Pauline Marcelle: Everywhere is Somewhere ElseTuesday, June 12th, 2012 Categories: Features, Updates
“You always look for that boy, you know, that 13 year old boy, because they know every corner. You know they really know everything, everywhere, where to find it all. I mean, I remember when I was his age I knew everything about my country, it happens when you spend enough time falling out of trees, you know.”
This of course was shared with a bought of laughter and a sigh. Pauline Marcelle’s work is a frame of mind, a shifting of perspectives that enjoys a good laugh with everybody. They are tricksters though, full of sarcasm and bursting with a mischievous play. They have a story to tell, a tale not of fixed histories and ambivalent traditions, but instead of lands enriched with endless poetic possibilities. These are stories, paintings, art, that find an unexpected thrill in the fragments left in the wake of colonialism, weaving them together in an off beat and multilayered perspective of what our world has the potential to be.
Like all great tales, Marcelle’s are not absent of a source, a home for which she shares a great reverence. Born on the Island of Dominica, Marcelle knew no boundaries across the many planes of life. Raised in a multicultural family, she recalls upon simple gestures and memories that helped shape her own perspective.
“You see, I didn’t realize if I was black, white, green or red.” Or in fact an endless coalescing of all color. For instead; race, culture, history… these are all a palette for which any imaginary solution and outcome becomes possible. We must only look towards her ongoing series, Bend Down Boutique, to see her eloquent use of such palette. Marcelle only uses primary colors; red, blue, yellow. For you see, just as race, culture, and history, “anywhere in the world you go, you can find these colors.” They are ubiquitous, belonging to everyone and no one, providing the potential for a third space, a new imaginary outside of past oppressions.
What becomes of particular importance in these painting though is the spaces of pattern devoid fully of color. White washed grays, fluxuating non-spaces, in which the potentiality of the whole world can be found. For in these gray passages of Marcelle’s paintings exist all the colors of the world. All the languages of poetry, all the possibilities that may never be. Marcelle “needed these transparencies not just in the paintings, but in her life,” especially following a series of personal difficulties in 2006.
” So I went to Ghana to see a friend. It was here where I found this young boy, you see, the one who knew where to find everything. So I got this kid, his name was Daniel, and he was always going to the beach with me, and taking me to the villages. So we would go from village to village, and once we were walking on the beach it was the oddest thing you see, for way off in the distance were these things on the beach looking like little sculptures from afar. And I was like, what, these look like little rocks, but almost every two or three meters. I thought, that can not be on the beach! So I asked Daniel, what is going on!? And he replied, oh that’s clothing… What! Clothing!!”
And so off on the horizon, in the smallest forms, lie these rich bundles filled with stories, politics, histories and potential. They were a new set of discoveries, autonomous unto themselves. Sets of traumas, ruptures, and irreconcilable fragments, nested with their abilities to transcend a given purpose. This is a strong symbol in a postcolonial world. Here on the shores of Ghana, a country liberated on March 6th of 1957, lay the ratted out fabrics of the dead white mans clothes, obroni WA wo, The Bend Down Boutique. These clothes first seemed another contagion from the West. They were symbols of a dominating European wealth and its disparity; the white mans body, figuratively, still washing upon the coasts of now Independent Nations. But here in these bundles of clothing Marcelle would acknowledge and reattribute her own collaged colonial history into something new.
Marcelle in a sense saw herself within these bundles of clothes. Entangled, made of a lovely nesting of pattern, color, and form. Embroiled with stories, oft ridden in trouble and oppression, but laying now on the horizon, forming a new landscape filled with discovery and imagination. Bend Down Boutique is then a metaphor, self-reflexive, of Pauline Marcelle herself; beautiful, turbulent, fractured, joyous, playful, multi faceted, complex, disarticulated, layered… an imaginary filled with endless potential.
They, as she, know no home, yet find the warmth of family in everything. Inquisitors of social norms, mapping endless scapes influenced but never bound to race, creed, nationality, class, and language. They are something entirely new. Marcelle remind us of the challenges and troubles that face the termed “developing world,” but only to re-emphasize the beauty of what can emerge. She says, “You see, when I paint one painting, the next one must always emerge from within it. So I mix a blue for this painting, but make it a shade darker. Well I’ll start with that new blue, the darker one, and from it the next painting will arise. But you see it must be darker now, so it is entirely influenced by its last, but also entirely its own, a new discovery all unto itself.” Every twist and turn, every new field of color or pattern, each mark in Marcelle’s work offers a new window onto the world, a new perspective filled with child like imagination.
” And it really was clothing. So I said, lets go and see it, and I took a look, and there were these lovely clothing sculptures. Textile, old rope, bras, underwear, shoes, fisherman net, and all the goodies that the people put in the sea. Ahh, and I said to him, these are really beautiful beaches. Why’s nobody bathing in the sea? And he said, oh… there’s too much clothes in the water. So I said, what do you mean too much clothes in the water!? He said simply, well you see when the tide rolls into the shore you can see and feel all the clothing in the water. And from there, I had to decide where all this clothing was coming from, where its source, its homeland was.”
This is a love affair you see, a love for Bend Down Boutique, a love for painting, a love for art, a love for life. By reconstructing these sculptures through painting, these piles of second hand clothes, she elevates them to the peaks of the mountains or the horizons of the sea. This joyous play is a thread throughout Marcelle’s practice. It is a genuine expression of love. Not a reductive love, naïve to its surrounding social state, but one willing to imagine and create agency within it.
