Today, two works arrived from different people that I believe take the theme to a new level.  I got work from Richard Canard and Simon Warren.  Both of them are highly evolved artists who produce arresting work.  I've received several pieces from both artists and my appreciation for their art knows no bounds.

 

The term Flaneur means "loafer" or "stroller," but in the 1800s was used by Baudelaire to mean "a person who walks the city in order to experience it."  Therefore, the first thing to point out is the tennis shoe on the back of Richard Canard's  envelope.  The shoe in this case is the vehicle, the means:  it makes the experience of the city possible. 

 

Next, we look at the address side of the envelope.  Richard has recycled a business envelope, marking out the original (official) numbers.  This envelope is itself a sort of flaneur, a stroller from one household to another.  Richard has added the word "Serious" above the word business, signifying that what is contained is not merely frivolous.  Consider this excerpt from Wikipedia:

 

While Baudelaire characterized the flâneur as a "gentleman stroller of city streets",[4] he saw the flâneur as having a key role in understanding, participating in and portraying the city. A flâneur thus played a double role in city life and in theory, that is, while remaining a detached observer. This stance, simultaneously part of and apart from, combines sociological, anthropological, literary and historical notions of the relationship between the individual and the greater populace. After the 1848 Revolution in France, after which the empire was reestablished with clearly bourgeois pretensions of "order" and "morals", Baudelaire began asserting that traditional art was inadequate for the new dynamic complications of modern life. Social and economic changes brought by industrialization demanded that the artist immerse himself in the metropolis and become, in Baudelaire's phrase, "a botanist of the sidewalk".[4]   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fl%C3%A2neur

 

Indeed, Baudelaire decided his work as a Flaneur was quite serious.  The artist has an important role to play in society, that of the "detached observer."  This role combines many arts, the social, the anthropological, the historical, as well as the literary.  Note that Baudelaire calls the artist "a botanist of the sidewalk."

 

It occurs to me, too, that the "business envelope" may be viewed as an element of the "established order" which Richard, though his art, circumvents.

 

 

Finally, we come to artwork itself.  On the left is the "packing," a folded piece of plastic and a paper towel.  The exhibited items, we are told, were found during a stroll about "Carbondale, Illusion."  The word "Illusion" substitutes for "Illinois."  "Illusion" alludes to Richard's vision of Carbondale, which the artist is creating on his walk:  a piece of broken crayon, appetizer pick, seed ball, cigarette butt, and an unknown item.  The items have a random quality, but the viewer is free to interpretation, also.  The crayon and the seed ball might speak of birth or innocence, while the appetizer pick and the cigarette butt might speak of experience, hunger, if you will, for the things of the world.  The unknown item may allude to mysterious, even mystical, possibilities available in Carbondale, Illusion.  These "small things" are highly potent symbols of modern life.  What do we make of the fact that the seed pod is "smashed"?  A commentary on the metropolis and its affect on nature?  That's for each viewer to decide.

 

Next is the work of another flaneur, Simon Warren.  Simon often writes of excursions by foot, bicycle, or train.  Another aspect of the flaneur is his or her  "active participation in and fascination with street life while displaying a critical attitude towards the uniformity."  Simon Warren's sketch of the young homeless man plagued by small things (fleas) is perhaps a commentary on the political landscape.

 

Again from Wikipedia: 

 

The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces, of historical heritage, of external culture, and of the technique of life. ... the person resists being leveled down and worn out by a social-technological mechanism. ... ("The Metropolis and Mental Life")

 

Simon's letters and sketches often address issues surrounding the metropolis, its affects on humanity.  He's written many times, to me and to others, about homelessness, particularly the homelessness of children, a byproduct of modern civilization, of leaders who fail to lead.  Simon is an astute observer.  His attention to the fleas is reminiscent to me of the same attention given to fleas by the zen haiku masters, such as Issa.  I often sense in Simon's work the same kind of detachment that I enjoy in the works of Basho, Issa, and other zen masters, while at other times, the letters reveal a surfeit of emotion. 

 

I'm only beginning to make sense of these artists, their works, and their treatment of the theme:  SMALL THINGS.  The concept of SMALL THINGS has been a preoccupation of mine for some time, and my attention to it has been useful to me as a writer / artist.

 

Thank you to all who have sent work.  I'm still hoping to get more, much more.  The yield is already richer than I anticipated.  To see what has been sent so far, go to THE LETTER PROJECT here http://theletterproject.wordpress.com/ and click on the tag "small things."  There are a couple of works that I haven't put up yet because I need to figure out how to photograph them.  Nadie and Katerina--I'm talking about yours.  I'll get them up soon!

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Comment by Terry Reid on November 29, 2012 at 1:10am

is that richard's running boot?

Comment by Terry Reid on November 29, 2012 at 1:07am

do not think Simon W is reading his way through IUoMA; has Richard C seen it?

think flâneur can also mean a dandy

Comment by Theresa Ann Aleshire Williams on May 26, 2012 at 7:36pm
I saw part of it at your site...wow! I was hoping to write some pieces this summer. I love walking narratives. These pieces capture the flaneur spirit very well, I think!
Comment by cheryl penn on May 26, 2012 at 11:25am

Theresa, I have photos on a disk somewhere - I will have a hunt.  I made a 3-d city out of architectural board that took up a wall with suspended figures. I don't think it was hugely successful - on a scale of 10 - about a 6.  Conceptually still needs ALOT of refining.  Its actually quite a difficult subject matter to use as visual art - well, I think so anyway X

Comment by Theresa Ann Aleshire Williams on May 25, 2012 at 8:59am

Cheryl, is there someplace I can see the flaneur works?  My orientation is toward poetry and Baudelaire.  It was a leap for me to take the concept into the direction of visual art.  I have Walter Benjamin's great book about the arcades project...do you know it?  Anyway, would love to see your works and can't wait to get your "small things"!

Comment by cheryl penn on May 25, 2012 at 8:47am

Theresa - my small things are in the post - I hope they arrive soon. Just wanted to say - great blog - I spent two years working on a body of work dealing with the flâneur - so this is interesting reading for me - thank you :-) X

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 25, 2012 at 7:18am

Yes, you can find a lot of RayJo material with a Google search. Hm... now I really wish I could remember. I think his estate has a webpage. I might have looked there. Anything John Held Jr. or CrackerJack Kid have written about him is reliable. I need to be more systematic with research. Anyway, fantastic blog!

Comment by Theresa Ann Aleshire Williams on May 25, 2012 at 6:55am

It's an interesting form of collaboration.  I know my interactions here have been extremely fruitful.  Where are the RayJo pieces you are talking about...are they online?

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 25, 2012 at 6:39am

It's really interesting putting diverse pieces of m-a together & finding connections. I've been reading a lot of RayJo interviews & articles lately & there was one that suggested (wish I knew the source) that the whole m-a effort should be looked as this one huge collaborative work or performance over time. I know that's sort of far out but it frames the concept. I like all the Simon Warren ma I've seen.

Comment by Theresa Ann Aleshire Williams on May 25, 2012 at 5:45am

Was just looking again at the pieces from Richard.  The first was "small things" from breakfast (oatmeal flake, etc); the second was "small things" from the back yard; the third was "small things" from the walk along the streets of Carbondale, Illusion.  There's definitely a progression. 

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