Sawtooth Review #19,

Bruce loves Michelle

by Tanya Bailey

This month the Portal at Sawtooth ARI took me to Paris and presented a different take on the phenomenon of the "love locks" that tourists had been attaching to the Pont des Arts bridge.
For years loved-up visitors from around the world wrote their names on padlocks to symbolise their passion, attached the locks to the wire mesh of the iconic bridge then tossed the key into the River Seine so that nothing could ever break the bond. However, such was the weight of the thousands of locks that part of the bridge began to collapse and after petitions from locals the city decided to remove the whole lot and replace the wire with Perspex.
Before the locks disappeared, a determined artist residing at the Cité Internationale des Arts taught herself (with the help of "DO IT YOURSELF internet tutorial") how to pick the locks and then undid and took as many as she could. In her own words "This demand a lot of time, exercise, skill and sensitivity".
In her video piece Bruce loves Michelle this Romanian/German artist, Oana Paula Vainer, shows herself linking together a series of love locks to form a necklace and then placing it around her neck and wearing it. It made me smile and it made me think.
This work got me thinking about tension between longevity and the ephemeral – in passion, in love, in art. As these thousands of couples engraved, painted or scribbled their names on a lock symbolic of their undying love, did they have any idea that it wasn't to last forever? Did they even consider that it may be removed by the city or even a self taught lock picking artist? Probably not.
I wondered what Stephan and Sonaly would have thought about their carefully engraved lock ending up in a necklace. Would they care anymore than the couples whose clumsily penned names had faded or rubbed off their locks would? Would they be quite pleased that at least their love symbol was not removed en masse and melted down with all the rest?
I also wondered what the artist's motivation was. Perhaps she disliked the whole love lock phenomenon and found it ugly and invasive (like so many Parisians did) and wanted to play a part in removing them. Or perhaps she wanted to save as many as she could from an ignominious end, repurpose them and give them a new kind of permanence. I kept thinking about this work for days after seeing it.
I was eventually inspired to write this review on a recent morning run as I passed under Kings Bridge here in Launceston and noticed that the street art that used to coat the bridge supports and pylons is being covered over with stark white paint. Our iconic bridge too is undergoing a transformation and a removal of works that would likely have great meaning to some people but be despised by others. While not at the same scale as the Pont des Arts, the painting of Kings Bridge also points to the tension between maintaining heritage and supporting spontaneous popular culture.
Opinions are obviously divided both here and abroad as to what is appropriate where in our cities. For a local point of view on the Parisian love lock phenomena check out Sawtooth Director Patrick Sutczak's blog from Paris. For a home viewing of Bruce loves Michelle, see the artist's website where you will also find a guide to picking love locks made by the artist (with the disclaimer that the information given in the video is for people interested in love locks, not for any kind of thieves/burglars!) http://www.oanavainer.de/bruce%20loves%20michelle.html.