This piece was written as an essay for Sharon Kivland at the HEC at Jouy en Josas, wonderful, perverse, critical installation. This is a queer meta-commentary on the show and will appear in its long delayed brochure.
Throughout a long period of time, over many years, I walked up and down the Rue Oberkampf. I looked at the buildings. I went to shop there, anything from quirky and outmoded pornography to green beans and hippy scarfs. So it was a long time, from one period of the contemporary transformations of Paris to another and, like me, it changed and bits of both of us remained much the same, but I never went by way of the Rue Oberkampf in Jouy en Josas. It took me embarrassingly long to put together the name of the street with the name of a fabric that was always much to my taste, which, even in its most banal versions diverts my gaze and in its older and most exquisite samples, my desire. What do I care if its production entailed so much suffering, such exploited labour, I who buy from Amazon, ethical products distributed through the structures of contemporary slavery, now at the point where slavery and wage slavery contend with one another in their differencing degrees of precariousness and enforced security. And so for a long time I wandered up and down this street and before, even I became aware of it I was now at the bottom of the Rue de Menilmontant and then again at the Boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, a route that I was to find was one that had been trodden time and time again by the youthful Maurice Chevalier. Ah the company I kept, though, in the end, going back to him, it is Jacques Hillairet in his vast Dictionnaire Historique des Rues de Paris, who lets me down. Such a constant companion in those wanderings, the light that glimmered in those dusty clouds of anecdotal history, he had, in now turns out, and although I could have known this at the time, almost nothing of interest to say about the Rue Oberkampf, other than to give an account of how, in its coming into being, its name replaced that of four older streets before a re-designation in honour of the great manufacturer in 1864, some 62 years after they had been levelled down from having been a steep pathway up to the edge of Paris, and just less than a century after Rousseau himself had a notorious and well-known fall there that resulted in a temporary loss of memory, after being overwhelmed by one of the Danish dogs of Louis Lepeletier de Saint Fargeau,( Le 24 octobre 1776, Jean-Jacques Rousseau est victime d’un accident à Ménilmontant. Il relate cet événement dans la « Seconde Promenade » des Rêveries du promeneur solitaire)whose own death was to be monumentalised by Jacques-Louis David in 1793, a painting probably destroyed by the painter’s daughter, but known in this relic:
Oddly enough this was to have been my route from the 11e arrondissment to 18 and 19th century Jouy, albeit circuitous compared to the more or less straight up and down of Oberkampf itself, a hill once lined by working class cafés and hardware shops, a service street of small industries and workshops, some of these places now lovingly restored and rendered as ruin to house hipster cafés and clubs and restaurants, fading away already when I first walked up and down and, before it became one street, when Rousseau fell, a place of herbs and trees and vineyards and agricultural delights for the writer and no doubt the readers of Émile. Anyway the route taken by my research was not as such up and down a street, as one winding through the vexed unfolding of a relation between art and industry of a kind appropriate for a Revolution, the Great Revolution of 1789, that had both dismantled and inherited the monarchical structures of this relation, and that eventually led me to an engraving after a painting of the Emperor, Napoléon Bonaparte, alas an image that I can no longer trace, so lost that I wonder if indeed I ever saw it in the first place, visiting and inspecting the fabrication of Jouy en Josas, led by the proudly obsequious figure of Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf himself, now about to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur, in 1806. Something like these, I guess: but then I put together this fabric I enjoy so much with a man and with a place and toile de jouy at last made sense
Over a number of years, some of them coinciding or coterminous with those from recounting which I just set out, I often walked to and fro along the Rue Saint Maur, from where the Rue Léon Frot ended right up to the Hôpital Saint Louis, nearby to which was number 208, a long, shabby and romantic almost ex-industrial court, quite wide and very deep with all kinds of levels and heights of workshops and dwellings from one to five floors and, at the very end, a long residential block with a two floor workshop on the ground floor. This one, the first branch of what was to become a small chain, IEM, was an industry of our times, taken as the years, roughly speaking, of gay emancipation, a site of the ’confection’, to use the French word, and also of the bespoke supply of leather gear and bondage materials for leather men and bar standers, and later of latex when it became more modish and oh what bliss it was in that dawn to be a shopper! Around the beginning of this century, I think, the son of some close friends moved into a small apartment on the top floor of this building, without his parents, however frequently they might have visited him and despite their interest in the transformation of the city and the role of their son in gentrifying it ever appearing to have noticed quite where he had located himself, nor what a relation it might have had to who he was. Yet I do believe that they had toile de jouy in their house; but who does not. In any event, all this is anecdotal, but I do want to emphasise the post-rural idyll of IEM in those distant days, the implements hanging from racks like fruit in an orchard, or ex votos in Lourdes, the rows of all kinds of garments in glistening black with red and blue and yellow highlights, the other-worldly perfume of freshly worked materials and the sound of sewing machines at work, none of which you will see below, but below you will see the anecdote as a form of vision, of the utopian outcome of research, of the writing of a phrase, that might have any appearance in the end, or any conclusion, however dreadful but that remains and will remain at the origin of the phrase as such.