Kai Losgott is the Barclays L’Atelier 2015 winner and as part of his prize is spending a six-month stint at the Cité in Paris where he is staying in one of the three SANAVA-owned studios.
Kai Losgott, January 2016
How has your new year been? May your whole body be ringing with enthusiasm! Mine is.
I recharged my batteries and am back with a flash. This week, I have been attending an international festival of experimental short film here in Paris, seeing some of the film works of prominent South African artists that never get screened at home. The auditorium has been packed. It is wonderful to be in a city that takes its court métrages so seriously!
If I did not write Paris-inspired missives in bold strokes of lightning from the minute I arrived here in October last year, je vous demande pardon. My South African immune system jumped the gun in its enthusiasm to communicate and exchange with the French bacteria, compounded by some major life changes and family stress before leaving SA. It was cold, very cold. The locals jogging in hot pants thought it was springtime, so did the management. Eventually I got the central heating turned on in the whole building, to the gratitude of all other foreigners. I also eventually found an old duvet one of the South Africans had left in the storeroom, but flu is flu and mine was stubborn.
Then you get a little better, and you get a little curious. Then you rush out excitedly into the stone cold winter with a pack of intense South American artists who hardly speak English but are headed to an all-night Parisian art party in an area so edgy it has no public transport at night. You trudge along for kilometres on foot until your face is numb like the wind, only to wake up le lendemain with your breathing holes clogged-up and snorting, as if you had landed face-first on the trottoir but could not remember. I did similar spontaneous things every time I felt a bit better, until I forced myself to stay in bed and suffer the unbearable fear of missing out for about two weeks. Did I mention this city has 300 museums and I had been given a card saying I have free access to many of them? (Thank you SANAVA! Thank you Barclays!)
My French improved with time. So did the pain in my jaw until I gave in. The tooth was pulled by a dentist with the surname of a famous painter and a twin brother who was also a dentist, working next door. The Drs Bonnard’s office was decorated with artworks by foreign visitors who could not pay them properly in cash. I was not given that option.
Henceforth, the Joburg suburban recluse ventured out more often into the sprawling overwhelm. I learnt why the English say the French are rude, and began to suspect that English social courtesy (like introducing strangers or including people in conversation) is probably considered fake by the French.
Paris makes you want things, said the Finnish artist to me, squinting in the winter light. With that, she gave me a handle on the ‘je ne sais quoi’, the certain something that sets the French capital apart from any other city I have been to.
It’s not basking under yellow light in all night cafés knowing you can wander home without fear. It’s not walking into a random art shop and realising you have found ‘the’ famous Charbonel etching supplies store, the only one in the world. It’s not walking around the block and discovering the only shop in Paris that stocks a beautiful German handmade paper range made of thinly sliced vegetables, so flat and transparent it takes your breath away.
You don’t go looking for such things. In fact you train yourself to avoid them, here in the glamorous Marais, the heart of the tourist machine. At EUR 5.50 for a cup of tea/coffee or half a glass of wine anywhere you might sit down, you blind your eye to the exciting fresh produce on offer in the street markets, or the exclusive men’s shirt shop you just briefly passed with insanely colourful stylish fabrics that make everything you have seen before look like a Hawaiian shirt or kid’s pyjama. Paris makes you want things, and deferred and delayed desires seem to play a big part in the reputation for sex-appeal that the place boasts with.
I arrived in the middle of fashion week, noting some frighteningly well-dressed people and cringing with the suspicion that I might be hopelessly pedestrian here in the Marais, Paris’ most pricey area. There was a short-coiffed brunette who flashed across the street raising eyebrows in a hand-tailored vermillion-red open-knit something with a high collar, and a number of third-culture men, permanently tanned, in all black nylon calf-length pants, capes and hats with trainers. Waiting for the metro, I spotted an exceptionally obese blonde in a stylish white faux mink jacket with a badly burnt face and giant sunglasses. She looked sensational in her invisible f-off coat, a bastard Brigitte B for all the world to see.
Eventually I had found a jersey and scarf I could afford. They would become my uniform for the next few months, along with good thermal wear. For EUR 15 at the thrift store I get to look like Neo from the Matrix. I might pass you in the subway, or disappear down a quantum tunnel… 😉 I probably did, those first few months that flew by so fast.
And what are you working on, Kai, you will ask. As you may know, I keep what I am working on a secret until it is ready to be seen. It doesn’t help to be famous on the internet but nobody comes to your show. I brought a whole suitcase full of work in progress from Joburg, and it’s happening, I promise. Barclays/ABSA has scheduled my show for 2017, so watch this space.
Thank you for your sharing this journey with me! Looking forward to hearing from you.
From Paris with bisous (yes, on both cheeks, it still feels weird to me).