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Monday, 27 November 2017

Corbeau: We all live on the land

Perhaps my favourite book cover design of the last 10 years is Macquenoise by Pierre Liebaert published by Le Caillou Bleu. It's just sumptuous. 

Macquenoise is a book about living on the land. It's about a family. who live an austere life where violence, death and the eventual resurgence of the land is ever present

I get similar feelings from Corbeau by Anne Golazanother book about austere and rather sad rural living (Corbeau is French for raven and the book was inspired by Poe's poem of the same name). Like Macquenoise, this has a beautiful fold out cover that leads into a poetic, ungrounded textual narrative by Antoine Jaccoud that reshapes quite direct, and very grounded images to produce something that provides a metaphysical commentary on the parallels of our lives as a family and our lives on the land. And no matter where we live, we do live on the land. We can pretend otherwise or close our eyes to it. But that is where we live and what we live off. 

This is what the statement says: 

Part memoir, part tableau, Corbeau is a multi-layered narrative collage tracing life and death in the rural farm on which Swiss artist Anne Golaz grew up. Made over a twelve-year period and bridging three generations, the three-part book weaves together photographs, video stills and drawings, with texts by the author, screenwriter and playwright, Antoine Jaccoud, as well as the artist’s own writings. Jaccoud reconstructs transcripts of conversations between family members and memories recounted by the artist to build this intricate story of stories into a dramatalogical work. The protagonist of Corbeau is a young man seen in each chapter dutifully working on the farm. Gradually, however, his sense of duty appears to be instilled with doubt, a doubt that infuses the entire book.

Exploring themes of time, life, destiny and death, Corbeau – which takes its title from an enigmatic poem by Edgar Allan Poe – eludes a chronological order to picture a place in which the future is only reminiscent of the past. And where destiny is shaped in the claire-obscures nooks of childhood. In the artist’s words, the narrative construction exists ‘in a vacuum’, which tellingly offers a framework for both support and destruction. It is within such a circumscribed space that mixed feelings towards heritage arise.

Corbeau is about life and death, it is about the natural entropy and futility of our existence,  the contingincies of family life, the cycles of rural misery, and the ultimate futility of it all. Our existences are fleeting, and even the generational cycles of living on the land are fleeting. The land is eternal, the land will recover even when dead. It has an existence in and of itself. We are but temporary. 

It's about farming then. It's about landscape too in a strange way - in a strange way because there isn't really one classic landscape in there. But there doesn't have to be for it to be about landscape. It's there, implicit in its absence. Robert Liddell talked about five kinds of landscape going from the utilitarian/simple, the symbolic, the ironic,and the ironic to the 'kaleidoscope' where there is a shifting between the outside world to the world of the interior. 

That's what happens in Corbeau, with a dose of the symbolic (the landscape mirroring the chaotic state of the main players in the book) added for good measure. So Corbeau is about the dual attitudes we have to life; the emotional and the functional, and the way this is expressed in this farming industry. It's about a basic family draw to living this life, generation after generation, and the inability of the family ever to escape it. 

The pictures and the words are nostalgic in one sense, almost in a pre-nostalgic sense where there is a pleasure in imagining the nostalgia one step removed from the reality. Because as soon as you touch the reality, the nostalgia disappears in a pool of blood, or in the clamp of a hoof-clipping machine. 

The inheritance of debt, the burden of the land, the conflict between these different sides of the farming self, the self filled with love that caresses a distressed cow into calmness, is rammed up against the a self which is filled with a brutal attention that does not stray beyond an economic imperative that has been traumatised for generations. 

Corbeau deals with all of these elements and looks at the ways in which the people of the farm; the father in particular, come to terms - or fail to come to terms - with the multiple realities of their farming lives. 

It's quite a bleak book, but the words elevate into a parallel universe where the hard and cold facts of farming are somehow given an levitude that isn't really apparent. And the words are fictional, sort of. I think. I'm not quite sure. 

It's a beautiful book. 

Buy Corbeau here. 

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