Safety Curtain 2018/2019

Loin d'ici: Far away from here

The safety curtain at the theatre is a painted vertical surface that conceals from view what is going on behind it. It offers the audience an immobile spectacle before the spectacle proper, because of which the audience has come, begins. This curtain has two functions: it both shows and hides. And then it has a third one: it helps us to be patient. The safety curtain is an invitation to a journey. In the hustle and bustle of the spectators taking their seats in the brightly lit room, looking out for acquaintances and greeting them from far away, the stage curtain has a calming effect.

Pierre Alechinsky’s curtain takes the part of a counterpoint. Its sober black and white creates a contrast to the splendour and the lights of the room, with its elegantly dressed audience and the amiabilities exchanged from a distance. It is a horizon, an empty horizon that refrains from competing with the action being prepared behind it. A maritime horizon into which projects a band of clouds driven by a tempest, as here, from right to left, from east (the ‘court side’)* to west (the ‘garden side’)*. This movement, made by the painting hand, is counteracted or balanced by a gesture in the opposite direction, from left to right, of a huge wave at the bottom of the curtain – a wave that rises, reaches its peak, and will carry us with it as it descends. This extreme sensitivity for lateral movement is one of Pierre Alechinsky’s trademarks. Originally a left-hander but converted at the age when he was taught how to write, he has kept distinct traces of it in his work as a painter. It is his right hand that writes from left to right, albeit under constraint. One can feel that if it were free it would take the other way. But it is his left hand that paints without any impediments, neither social nor physical ones. It is hard for the hand that writes. The hand that paints is the one that dreams, dances, twirls around, and invents a language.

The title is Loin d’ici, which is thus an invitation to a journey. Marine horizons have been a frequent subject in Pierre Alechinsky’s art, particularly since his large-sized composition entitled La Mer noire [The Black Sea], painted in 1988 in memory of his father, who came from Odessa. The artist revisited the theme when he illustrated the poem Le Volturno by Blaise Cendrars. Volturno was a Canadian ocean liner cruising between Rotterdam and New York. Having caught fire, it sank in the ocean in 1913. For the book, Alechinsky drew marine horizons with the silhouette of a ship appearing in the distance, with smoke rising from it. Just like in the famous aria in Madame Butterfly:

Un bel di, vedremo
Levarsi un fil di fumo sull’estremo
Confin del mare
E poi la nave appare…

One fine day we'll see
A thread of smoke arising
On the far horizon of the sea,
And then the ship appears…

Pierre Alechinsky chose this call of the sea, this tempest to evoke opera. As silently as smoke, the large waves of the strings and the breath of the winds and brass have approached, and soon a crystal voice will be rising. Alechinsky’s suppleness of line largely derives from his intimate knowledge of oriental calligraphy. As early as 1955 he embarked a cargo ship bound for Yokohama and realised a film about Japanese calligraphy in Tokyo and Kyoto. His tools have long been a Japanese ink brush and big sheets of rice paper from China.

In the black landmass set off against the sea, we can see an enigmatic notch surrounded by small, flickering touches made with a pointed brush. We do not know anything about its meaning, except that it could possibly be a sign or a symptom that psychoanalysis might be able to decipher. Would not the native city of Sigmund Freud be the ideal place for this?

* In French, the terms ‘côté cour’ and ‘côté jardin’ are used to refer to the right and left sides of the stage.