This is a photograph that I recently took in the gardens of the Palace at Versailles. It was winter and all of the statues that lined the paths and avenues were tucked away in green canvas bags to protect the marble from cracking.
There was something profoundly moving and poetic about these hidden works of art. I felt incredibly excited by them and began to photograph as many as I could.
I have always loved the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Whether it be a building, a bridge or a coast line. I find it a fascinating to see something so vast, so highly visible, hidden by kilometres of cloth. The shapes beneath the fabric still evident, still somehow tangible yet most of the detail lost or simplified. Somehow the objects and geographies were distilled by this act of wrapping and obscuring. Also, the pure folly of it, the impermanence of it, the inability for such an artwork to be purchased or coveted....
"Yes! I must have that coastline in my collection."
"Tant pis monsieur, il n'est pas possible."
Something about these covered statues at Versailles, whose contents where human in form, held a whole new kind of metaphorical force to me. They felt somehow similar to the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and yet more intimate, personal and psychologically resonant.
The details of each of these forms was lost by the thick green canvas or sail cloth but they were still recognisable as figures. They were recognisably human.
They reminded me of upright versions of my father's body as it looked in its canvas shroud before we buried him at sea. But beyond what is to me an obvious visual association, I saw that these statues represented a powerful depiction of how we hide the things that are precious to us. Our deepest thoughts, desires, longings and fears. We keep them within, because by showing them to the outside world we would reveal our weaknesses, our deepest humanity. And yet these elements or aspects of ourselves that we hide are somehow still visible to others. They are subtly revealed through all of our interactions, actions, responses and endeavours. And out they come in force, whether we like it or not, under the influence of alcohol or when enraged, despondent, fatigued or grief stricken. There are times when we simply cannot keep up the charade, the acceptable veneer.
The green canvas is a barrier but it is not impenetrable. None of us are. Our secrets are not unique or really anything to be ashamed of at all. The green bag is a metaphor for the notion of homogenised normality that we all endeavour to keep perpetuating for no good or apparent reason. It does us no favours. It disconnects us from each other and from our own understanding of who we really are.
But I feel no loss in not having seen the marble statues beneath those bags. To me they were much more inspiring than the gilded gates and the opulent splendour of Louis' palace. They gave me a lot more than the perfected technique of their carving. The fact that these works were covered, made me look, question and think. To me this is the definition of a successful artwork. One that provides questions rather than answers.
Perhaps I had better start bagging my paintings...