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]


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 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 Theresa Ann Aleshire Williams on May 25, 2012 at 5:29am

Thanks for that link, DVS.  I've bookmarked it for future reference.  Richard's work accumulates meaning through both repetition and slight variances.  Tonight I really had to hold myself back from interpreting too much.  I kept falling deeper and deeper into the work.  Simon Warren's work is often about stasis vs movement (as well as distaste for the rules of the establishment).  He has also sent several works on this theme, all of them great.  I've gotten so many great pieces.  The juxtapostion of these two works was interesting and impossible for me to ignore.

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 25, 2012 at 5:11am

Fantastic Theresa - very insightful! I think Richard has gotten more critical attention in three days than some poets & painters receivce in a lifetime. And I do think it's time to look at the mail-art seriously, especially those who were involved with Ray Johnson or are continuing the network he started. A really interesting Johnson show just closed at University California Berkeley that had some great material:



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