The Writer, the Artist, the other – and their mother

For some reason or another I think of Truffaut’s film Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent.1Another film by Truffaut, Day for Night (La nuit américaine), (1973), also featuring Jean-Pierre Léaud, served as the title for the eponymous exhibition presented by MOI in the grounds of Lewisham College in 1998. Five identical Portacabins were craned into the site and were used as exhibition spaces for five new installations. A sixth module served as a repository for relevant documentary material and office. The most telling photographs reveal the process of mounting the exhibition, a feature that echoes Truffaut’s film-about-making-a-film. In this way, the show highlights the way in which it operates as a display: a show-about-making-a-show.

I say ‘for some reason’ simply because I’ve forgotten quite what prompted the thought. In the Truffaut film Jean-Pierre Léaud’s character visits one of the sisters (the two ‘anglaises’; who are in fact Welsh. Elles sont deux Galoises, à vrai dire) who has moved there to take an artist’s studio. She is making some sculptures there, possibly slightly Cubist in style. Can they really be Cubist? When is the film meant to take place? It is based upon the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, and was published in 1956. But it represents, or rather transposes, elements of his own past (his involvement with artistic avant-gardes in the early part of the twentieth century, and his social entanglements). So the sculptures could be Cubist, more or less. Anyway, the style of the sculptures in the studio of the English sister is not so important. Just like the Roché’s other novel, Jules et Jim, the novel is an encoding of the author’s memory of a friendly triangle of a very long duration. In both books memory and history (incidental history as well as broad, national and global history) are refracted into stuttering tripartite conversation, but are more than anything refractions of the voice of a narrator. In the case of Truffaut’s film of Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent the container of the narrator’s voice is made explicit by the title sequence, which shows the pages of the book.

I cannot quite place why I thought of this film in relation to the archive written about here. There must have been some theoretical or formal reason, but it may simply be a powerful trigger of memory for me, however, as I used to live in Paris myself, and Roché’s novels as well as the vague emotional cloud carried around by Jean-Pierre Léaud resuscitate many of these memories. I’ve written about some of them before, in a very encoded way.

Léaud is the continent of the title, which makes him a mainland and the two girls islands.

Paris is nothing like the city in which we are working now. It is built very differently, of course, and contains itself very differently. It may no longer have city walls,2I wrote about these myself once but it is surrounded by a peripheral road 3Une périphérique meaning that everything beyond this road is beyond the periphery.

During the film the characters (Claude, Ann and Muriel) read letters that they send to one another, and look at photographs and drawings. These documents are always shown; the camera sees the paper, and sometimes the hand holding the paper, and the viewer therefore reads the document too. This reminds me of the book that shows many of Ed Ruscha’s books being held and read.

How to represent archipelagos, rather than images, of memory?

What place do speculations such as these have in a project that addresses and archive, a specific archive, of specific works and projects and artists and documents? My own instinct is to write in a way that spills and drifts, and keeps itself distant from direct address. A corrective (or a counter-balance) to this can come in the footnotes and other interventions of others, but for the moment I settle on the thought of the film Les Deux Anglaises et le Continent as a place of mirror-memory to all the things that I should write about. Much of this work refers to memories that are not my own, so perhaps this is quite correct.

The ‘writer’, by the way, is Léaud’s character, one of the sisters is the ‘artist’, and the other sister is the ‘other’. They are brought together, in the first place, by the sisters’ mother.