by Kelly Burke, writer-in-residence, January 2020
In January, 2020 — during widespread strikes which brought the city’s public transportation to a standstill — eleven international artists met in Paris under the auspices of L’AiR Arts for a multi-disciplinary residency entitled Revisiting the Roaring Twenties 1920/2020: Art, Culture and the École de Paris.
The purpose of the residency was to seek ideas, models, and inspiration for our own creative practices in the ‘intercultural artistic exchange’ of 1920s Paris. For three weeks we - and a group of international cultural professionals - lived together in Montparnasse, attending workshops with Paris-based artists and chasing the ghosts of the 1920s artistic community through galleries, cafés, ateliers — and salons.
The salon was an institution which took on increasing importance for us as the weeks went on. We gathered in the evenings — around inevitable cheeses and bottles of wine — investigating each other’s work, sharing practical skills, and devising games to unearth a kind of creative intimacy and symbiosis many of us had not experienced before.
A favourite of these games involved story telling. One of us would begin an autobiographical story and, just before the climax, would cede the floor to another member of the group to begin an autobiographical story of their own, inspired by some detail of what they’d just heard. The result was a dove-tailed narrative that was both shared and individual — disparate, with a kind of underlying cohesion.
Disparate with underlying cohesion might have been a good description of Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap’s Little Review, which was published between 1914-1929 and was arguably one of the most important ‘little magazines’ of the 1920s. The Little Review moved its headquarters from New York to Paris in 1923, where it brought together some of the most daring and eclectic work of the Modernists.
Ezra Pound criticised Anderson for not imposing an organising aesthetic or artistic treatise on the magazine — but he mistook her aim. Unlike other publications at the time, what Anderson sought from the Little Review was “inspired conversation... the best conversation the world has to offer.”
As such, the Little Review would ultimately become a touchstone for the expatriate artistic community in 1920s Paris: a place where they could test new forms, read each others’ work, and analyse it at length via letters to the editors. The richness of this ‘conversation’ had the Little Review flying from the shelves of Sylvia Beach’s iconic bookstore, Shakespeare and Company.
If you were to jump forward exactly one hundred years, you would have found the eleven of us tucked into the upstairs room at Shakespeare and Company, contemplating disruption and Modernism, pens scratching under the cynical eye of the bookstore cat.
You will find some of those scratchings in the following pages. Although the residency had been intended to be experiential rather than output-oriented, many of us started developing our own work, diverging unexpectedly from our habitual practices, and nurturing the seeds of unanticipated collaborations.
We were an eclectic family, united by a devotion to practice, by curiosity, by the unexpected rhythm of walking everywhere in a city designed for transport — by Paris itself. We were dancers, novelists, ceramicists, visual artists, poets, directors, performance artists, artistic directors, playwrights. We had come from Australia, South Korea, Armenia, Canada, the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands — to which places we have since returned, and where we are all now waiting out an indeterminate period of isolation and restriction imposed by global pandemic. Deprived of physical connection, the idea of conversation seems more important than ever.
What follows is a collection of work from L’AiR Arts’ multidisciplinary residents — the continuation of a conversation begun in a grey Paris January, and which has already wound itself into idioms, artistic collaborations, and friendships. We’ve called it the Little Review, in homage to its predecessor, and hope this will be the first conversation of many.
And if this Little Review provides no answers in this strange moment, perhaps it can offer some comfort, some incitement to curiosity, some distraction, some sense of long-distance community. Perhaps you can slip into the salon with us, into our circle of mis-matched chairs... It’s getting on towards midnight. The wine is mostly drunk. There is a moment of reluctant stillness, one of those transitions which could so easily mark the end of the evening. Then someone turns to you and says: “Tell us a story. But only tell us the beginning...”
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Residency participants are invited to submit their reflections and share their updates on projects related to the residency experience on this community blog. The resources shared here are meant to further the engagement among all residents, stimulate active thinking, and create pathways for knowledge transfer and cross-cultural exchange.
Cover Image: Artists-in Residence, October 2018