ParisTJ Wilcox: Carte de visite
“From a young age, surrounded by the primordial beauty of old growth cedar forests of the American Pacific Northwest where I was raised, instead of the awe those unspoiled landscapes might have inspired, for me they were physical proof of my isolation from the subjects that interested me most; cinema, modern music, European history and 19th century literature.
In some way, I blame it all on Babar, the elephant protagonist of the famous children’s stories written in the 1930’s by Jean de Brunhoff. In my far away cowboy homeland, I wished I could, like Babar in the first book of the series, run and run until I reached a city, a mythical Paris, where life would be transformed by the magical power of French enculturation. My early film, “The Little Elephant” (2000), included in the VNH exhibition, conflates this story with various characters enacted by another hero, David Bowie, in his roles as the alien in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, a reference to the role he made famous on stage as John Merrick in “The Elephant Man” and his character John Blaylock in “The Hunger”.
Another film that makes part of this exhibition and represents the metamorphosing potential inherent in a move to France is encapsulated in the fairytale like film “The Jerry Hall Story” (2007). It tells the seemingly impossible, but true, story of a small town Texan girl who used the $600 insurance settlement she received after being in a car accident while on a date in her hometown to buy a one-way plane ticket to Paris. Within months of her arrival she had befriended Salvatore Dali and Simone de Beauvoir, danced every night in discos with her then unknown roommate Grace Jones, sang a cowgirl rodeo call on a Roxy Music track with then boyfriend Bryan Ferry before leaving him for Mick Jagger- all within months of the traffic accident that changed her life.
Other subjects include Marlene Dietrich, who often spoke of the funeral she wished to have in Paris. She hoped the day would be declared a national day of mourning in France, with a procession lead by De Gaulle making its way, slowly, from the Place de la Concorde to her favorite church, La Madeleine. She imagined her casket set upon an open carriage, pulled by a single horse, like the one they used for John Kennedy’s funeral. Dietrich told this story for years, making it more elaborate with each retelling, but when she died, she was quietly buried next to her mother in Berlin. My film gives her the funeral of which she often spoke.
My films have considered locations, like the stage-like, theatre in the round, Place Vendôme. For me, this place, with its many layers of stories and ghosts, operates like a physical collage of history and storytelling, its atmosphere dense with drama. I’ve tried to make a film that considers this unusual accumulation as its subject. The films also reimagine historical subjects, like Marie Antoinette or the famous 19th century courtesan La Présidente, attempting to shift their life stories away from the emphasis history’s consensus makers have used to distill these complicated lives into primary narratives that justify the status quo.
I have been considering France, French history, literature and pop culture for decades and making films about these subjects for over 20 years, yet I have never had a one-person exhibition in France. I happily accepted VNH Gallery’s invitation to propose an exhibition to introduce myself to a place I have loved and thought about for a long time from afar. I hope you will accept this work as a very long and annotated carte de visite, which I have wished to deliver for many years.”
New York City, 2018
Courtesy of the artist & VNH Gallery. Photo: Claire Dorn