A new constraint: the 12 cm exhibition

aaaaJust a week before Christmas, on the 18th December, took place the preview of the « 12 cm » exhibition, in Pasaia, Spanish Basque Country. It was the 20th anniversary for the « 12 cm » project, and I was very honoured to have been invited to participate. More than 170 artists from several countries were taking part. Quite a big show, and also a great and friendly ambiance.

aaaaAfter Paisai, the second leg of the exhibition is taking place in Hendaye, in the French Basque Country from 25 January to 15 February.

I presented the two works I created following the constraint: the sides of each work could not measure more than 12 cm !

Both works are very different as I wanted to explore various possibilities given by the constraint itself.



The first one I show here is based on my previous proposal for Cities after Hours, the dark city created after Olivier Salon’s poem Cri printanier. I used the same materials to create another city contained inside a 12 cm box. This allowed me to create a different effect of perspective thanks to a contained and constrained depth. I also used my signs differently as here they are not evocations of the letters in a poem anymore but reminders of a modern-day city’s graffiti.

After exploring perspective and depth, my second work was a research on volume.



Here again, I took inspiration on a previous and much bigger installation, 60 roses I presented at the Franco-Chinese Cultural Festival in Chengdu a few years ago. My roses, made in India paper and covered with my signs were inspired in the porcelain roses that Madame de Pompadour ordered from the Royal Sèvres factory as a present for Louis XV. Inside the 12 cm space created by the constraint I managed to place three roses, all different as one was adorned with thin signs, another with much bigger ones, and the other, which already had different signs was also partially painted with red ink. As roses are in Western tradition the symbol of love, the signs transform each flower into a little love poem.

This new constraint of 12 cm gave me the possibility to continue exploring new intercultural spaces and go further in the aesthetic experiments started with the Leverhulme Trust project.


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It has been a while



Festival of Art Slade School, UCL, 2015

It has been a while. The opening of the exhibition at UCL was just two days before our « Artists in Residence » presentation at the May Festival of the
Arts, where I gave a short talk about my residency.


Marcel Benabou, Ucl, 2015


Then those who couldn’t make it on the opening day requested special
tours and I was really happy to oblige! Most notably the Oulipian writer Marcel Benabou came to see what I did with his Cats.


Time was running but I managed to film Ross Tomlinson performing passages of Paul Fournel’s Need for the bike, and I also started the editing of the interviews. And then, I had to pack and move back to Paris!

I tried to give as much news as possible on my Facebook page  where I posted photos of the vernissage, Marcel’s visit, Ross on a bike and the epic packing …




12 cm.

Now, after a well-deserved vacation, I am back in Paris. But I had little time to rest, as I was invited to participate in an exhibition in the Basque Country. It’s called “12 cm” and the idea is to propose two works measuring no more than 12 cm. A new constraint to play with.

I am going there next week and will write soon with more news.


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Cities After Hours – 13th May 2015

May was a hectic month, full of exciting events and I am just now starting to recover! I was so busy, I had no time to write about what was going on and chose to put as many pictures as possible on Facebook instead. But now I can sit at my desk and give a proper account of the events I have been taking part in.

The first big thing I have been working on in the winter was a piece Cities After Hourses colloquiumfor the “Cities After Hours” Colloquium, organised by Ruth Austin at the French Department in collaboration with UCL’s Urban Lab that took place the 13th May. The conference gathered specialists of different areas to talk about the city at night. I was part of the first panel on art in/about the city.

I was very honoured when Ruth Austin suggested that I participated with a work of my own. It was a great opportunity to show one of my Oulipo inspired pieces to an audience not familiar with the Oulipo, and a real struck of luck as I was already interested in “doing something” with Olivier Salon’s poem Cri Printanier (Call of Spring), an antonymy of Paul Verlaine’s very famous Chanson d’Automne (Autumn Song). Salon transformed Verlain’s poem changing each word to it’s opposite, like when he replaced “chanson” (song) by “cri” (cry).

Verlaine’s poem describes the melancholic mood of the narrator strolling in a city. As melancholy is traditionally associated with darkness and solitude, it was perfect for “Cities After Hours”.


Installation Margarita Saad

For my artistic work I used two Oulipian games. The first one involved I.T sofwares, Google and Systran to translate Salon’s poem. I then made Google translate Systran’s translation and I translated again the new translation with Systran this time. I did it once and once again.