Marcelle’s love is big when it comes to food and its role in society. Exemplifying the ritual, both public and intensely personal, of eating in her series of videos, Eats; this becomes another means of seeing a little closer into Marcelle’s life. Another conveliance of transparency, loaded with all the ethics and morals addressed in Bend Down Boutique. At its center is really a reverence and exultation of life through a ubiquitous experience of taste. We shared another bought of laughter, agreeing that if one is not enjoying food in their life, one simply needs to change it, there’s no other way. She went on saying “I really love food. If I go to a country and don’t like the food, I think I may have a problem with that country. You know, back home in Dominica, fish is fish, basel is basel, oregano is oregano. You can just leisurely enjoy life, even in the climate of hardship, when your taste buds are treated well.” Food is of course a constant, and another means of both celebrating and regulating the body. It is also something that is always transgressing borders, maintaining context within its ingredients, and the lands from where they were sourced.
This talk of food is not a superfluous tangent, but another synapse, another connection and whimsical tale in the world that Marcelle is constantly weaving and in celebration of. “You have to go everywhere, I mean everywhere. Taste everything you get a chance to, share a laugh with everyone, go everywhere.” The everywhere of which she speaks should not be reduced to geographical regions and the shores of foreign lands. It is instead an everywhere of the social, of the local, of the personal, and the communal. For Marcelle it is equally the vigor of a completely new taste alongside the rediscovery of one she’s always loved, one from home, a place far more complex than one lifetime could afford to understand. This mantra was trumpeted through the streets of Johannesburg in 2010, when Marcelle took her world to South Africa on an Austrian scholarship in conjunction with The Bag Factory.
“And let me tell you what, the sun is hot in South Africa, that was just the first new perspective and feeling I had to cope with. Being there let me encounter a different side to life, you know, there’s never just one solution to a problem. You see, there’s this story I have with the neighborhood of Yeoville. We were going out and the taxi came in the night to pick me up in Melville, and my friend started freaking out, yelling that you cant go to Yeoville at that time of night. I was meeting friends I said, and she exclaimed loudly, WHAT IF THEY DONT SHOW UP! I laughed and sighed matter of factly, well I get out the taxi and look for em. And you know, you don’t go dressed up as if you want to get robbed, you just have to be street smart.”
Jo’Burg Works became the next tale of Bend Down Boutique. A city housing its own second hand clothing markets, Marcelle quickly found home in the pulsing and quirky streets of Johannesburg. Whether collecting “secret photos” from the Boutiques on Plein Street, keeping her face from being bashed in from hostile store tenders, or indulging in skewers under the moon in Yeoville, Marcelle’s world continued to refuse confinement. If told not to go somewhere, Marcelle simply laughs with a “say what!” Its a city made of connecting webs, and an unrestrained imagination in advent of the fall of apartheid, and therefore must be unabashedly explored. Almost a microcosm of Marcelle’s world itself.
Johannesburg is filled to the brim with energy, like a bottle about to burst. A rupture that Marcelle’s show, Jo’Burg Works might just have triggered. Opening at Arts on Main, this new permeation of Bend Down Boutique beautifully framed the world of Marcelle through lenses of the city of gold. Her intricate, delicate, and beautiful painting, un-stretched, hung on the rugged brick walls, surrounded by her fleshy sculpture Spleen. It was a show that could only be located in Johannesburg, yet found it’s sourcing from everywhere else. Transgressing borders, re-defining the lines between politics and poetics, Marcelle created a truly unrestrained space of discourse.
“I really loved Yeoville. Its crazy there, I’d just go to walk and watch the people, and take photographs in the night…. secretly. You would just see some woman or man, nicely dressed stand by the side of the road and pee. I would go there to get skewers from these guys from Cameroon; they’d being grilling with fish and all types of goodies. Like you know in the Caribbean we come home right, hungry at two or three o’clock in the morning, no food, and oh my god, you start cooking food at three! Or your like oooh, ahh ha, I feel like I could take a swim right now. Lets go down to the beach. It’s just to loosen up, and just live life you know, who knows how long we might have. We just have one life to live here on this Earth, well, what I know of. I’ve never known anybody come back, so its just being yourself, being true to yourself, being you and believing in what you feel. Of course you need respect for other people, but for other people to respect you, you have to respect yourself. But on a whole I think, life’s good. Life’s good, life’s good, life’s good.”
Marcelle’s stories of Johannesburg quickly slipped into those of Vienna, to the sunny shores of California and then to folk back home in Dominica. And here as she continued to sing songs of the children back home, of which she loved so much, and her concerns for their inability to scale trees and establish creative outputs outside of games and television jargon, something clicked. As she was telling me of her time with the kids back home, and how she never wanted to force them to paint or make art, that she would merely leave the tools for them at hand to creatively change their environment, I began to realize she was doing the same for me, and Us, as the viewer and fellow occupiers of this globe. Just as teaching the kids how to swim in the Caribbean, a place whose horizon is limitless, Marcelle gives us the air and place in which to speak and be heard within her worlds. But this is the trick behind her sarcastic laugh and bright smile, they aren’t really her worlds at all, but have been ours all along. Each new work is another tool, a discovery, on which the viewer can use in playing with, relearning, and reframing their environment and socio-political position on the Earth. They are everywhere all at once, yet always somewhere else. And they leave open the space of possibility to happen upon and celebrate, not just the new world of our imaginations, but the very place and moments that we occupy in the now.
So I beg you to think on this, the moment you’re in, if you find yourself ever bending down either in front of one of Marcelle’s paintings or in the bustling markets of Accra or Johannesburg, for from the most vibrant streets to the most banal of daily chores lays an immense capacity for imagination and personal agency.