Dafen is an urban village in China. It used to provide most of the oil paintings sold in the world. Its brigades of art workers copied on a large scale international museum favourites such as Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The division of labour was extreme, from workers who splashed backgrounds, to highly competent finishers for details of human figures and landscapes. The canvases were then used to decorate hotel rooms, furniture shops etc.
Dafen’s whole business model has been undermined by various adverse evolutions. Real estate costs have gone up. There’s been a trend to upgrade the art to more original works. Meanwhile, high-definition photographs are now first printed on the canvases. Oil paint is only then applied at a much lower cost and skill.
Gondorla mourns this evolution, as it has blurred the initial beauty of mass-produced copies. That was the real originality, not the current aspiration to authentic self-expression, a plague of our modern world. Renaissance or contemporary upmarket workshops with dozens of assistants working for a master genius cashing in on replicas are pale echoes of Dafen’s boldness. This urban village reached fake world domination, no small feat considering the competition.
"We clubbed a (sea lion) ; M. Collignon, our gardener, had found it asleep on the sea shore : it was in every respect similar to those on Labrador’ coasts or in Hudson’s bay. In M.
Collignon’s case, an unfortunate event followed the meeting : a rain shower caught him in the wood while he was sowing seeds from Europe, he wanted to start a fire to get dry and imprudently
used some powder to light it ; the fire passed on to the powder flask he was holding, the blast tore his thumb off, and he was so severely wounded that without the skill of M. Rollin, our
ship’s surgeon, he would have lost his arm."
Jean-François de LAPEROUSE, An Expedition Around the World Aboard the Astrolabe and the Boussole (1785-1788)
The moment Gondorla thinks he’s seen it all, or quite a lot of it, humility shakes him out of his complacency. Humility doesn’t manifest itself in a schoolmistressy way. This virtue may chide a braggart with a newspaper article. Thus The Wall Street Journal.’s Cameron McWhirter brought yesterday to a wider audience a fresh instance of an obsession as seen through Gondorla’s favourite lens.
Maybe Henry James himself wouldn’t have been surprised by this late development of one of his pet motifs.
In the recent iteration, a bunch of people are fascinated by distinctive rugs and carpets they walk on in airport lounges, hotel lobbies or offices. Rather, they can’t take their eyes off their hypnotic patterns.
Grieving fans look for pieces of the rugs after they are removed in the course of renovations, as was the case in 2015 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. They sometimes buy merchandise reminding them of their beloved carpets. During the occasional comic book convention, fellow cultists gather and march, wearing costumes echoing the patterns they mourn forever.
Gondorla approves of all loving treatment of walls and floors, as may be seen in his analogies. One fascinating dimension of the American rug and carpet movement is that its nostalgia falls flat, which corresponds to the perfect order of things. It has no other visible outcome than the elusive fun and sorrow its devotees get.
Even the manufacturer of one of the most celebrated patterns doesn’t seem to care.
As time goes by, Gondorla is increasingly unable to remember why it started in the first place and how it is organized. Realizing its own shortcomings is in no way painful, or pathetic.
Quite the contrary : even in an empty room, Gondorla would keep smiling in a rather dignified but idiotic way.
It is just withering in its own insignificance, fading like so many once-colourful wallpaper motifs - which after all may be a fairly common condition.
Welcome to a description of Gondorla's principles.
Gondorla is an imaginary object made visible by different stories. It uses them as wallpaper, pavement, or panelling.
The analogies of those stories paper the Second Nature, a disparate and ephemeral structure.
Gondorla has nothing to say about the world and how thick it is. It's a paper house, a transient shape in the world.
Its heart is a stopping place where, ideally, anyone can linger before setting out again in their lives with more energy.
"Both Savage and Moehanga himself believed European knowledge and gifts of tools would make the latter great on his return to New Zealand. But Moehanga, though brave and intelligent, did not have the status, determination and vision to make this happen. His chiefs appropriated his goods, his stories were disbelieved, and, while he did some service as a go-between (whaling captains used him as a kind of postmaster), he soon forgot most of his English, though he would not admit it. In frustration, he stole an axe from a visiting ship and was exiled by his hapu (sub-tribe.) In 1815, John Nicholas found him, verbose and importunate, getting the locals to link arms with European visitors, forming a long chain, in what he claimed was a European custom."
Making Peoples, A History of the New Zealanders, From Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century, James Belich (1996) pp 140-1
« Ni Tanjung lives in a small bedroom plunged into semi-darkness. The bedridden 85-year-old lady is too frail to stand up. (…) She enchants her nights by feverishly creating coloured figures
she draws and carefully cuts out. (…) Her work unfolds behind closed doors, born out of a centripetal force (…) »
About artist Ni Tanjung, questions to Lucienne Peiry,
« Mirabilia are to be found in abundance in Book XXXVII; but whenever Pliny refers to the marvellous virtues attributed to certain precious stones, he almost always mentions the name of
the author who guarantees dubious or outlandish facts, and implies he does not believe them. »
Eugène de Saint-Denis, an introduction (1972) to Pliny the Elder Natural History, Book XXXVII - Of Precious Stones (around AD 77)
"While I was in the Marshes (of Southern Iraq), I never tried to collect objects of archaeological interest. But once I was given a Hittite seal and another time a small piece of lead
sheeting covered in scratches that proved to be Phoenician characters. The man who gave it to me said it had been part of a huge roll which they had melted down for bullets. On a third occasion I
was taken with much secrecy into a house and shown the terracotta figure of a dog. Underneath was printed, ‘Made in Japan’."
The Marsh Arabs (1964), Wilfred Thesiger
"But it is Spain's deserts that give her the advantage; for here we find esparto grass, selenite and even luxury—in the form of pigments; here is a place where there is an incentive to toil, where slaves can be schooled, where men's bodies are hard and their hearts passionately eager."
Natural History, Book XXXVII - Of Precious Stones (around AD 77)
Pliny the Elder
(Translated by D.E. Eichholz )
Miss Ambient "had, I believe, the usual allowance of vulgar impulses: she wished to be looked at, she wished to be married, she wished to be thought original."
The Author of Beltraffio (1884),
Everybody rides their own hobby-horses.
‘I have but one more stroke to give to finish Corporal Trim's character,— and it is the only dark line in it. — The fellow lov'd to advise, — or rather to hear himself talk...’
The life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759-1767), Laurence Sterne
"'Monsieur,' said I, 'would it be indiscreet if I were to ask you the reasons for such eccentricity?'
"At these words an expression, which revealed all the pleasure which men feel who are accustomed to ride a hobby, overspread the lawyer's countenance. He pulled up the collar of his shirt with an air, took out his snuffbox, opened it, and offered me a pinch; on my refusing, he took a large one. He was happy! A man who has no hobby does not know all the good to be got out of life. A hobby is the happy medium between a passion and a monomania. At this moment I understood the whole bearing of Sterne's charming passion, and had a perfect idea of the delight with which my uncle Toby, encouraged by Trim, bestrode his hobby-horse.
La Grande Bretèche, Honoré de Balzac, 1831
(transl. Ellen Marriage and Clara Bell, 2010)