Oulipo, art work

mix media, 180 X 60 X 10, 2015

I wanted to see the differences and the transformations brought to the materiality of the text by the series of translations. For that I used a second Oulipian game which comprised painting each line of the poem in black in each of the translations I obtained. This created the landscape of a city. For that I only needed to rotate these black blocks/verses by 90°. The result is what you can see here, in the picture: a city skyline silhouette at nighttime.


You can get more information on “Cities After Hours” here:


Sam  Nightingale did the HistoryPin for the colloquium. It helps identify some of the locations and themes that researchers presented and gives you more links and information on their papers or works.

Listen the presentations here:

Oulipo, art work

mix media, 180 X 60 X 10, 2015

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May 18th 2015 at 6.30PM the actor Ross Tomlinson will read several texts by Oulipo writers

This Monday, at the exhibition opening,

Actor Ross Tomlinson

Actor Ross Tomlinson

the actor Ross Tomlinson

will read several texts by Oulipo writers:

Marcel Benabou’s Les Chats (as well as Baudelaire’s poem), extracts from Paul Fournel’s Need of the bike and Hervé le Tellier’s Electrico W.

I am delighted that Ross, who is also a student at the French Department, has agreed to participate!

Not only is he a very good actor, but his French is brilliant, and he will be reading in French and English.

This was a major issue as the project is all about the differences between both languages, and it also makes it easier for the audience to understand what Oulipo writing is about and how I worked on the translations of the texts.

I hope you can all come and join us!


Vernissage Monday May 18th at 6pm.

Foster Court

Room 131

Department of French

University College London


Foster Court

Foster Court

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Between the Lines : Prof. Timothy Mathews

Professor Timothy Mathews, who I’m working with at UCL, runs Between the Lines. The series explores translation through interviews with writers, translators and critics. You can listen to the podcasts here:

Between the Lines : 

These conversations are fascinating for anyone who is interested in artistic creation and literature, as one of Timothy Mathews’ main areas of interest is the translation of image into word(s) and text(s).       


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« Les Chats » 2: Dr. Patterson’s translation

One of the great things about this project is I get to meet new people and form unexpected collaborations.

Last year, when I was preparing for this project, I went to see Dr Ian Patterson in Cambridge. A Fellow of Queen’s College, Dr Patterson teaches modern literature and is also a translator.

We talked about Les Chats (The Cats), a poem by Marcel Benabou. In this very Oulipian text, Benabou used a constraint called alexandrin greffé: the « grafted », or « transplanted » alexandrine (see previous post). A very common feature of classical French poetry, the alexandrine is made up of two six-syllable units, each called a hemistich. This constraint involves replacing the second hemistich of each line of a well-known poem with hemistichs from other poems, all different. In this case, Benabou used Baudelaire’s poem of the same name as the base (the first half of each line) and then « borrowed » verses from Mallarmé, Victor Hugo and Ronsard, among others.

Ian Patterson had offered to translate this « grafted », or « transplanted » poem, and a few weeks ago I wrote to him asking if he was still interested. To my delight, 24 hours later I received a fantastic translation in my mailbox! Ian Patterson has allowed me to publish it in this blog, together with a key identifying the « grafted » hemistichs. Have a look at everything he sent me just below!

Many thanks to Theano Petrou for her help with the English version of this text


Ian Patterson

As this Oulipo version, technically an ‘Interference’ with the Baudelaire original, uses fragments of Baudelaire, Hugo, Ronsard, Racine, Lamartine and others to form the second hemistich of each alexandrin, I’ve used a similar range of English poets (see marked copy), many taken from the Golden Treasury, as that was for a long time the most widely-read anthology of English poems. In line five, I’ve put my inserted hemistich in the first place, rather than the second: otherwise I’ve followed the source text pattern. For a key to my sources, see below.



Marcel Bénabou

Passionate lovers of full many a glorious morn

Are equally attached even to the zenith’s height

To silky cats and cats whose coat or ear were torn

Because they’re sensitive shrouded in deadly night

Close bosom friends of thought and of Pasiphaé

They seek out silence and la Belle Dame Sans Merci

Erebus might have claimed them when they’re old and grey

If they had deigned to look to darkness and to me

Stretched out asleep they dream with more than flinty rage

Of the great sphinxes seen by the dying of the light

Which seem to fall asleep upon a poet’s page

Their fertile loins are full when all the woods are green

And particles of gold drawn from the black bat night

Sparkle in their eyes and leave the world unseen.

trans Ian Patterson, 19-20 March 2015



William Shakespeare

Percy Bysshe Shelley

T.S.Eliot (almost)

Thomas Campion
John Keats

John Keats


Thomas Gray
Thomas Campion

Dylan Thomas

Thomas Hardy

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

John Keats

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