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Ce qu’on voit dans les rues = That which one sees in the streets


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‘He has an aim more lofty than that of a mere flâneur. He is looking for that quality you must allow me to call ‘modernity’; He makes it his business to extract from fashion whatever element it may contain of poetry within history to distil the eternal from the transitory…by ‘modernity’ I mean the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is the eternal and the immutable’ Baudelaire 1863.

Charles Baudelaire’s flâneur, was a person who walked the streets, having a key role in understanding the city as both observer and detached participant. He challenged the artist to become a ‘botanist of the sidewalk’ and draw attention to the new experiences of space, time and sociality. This 19th century flâneur’s concerns were somewhat post modern in their desire to capture the transient, subjective elements of modern life with its multitude of possible ‘realities’ and has resulted in the term being appropriated by current theorists to gain understanding of urban phenomena and Modernity.

Deborah Duffield’s current investigations find her in the role of flâneur. This series of work has taken her to mid winter in London, to experience and photograph the mix of cultures and classes as people browse the street markets around Brick Lane. She observes urban life, covertly taking photographs from the hip; a somewhat voyeuristic, dysfunctional relationship with her subjects as she captures them unaware, lost in thought.

Duffield’s works offer a resemblance to the world that is less direct, more mediated by material touch, technology and tradition as she experiments with Photoshopic and painterly conventions, creating hazy dreamlike paintings that shift between abstraction and representation. There is a play between a detachment from the image focusing on surface and material qualities of paint and a desire to evoke a sense of the psychological moment, the dissolve and the image vainly pursuing one another.

The photograph’s relationship to the moment merged with the unfolding present of painting, generates a provocatively ambiguous temporality. It engages a shifting experience of time and presence, confusing the sense of first or second hand experience, conjuring a kind of post-modern temporality inflected by currents of reference, in which the images of the present are inevitably permeated by a sense of déjà-vu.

Duffield sees this complication of paint and photography as altering spectorial distance, versus proximity and detached, versus insistent. The moment of photographing draws the spectator closer with its voyeuristic technique offering a sense of being an observer of a private moment. Yet the ‘slowness’ of her painting process, with its subtle alterations, reducing and heighten detail, translated through layering of glazes and a myriad hues, result in being absorbed, by the viewer more slowly, allowing reflection on its sources and reminiscence of faded memories.

Instead of reaffirming the photograph, Duffield unsettles it, opening up a representation encompassing multiple meanings, inviting us to continually renegotiate how we view them. Essentially she deconstructs traditional understanding of ‘realism’, emphasizing the activity and consequences of translation. An intricate mix of pictorial signs blurs the line between both media and their ascribed values, the consequence being a fusion of the immediacy of a captured moment, with the accumulated memory of an ancient medium.

The essay "Death of the Flaneur?" investigates theories surrounding my current research and practice considering the potential of the flâneur/artist as an observer of modern life. Part One examines the role of flâneur from 19th century to present day, considering its different interpretations and contemporary mutations. Part Two looks at the 2007 Hayward Exhibition, ‘The Painting of Modern Life’, and my own practice, considering the dominant theories surrounding photo-derived paintings and roles of the artist as a contemporary flâneur representing social existence.

Item Type: Student Project
Uncontrolled Keywords: Flaneur, photoderived paintings, spectorial distance, transient, modern life
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
N Fine Arts > ND Painting
Divisions: Schools > School of Media Arts
Depositing User: Gaby Douglas
Date Deposited: 18 May 2011 22:40
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 02:31

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