“Paris is no Berlin!” cry the twenty-somethings I know on a regular basis. “Where’s the alternative lifestyle? Where’s the counter-culture? Where’s the underground?” they demand.
But to find the underground, you have to look under things, and sometimes behind things, and a little off to the side…
Behind the Pompidou Centre and a little off to the side of the Marais is exactly where you’ll find Chapon Rouge, an artists’ collective that opens its doors every third Sunday for Dimanche Rouge, an afternoon of international performance art, shared appetisers and drinks. Don’t be fooled by that description; it sounds a lot more high-falutin’ than it is.
When a twenty-something friend and I arrived late Sunday afternoon to the original location at rue Chapon, children were tumbling around, in, over and about giant graffitied inner tubes on the sidewalk just in front of the Chapon Rouge. Children at play are not exactly a harbinger of a cutting edge counter-culture experience, but they can certainly put you in a jovial mood. Exactly the right mood, it turns out, for the atmosphere inside.
Heartily welcomed by the hostess, the artists who were preparing to perform and sundry other folks milling around, we were offered some chips straight out of the bag (shared appetisers!), a glass of wine and an invitation to make ourselves comfortable in the open performance space as the next performance was about to begin.
What followed was Action Writing by French sound and visual performers Y/I+C=UeLLa. Scratched, burned, coloured and manipulated digital film was projected on a wall in strobing and staccato images controlled by computer, while the accompanying sound sculpture was being “written” live during the performance. The combined effect was both jarring and captivating, like receiving a weak and scratchy broadcast of a dessin animé from another dimension. But after about 10 minutes I started to worry whether I’m susceptible to photosensitive seizure and if I should put down my glass of wine in the event that I am (I’m not, and I didn’t).
Rather jolted awake by Action Writing, we took off for Dimanche Rouge’s second performance venue Noo-Tek, an old foundry in Pantin converted into an art space, excited to see what the afternoon would bring next.
After wandering in the wrong direction off the Eglise Pantin station on Metro Ligne 5 for a while, we eventually found ourselves in Noo-Tek’s soaring 1200 square metre art space, invited to help ourselves to bread and cheese and welcomed with a very much appreciated glass of wine. Paintings suspended from support beams and affixed to high stacks of wooden pallets make Noo-Tek feel like a post-modern hanging garden. The huge space opens onto a courtyard in the back, where graffiti artists were at work, kids and dogs ran around and several dreadlocked, bespectacled folk smoked and chatted. “It’s just like Berlin!” breathed my awestruck companion. Berlin with better wine, I’d say.
We caught a narrative dance and AV performance by Polish-UK collaborative f.r.u. Studio called MaskeRade which was all about, you know, the masks we all parade around in. Unfortunately, the artists had not developed the theme into anything terribly innovative and it never rose above its adolescent interpretation. But the audience was game and supportive, and even the little dog running around managed to time its entry onto the stage with the visual projected behind the dancer so that it, too, became a piece of performance art.
There were further performances scheduled later into the evening, but as the light was beginning to fail my young friend and I decided to head home – Pantin is a bit dangerous for two directionally-challenged people. Although, now that we know it’s only about a five minute walk from the metro, I look forward to next month’s taste of Berlin-like underground art with a Parisian twist. Shared appetisers and drinks, here I come!
The next Dimanche Rouge is 17 July. Admission is free.