I am in a car in Berlin with my cousin Frank. Martha Wrainwright plays on the radio. “You bloody mother fucking asshole”. Frank says with an intriguing grin: ‘You see, this is how I feel about our grandfather… still don’t really get what you are doing with his archive’.
To be honest, I don’t like my grandfather very much either. I met him only once. I was a child, maybe six or seven. I first saw the back of his head and shoulders; he was sitting on a couch. He turned his face towards me, a very old sick man. He pointed a finger in my direction asking my father to make me leave the room. He had a big brown stain on his right temple. I was scared.
Jacques was the father of my father. My father only told me fragments about him, but he was in awe of that man. ‘He wrote a book’, he said to me. ‘It is on our bookshelves’. I looked it up but didn’t understand anything. The Sky is on the Earth. It is signed “to my son”.
My father and his two sisters grew up in an orphanage most of their childhood. Sometimes Jacques would ask my father to join him in hunting for the treasure of the Knights Templar somewhere in the countryside of Southern France. My father used to say he would dedicate his retirement time to look a bit closer at his father’s work.
Ilse was the mother of my father. She was German. She lived most of her life in a psychiatric hospital in Marseille; my father was ashamed of that. She was schizophrenic. They said. Jacques didn’t marry her. She died just before I was born and I have her name.
My father died just after he retired. I was twenty-nine. On the twentieth of September 2013 I went to collect archived boxes at his former work storage, an aeronautic military zone near Paris. I found a pallet with 25 brown cardboard archive boxes carefully piled up, labeled AN – Archive Nationale. 24 of those boxes were in fact my grandfather’s archive. They were lying there since Jacques passed away in 1991. Twenty four boxes waiting in oblivion for twenty-two years. I couldn’t help having a quick glance at the boxes and each of them was more surprising than the last: maps with intricate geometrical drawings, notes, pictures and sketches, as well as mysterious random scientific essays and patent-requests. Compacted in boxes, they represented a lifetime search that my grandfather had led. And these boxes were now mine. Half scientist - half mad, I thought. A strange and unexplored connection ignited right there. During this trip to Paris my daughter Zoe was conceived.
Working with the archive of Jacques was a journey of going against my own nature, of getting into someone else’s mind and fascination.
Weaving is equally against my nature, my temperament and my way of working. It requires to define a beginning and an end. It demands predetermined and fixed borders and is painfully time-consuming – basically all the restrictions I try to evade. I’d rather go on a free path, I like to start moving intuitively, go right if I feel like it, or go totally left when expected otherwise. I like to stop if I don’t like what I am doing and I like to continue endlessly if I’m in love. I like to tear off the page, I like to make a mess, I like quick actions, I like to put my own energy into the matter, I like rough intimate expression.
But conceptually it made sense to weave the pages, lists and notes of Jacques, as a further step of translation, abstraction and appropriation. Some notes are so deadly serious they made me laugh, some are intended to be witty but are flat wisdom, some are scarily paranoiac – which made me quite concerned, some are somehow loving which gave me some relief. I realized that this idiosyncratic man may have had some empathy,
Weaving is an intertwining of two equal parties into a unified matter. One is set in advance (the vertical warp) and the other one reacts to the existing one (the horizontal weft). In that sense a woven piece is pretty similar to a page, and by ‘weaving’ the recurring patterns I observed in his research notes, I could finally connect to Jacques. I weave because it makes me understand Jacques’ obsessions. It is not mine – per se – but it is growing on me. I’m getting more regular in the weavings; able to make sharper decisions and express one intention through a weave. I start understanding the change of structures and patterns between a plain weave and a satin weave. I start familiarizing with the right warp, for the right weft. I am getting better at weaving, and it starts obsessing me. I work with a fixed beginning and end. I react to Jacques’ obsession by starting my own. This is how I try to engage in a dialogue with him.
To be fully honest, I rarely ever thought of Jacques while I was weaving, but I wove twenty-four pieces while getting to peace with him. I don’t want this project to be an homage. I don’t want this book to be a judgment. I didn’t know Jacques, but I guess it would be fair to (try to) not be consciously elusive about him. Perhaps he was an asshole. Perhaps he was a dreamer. Perhaps he was a paranoiac. Perhaps he was an esoteric man. Perhaps he was a narcissist. Perhaps he was a tender man. Perhaps he had another type of legacy to pass on. It feels too easy to judge Jacques now. He is not here anymore – only his notes, folders and maps are. Making assumptions about his mental condition based on my exploration into his archive feels unethical.
However, there is a disturbing discrepancy between the overload of information I gathered on Jacques and the total disappearance of Ilse, my grandmother. If he was a wizard, then she became the witch. Jacques may have been madder than her but she is the one who was placed in a psychiatric hospital, while he was able to leave 24 archive boxes. So I weave a blank page for Ilse – to give her a posthumous voice. She deserves to exist in this publication and have a physical presence as much as Jacques.
A lot remains unanswered. I just try to let go by tightening knots, I dissolve my thoughts through making new matter. It grew into this book. It is called Sans Réponse.
– text by Marie Ilse Bourlanges, introduction for Sans Réponse publication, 2018