All about me (c’est moi)

On the art of Selfie Stick travelling in France.

On the art of Selfie Stick travelling in France. I couldn’t believe it. I’d come all that way to gaze on one of the world’s great textile treasures, the so-called The Lady and the Unicorn at the Musée National du Moyen Age in Paris. And there he is, the Unicorn doing a selfie. Well, in all fairness, he has the help of the fair damsel holding a mirror. Normally such a detail would have passed unnoticed but after a few weeks trailing in and around national French treasures the selfie phenomenon was inescapable. The barbarians were not only at the gates in the Louvre but had been allowed inside to poke their lenses at whatever took their fancy. The usual crush of photographers was paparazziing Mona Lisa. But as I watched, something strange happened. A group approached, bearing rods aloft like the spear-brandishers in Uccello’s The Battle of San Romano. Rods, I thought? Perhaps these are trainee tour guides learning to wave umbrella equivalents? Or were they Teutonic trekkers holding their walking sticks aloft in a gesture of admiration? Not sticks or rods it transpired. It was the dreaded Selfie Camera Wand (aka the Selfie Stick). Elsewhere in the Louvre I came across a demented cabal of 20-somethings doing selfie star jumps in front of some Botticellis. Quite an effort with a Selfie Stick in one hand. Where was security? Hyper-reality has morphed into darker, uncertain territory where even the logo or sign has been supplanted by narcissistic drooling in the presence of extraordinary art. Reassuringly, the selfie infection has yet to spread to the provinces. On the van Gogh trail across Provence the rules of game are more conventional. You know you’re not going to come face to face with the guy but maybe if you walk the same streets and look on the same landscapes a little magic will occur. Avignon, more precisely the Angladon Museum, holds the only van Gogh on permanent public view in Provence. It’s the Railway Wagons, painted by the artist shortly after he arrived in Arles in 1888. It’s a cracker – lime blue sky, deep purple shadows and a heaving foreground of warm neutrals on a raw ground. There is a van Gogh trail in Arles marked by brass pavement inlays of the striding artist. Perhaps the real reason we recognise this is because Francis Bacon painted eight variations of van Gogh’s The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, in 1956 and 1957. That the original was destroyed in World War 2 and Bacon worked from a reproduction adds a delicious complexity to what some have called the ‘endless circulation of signs’. Follow any of these brass inlays and you’ll eventually end up at the ‘Van Gogh Café’ the subject of the famous The Night Café. With luck, as I found, there will be a red Lambretta scooter parked in front to add real historical cred to a selfie photograph. The Foundation Vincent Van Gogh had just reopened in Arles, carrying with it the expectation of naive tourists that here all the big van Gogh paintings are to be found. I encountered some leaving this gem of a gallery, all hot and bothered or with quivering chins because they didn’t see any. Actually there was one (on loan) displayed – Self- Portrait with Pipe and Straw Hat incorporated into an exhibition of the work of Bertrand Lavier who is responsible for the Foundation’s gate design which looks like an outsized van Gogh canvas. Lavier is one of a series of artists who have accepted an invitation to exhibit works that reflect the spirit of Vincent van Gogh. This artist’s very entertaining spin involves coating objects including car doors and a grand piano with van Gogh-ian trademark impasto brush marks which he rightly observes marks a low point in the commodification of van Gogh brand. And there’s a selfie. Opposite the (original) Self Portrait is a mirror, smeared with clear gel brush marks. The part erasure or blurring of the painting’s reflection, or your face for that matter, is a clear metaphor for the futile desire to ‘own’ the original or the artist. Exiting the Foundation, I bumped into a Klein Blue Citroen C4 Picasso. The chrome signature on the driver’s side panel told me so. If you aim the camera correctly you can capture a self-portrait with the ‘Picasso’ signature right across it. Your portrait – signed by Picasso! Awesome. That night I had a dream. I was back in the Musée du Moyen Age looking at the Lady wall hangings. One detail had changed. The Unicorn’s horn had morphed into a Selfie Stick. The nightmare was complete.

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