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Tracy Danison, Paris correspondent

Photographer Sarah Meunier lays bare quarantine in "le moment bizarre"

“Le jour 1” Quarantaine:Le Confinement mis à nu  Sarah Meunier
“Day 1” Quarantaine/Le Confinement mis à nu ©Sarah Meunier

Ami entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines/… C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons / …Motivés, motivés/ Il faut rester motivés!/ Motivés, motivés/ Il faut se motiver!

                                                        – “Motivé, Le Chant des partisans” - Zebda

Here is an odd fact such that one only learns when the extent of one’s activity is staring into space,  listening to shards of famous operas and wondering about the history of words floating listless in the Zeitgest. The English “quarantine” – “40 days isolated” is cognate with the French “quarantaine”,  which also means “forty-something”.

I mention this because, just to see how she’s been holding up in le moment bizarre – I mean, what with the shelter in place orders, the remote working, the masks, the absence of mountebanks, monoliths and UFOs, the eternal grinding gears of  – …. Of...what? Exactly? Love? Longing?  –  I mailed the photographer  Sarah Meunier the other day.

Sarah not too terribly long ago, graciously sent readers of the Best American Poetry a Joyeuses Fêtes! in portraits of the people of Bagnolet, the little Paris suburb where we both live. Motivée, in spite of all, maybe because of it all, too, Sarah keeps on scanning the horizon, not just the ceiling. 

“The Lightbulb” Quarantaine:Le Confinement mis à nu  Sarah Meunier
“The Lightbulb” Quarantaine/Le Confinement mis à nu©Sarah Meunier

All indoor, online, hygienically confined, of course, Sarah’s horizon has lately had to be herself, which is as close to a virtuous philosophy as one can get in, in fact, some say it's as close to wisdom as one can get. She titles her series Quarantaine/Le Confinement mis à nu.

As I say, Sarah Meunier looks in while looking out; I, on the other hand, look out while looking in. Clearly, her looking loop not only starts differently than mine but gets stretched and molded differently, too.

I’m waiting with dead hands for the theaters to reopen, for the mountebanks to peacock, waiting to rush into a crowd and see Gaëlle Bourges’ OVTR (ON VA TOUT RENDRE) and Liz Santoro & Pierre Godard’s MUTUAL INFORMATION. Both at the Atelier de Paris/CDCN. Both pieces remind me of the infinite variety of the Dance that powers the quantum wave we are. Bourge’ll do it through extravagance of movement, Santoro through precision of it.

“Remote working” Quarantaine:Le Confinement mis à nu  Sarah Meunier
“The package” Quarantaine/Le Confinement mis à nu ©Sarah Meunier

Sarah Meunier, in contrast, looking inward to look outward, will be spending her end-of-the-year breakout cultivating her post-Covid Expo-Choc of Comic-book style shots and reflecting on Quarantaine/Le Confinement mis à nu, an experiment, she says, in “becoming (my)own object”, which at the same time looks at how much the objects of her life are part of her as a subject.

Quarantaine/Le Confinement mis à nu twists 21st-century selfies into gartered-nude poses and postures, like the mouldering Playboy pin-ups my grandad kept into his fishing trailer at Burr Oak lake.

Capture d’écran 2020-12-06 à 00.15.54
“The Laundry” Quarantaine/Le Confinement mis à nu©Sarah Meunier

While Sarah Meunier says she did her pin-ups for fun and to keep her hand in, she also says that a bout with her self-object allowed her to get more comfortable – in her 40s – with herself as a being in a sexual as well as a professional as well as ordinary posture, just like everybody else.

Capture d’écran 2020-12-06 à 00.20.35
“Saturday clean up” Quarantaine/Le Confinement mis à nu©Sarah Meunier

Sarah’s take on Playboy philosophy discovers the now-obscure eroticism in Any-woman’s dusting, tidying and service. Sarah’s Playboy eye sees herself through a old-fashioned-become-ironic style (and persistent paradigm) and, slipping man-pleasing unmentionables among her naked world of mop handles, canned soup and empty fridge lets herself find or reveal a sassy-assed provocation in her own daily bending, reaching and lifting. 

Sarah’s fans, with time to get ruffled up, have got ruffled up by her Quarantaine series – largely because, she says, preening around naked rather than painting portraits of everybody else, forced them to let her come out of the box of their expectations. She was also pleasantly surprised, she says, to have a mostly positive response from her woman fans and friends.  

But, Sarah says, while getting out of the outside-expectations box and getting peer support were both a great relief to her, she was puzzled that her quotidian-level collaborators seemed to have already accepted her as having a life and a sex and all that jazz. She wonders why she had doubted that so long.

So, Sarah Meunier says, it turns out that the on-going effort to be a whole person rather than a packaged series of socio-culture types and roles meets less resistance, whether outside or inside, than she had expected.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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