Karma Paradise

After Fauves, 2017, dried paint strips (I like to think this is a trace of Fauves’ exhibition which has been destroyed after the show, see link below)

A year ago, I started learning the guitar and this journey continues to feed me with inspiration and joy. Presently, I am working on two tasks: one is to learn ‘Riviera Paradise’ of the great Stevie Ray Vaughn, the second is to do a cover of the no-less iconic ‘Karma Police’ by Radiohead. Even though the two exercises are different — one mostly executive, the other, mainly creative — it is exciting to see that they overlap and assist each other. I can only hope to live long enough to master Stevie Ray Vaughn’s songs one day; as for now, it’s mostly hard! But the effort I put in studying ‘Riviera Paradise’ helps me in my approach to music composition, too. From this experience, I’ll gain tools, techniques… maybe even some style, which may reappear, who knows, in a revisited version of ‘Karma Police’.

From age eight to fifteen I had, every week, a thirty-minutes piano lesson. I am not sure how passionate I was about these classes; I remember mostly how hard it was to find the drive, or motivation to sit at the piano and practice for the next class. There were moments though, when I felt I was playing for myself, rather than to satisfy my teacher or my parents, using the piano as a tool to release from intense emotions like anger or frustration. Then, I could forget about techniques and rhythm, and play as loud and fast as I needed to. 

Being quite intuitive, I didn’t particularly like to learn rules nor follow them. This is how I still wonder if my teacher truly realised that I could hardly read the music sheets she was handing to me every time. It would have taken me ages to decipher them. Instead, I was watching her demonstrate a piece, and by memory, I could retain most of what her hands were doing, and imitate her afterwards. I wouldn’t recommend this method to everyone, but overall, I was doing okay and I managed to learn a lot of songs using the art of mimicry. Now, this technique presented a main issue: I was completely relying on my teacher’s demonstrations, which drastically limited my options.

This experience surely improved my memorizing skills, but did not help me to acquire the tools to create music. I gave up the piano, mostly because of a lack of dedication for the instrument — listening to music, however, has remained a big passion throughout my life. To my surprise, twenty-five years later, when my partner brought an electric piano back home, I could still partially play two pieces: Für Elise and Love Story. Maybe, the piano was just not the right instrument for me. 

The guitar is a different story, though. Something in this instrument attracts me in a very deep way. And this goes way back: I often had a guitar at home, but until last year, it was never played and probably not playable either. I just really loved the aesthetics of such a gorgeous rock’n-roll-looking object in the house. In the last few years though, I kept on having dreams with guitars in them. I thought it was a psychoanalytical symbol for art, but perhaps, it was a real desire to start playing. This is how I started, and now, I am hooked. I continue dreaming of guitars, but now I know why: it’s a love story

This journey also makes me realise my ultimate guitar goal: to be able to improvise. After all, we all improvise with language unconsciously while we speak as we usually don’t prepare our texts ahead of time. This ability is fascinating. From possessing a vocabulary and knowing the rules, we can play within a framework because we have a clear grid, a safety net. I can only think it must be the same for music. And it is no surprise to discover that the word improvisation originates from a music concept, meaning in Italian: to sing or compose without preparation (from Latin improviso ‘unforeseen; not studied or prepared beforehand’).

Naturally I am drawn to improvisation, as it carries a perfume of freedom while not being a complete creation. Indeed, to improvise is to create by composing with what we are, in the ‘now’. I like this idea. It relates very much to my previous art installations. For example, Fauves (2014) is an in-situ installation which was created inside the vestiges of an abandoned cosmetic laboratory. The building had been deserted, but not emptied, leaving some interesting elements to work with. When entering the space, I had no real idea or plan of what to do there, so I focused on revealing the place, rather than concealing it. Breaking a few walls and reshaping the ceiling uncovered different layers of the history of the building. 

Day by day, for three months, I mainly improvised with what I had at hand, trusting the journey. I decided to keep and transform the neglected objects still in place — like the industrial crane and its cage — and to create a new environment for them. I repainted them in pastel pink and minty green, and as a result, the industrial machines lost their functionalities, becoming absurd objects. I was interested in using painting not as a masking tool, but as an instrument to expose new possibilities. The choice of pastel colours emphasized the irony of the situation, where it made no sense to try to operate huge machines looking like frozen candies.

Now that I think of improvisation, it also reminds me of the many flats I lived in, and the pleasure I found in keeping the spirit of the place by hanging my frames on the exact same nails as the previous tenant, while adding a few new ones.

Love, Ethel

> see more infos, images and catalogue of Fauves (2014) here