Tris Vonna-Michel is a consummate storyteller. He elaborately constructs tales that he speaks aloud to listeners, in his typical face-paced speaking style, or leaves behind him in the form of clues or traces that narrate wild and incomprehensible connections between disparate things. Whatever the explicit subjects to which his voice turns (a crumbling post-industrial Detroit, an outdated 1980s film, a defunct music scene, German railways, a man named Otto Hahn, buildings ruined by aerial bombings), his actual subject isperhaps always and inescapablyhistory (with and without a capital H). And the ways history (of necessity and by definition) takes convoluted roads to get where it has gone, a bit like the artist-orator.
Quail eggs, a sinking house in England, an avant-garde poet, and a neglectful neighbor, for instance, are the protagonists of his most elaborate story to date, "In Search of Henri Chopin" (2007). In a related project, the artist worked collaboratively with curators Bart van der Heide and Caterina Riva to present an extensive collection ephemeral material by or about Henri Chopin from the late poets private archive. Chopin, a relatively obscure but important figure in the French post-war avant-garde, father of the typewriter poem, a sound and concrete poet, painter, graphic artist and typographer, independent publisher, and filmmaker was, for some years during Tris Vonna-Michells youth, his next door neighbor. The strange fact of such a figure living in proximity to the future storyteller-artist (who would also go on to use his voice as a central medium), becomes fodder for Vonna Michells imaginative narrative investigations and vocal reveries, based as always on elaborate research, fact collecting, and personal investigation.
For his project at the Jeu de Paume
, the artists first solo exhibition in Paris, Vonna-Michell will extend his ongoing research on Chopin (who died in 2008), after several months researching in Paris to find the surviving acquaintances and colleagues of the deceased poet and search for any remaining photographs, film, publications and other material attesting to Chopins prolific but largely unknown output. The resulting installation, sound and film piece will (as with most all of Vonna Michells projects) combine fact and fiction, the carefully planned and the merely coincidence, the concrete and the imagined, History (with the capital H) and interpretation (with an intimately personal touch) in what will be a search for origins of sortsof the post-war avant-garde, but also of the artist himself. The exhibitions accompanying publication will be a true artists book, including a narrative written by Vonna Michell about his practice and search for Chopin. The artists own notebooks in which he has recorded the idiosyncratic thoughts, impressions, and ideas that are the center of his narrative practice inspire the books form.