I used to think Paris a bit overrated. I can't really remember why now. Too many art history coach trips as a student probably. I'm in no hurry to get back to the Musee D'Orsay funnily enough. And too much ham for another thing. Can any one country really consume that much jambon?
Then there's the language barrier of course, but that's just a bit embarrassing really. I bought the CD - Instant French. No time wasters it said, rolling its eyes at the likes of the plume de ma t'aunt. However it was keen that I take on board the phrase "vous avez une Mercedes?" And quite rightly so. What self-respecting thirty-something art dealer can be let loose à Paris without such a critical enquiry at her immediate disposal. Imagine if I found myself quite inadvertently hanging out with someone who did not avez une Mercedes.
But there are, it seems, a few pleasing things about Paris. Firstly the Metro. Very little of having to ram oneself into the smelly armpit of the great unwashed and needing to re-mortgage your flat just to get from Republique to Alma Marceau. The plonk's cheap. The coffee doesn't taste like dirty water. And the über cool Palais de Tokyo. Before I'd visited the Palais de Tokyo I gave a shit about the ICA. Now I'm thinking blow that crappy out of date theatre of mediocrity off the circuit and let's get us a proper shrine to contemporary art going on. Things are in a pretty poor state when the Frogs are nearer the edge than we are. God.
I sat in the Palais de Tokyo for nearly an hour watching a video installation about skateboarding. I probably should have been looking at Charlotte Posenanske's modular cardboard boxes I suppose, but my touristy feet were tired. So I sat on my generous bottom and watched Raphaël Zarka's forty-minute long documentary Topographie anecdotée du skateboard (2008).
Raphaël Zarka, I think, is suggesting that our urban architectural spaces are unavoidably loaded with 'usefulness'. What this means is that, as citizens of these spaces, we're engaging with them passively. We're taking on the uses that are being offered to us, rather than creating our own uses, and by extension, without creating our own lives. Our relationship with the city, and within the city, is not creative. We are controlled by it, not it by us. In effect the urban space will always therefore be repressive to one degree or another.
So, by re-writing these unwritten rules of engagement – ie roaring down the handrail on a slab of wheeled wood, rather than resting a cautious digit or two upon it as one tentatively descends the flight sur pied - skateboarders are undermining their intended status as passive user. They're rebelling against the unwritten law. And rebelling against the unwritten law is far worse than rebelling against the written law because the written law is clearly validated and vindicated. The written law comes with a system of procedures for what to do in the event of a person or persons stepping outside of itself. Ergo it controls both that which is within itself, and that which is outside of itself. Stepping outside of the unwritten law on the other hand is far more dangerous to the structures of power, because it draws attention to the usually invisible hand of control that is wielded over us at all times without our even being aware of it. Basically, Big Brother comes under the spotlight and he doesn't like it one little bit.
I should say that Zarka doesn't allow himself to get as excitable about all of this as I do. He quotes Barthes, speaks of Duchamp and generally takes a far more academic and rational approach to his subject matter than I. In fact I'm probably inadvertently putting words into his mouth, so perhaps take the Zarka reference with a pinch of salt. Suffice it to say, it was Zarka's documentary film that got me started: whichever way you look at it, a skateboarding stunt isn't simply a skateboarding stunt, it is something far more. If it were simply a very skilful and efficient way of moving about a city, then why would the powers that be object to it so profoundly? And object they sure do, as the documentary shows.
It makes me cross that we seem to have to exist in this monochromatic Nazi-esque state, lobotomised obedient bipodic victims of our own idiocy. I'm fed up with being told what to do by someone I can't see. Of being told when and where I can and can't have a fag – not even in the boozer these days for the love of God. When to jump in the fountain for a laugh and when not to jump in the fountain for a laugh; how much salt to put on my tomatoes; how much to weigh; how much to exercise; how much sodding water to drink; when to cross the road; when not to cross the road; when and where to park and when and where not to park - and God forbid you get that wrong or they'll rob you of £880 as quick as blink; don't even get me started on that, £880, it's not a Royal Borough, it's a bloody racket.
Actually, it occurs to me that I'd like to make my own decisions, like an adult. I'd like to be able to take the responsibility upon myself if and when those decisions go wrong and if and when they go right. I'm fed up of being watched over by someone whose omnipotent but cowardly face remains hidden, squinting into his closed circuit wet dream from behind the empty mask of the educated but hopelessly egotistical fat Scottish Fall Guy.
So hail to the skateboarders taking their freedom back without waiting for permission from the invisible middle aged bureaucrat. And hail to a city that's prepared to subsidise the underground without robbing its users of the right to have a Gauloises when they fancy it. Hail to a city of women who still have proper sized arses. Hail to a city that makes a cup of coffee that kicks that proper sized arse. And hail to a city that has an equally arse-kicking home for contemporary art.