Sunday 15 February 2009

The Art of Decay

Crossing an iron bridge over the disused Petite Ceinture railway line I meet a young gymnast offering a grotesque, weather-beaten form. Missing a head and a foot and dripping papier maché flesh on to the bridge below, she is still desperately hanging on to her hoop, terrified that if she lets go she'll collapse and be washed away in the rain. How carefully she has chosen this place to slowly decay, above a railway line that has not been in operation for over 70 years.

Several steps further down I see that the girl has a twin, a sister who chose a more protected spot beneath a tree and who still has all her members. She has a hand over her eyes, looking out towards the trains that never arrive. How long have these girls been waiting here through cold winter days and nights, twisting and spinning and arched at painful angles?

We are used to seeing art in pristine condition, protected from heat and light and restored back to its original state, but should art not also have a natural lifespan? How can something be said to live if it cannot die? Here in a natural environment, these sculptures have gone from perfect, white sun-touched shapes in summer to ghostly almost lifeless forms in winter, but it is now that their true message can be understood.

Alongside, steel tracks are frozen into silence. These lines were put into place in 1854, a monumental effort that involved the digging out of long strips of cuttings and the construction of hundreds of metres of tunnels. This line, which is coiled around the city like the girls' hoops, was initially successful but was rapidly rendered obsolete by the arrival of the bus, the Metro and the motor car. In 1930 it was found to represent only 1% of all passenger transport in the city and was swiftly shut down.

The line remains in place, absurdly maintained and ready to resume service, but this would be an expensive solution and of use to nobody. The original stations have been sold, and today house upmarket bars and restaurants, whilst offices and hotels (the Mama Shelter, pictured above) use the decor as a backdrop of fashionable industrial bohemia.

The girls and the train track continue their silent spirals, waiting for the revolution that will take them back to the past. If both were restored back to their original condition, would either be as beautiful as they are today? Sometimes we should just let things die so that they can finally begin to live again.


Peter (the other) said...

Ouch. The beauty of decay, and most particularly, of our artistic or industrial creations, ever reminding that "all is vanity". I think I have heard/read of another tram line idea that might utilize a part of the Petit Ceinture.

PeterParis said...

Well part of the old lines (and a few stations) are of course in operation for the RER. I have slowly started to take photos of what still can be seen of the Petite Ceinture and maybe one day I will try to make a rather complete post. This line and the stations fascinate me!

Somehow I wonder why the tracks could not be used for the tram lines that are now further developed? But there seems to be some good reasons.

Adam said...

Hello Peter...and Peter!

These are the people who seem to act as a pressure group to turn it into a tramway. As I said in the post though, I really don't think there would the demand for it as it doesn't link to any Metro station. Personally, I would rather see it left to become wild, or as wild as we let things get in a city (probably including a footpath).

Anonymous said...

Where is the petit ceinture located?

Gina V said...

It is surprising that the two "girls" have not been further vandalized or stolen...yet! How long have they been there?
[Sometimes only the vagaries of age and the elements can effect a more sublime beauty on certain art, architecture and of course, nature!]

Adam said...

Hello Daniel

Here is a map of the Petite Ceinture but I'm not sure how well you know Paris and how familiar these names will be to you. I took these photos near the Parc de Belleville at a point where it goes into a tunnel. It then comes out again on the other side of the Parc de Buttes Chaumont. At other places, it goes overground too, on a bridge over the Bassin de la Villette for example.

ArtSparker said...

Haven't they turned some railway lines in London into parks of sorts? Maybe time to do that here. The decaying statues are wonderful, they are like Edward Gorey drawings.

edward said...

a very thoughtful essay, Adam.

Starman said...

Here is a picture I took of la Petite Ceinture from Avenue de Choisy in the 13e:

PeterParis said...

Yes, to let it go "wild" is probably the reasonable solution; as is already the case for some parts.

Adam said... is the case in Starman's wonderful photo! He caught it at its greenest, with thick foliage everywhere whilst I only got the bare winter version!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Twitter Instagram Write Bookmark this page More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Premium Wordpress Themes