I decided to write this post some three or four weeks ago, whilst on holiday in France, but have only just gotten around to uploading it. Just before I went away, I started helping a friend with a jigsaw puzzle and I loved it. Then on holiday, I decided to start another one – something about the solitary focus and obsessive working out of the puzzle really satisfied a part of my mind. And at the same time I started reading Georges Perec’s ‘Life A User’s Manual’, which I originally started reading almost 5 years ago. Described on the cover as “an eccentric, madly ambitious scene to display all life at once” this isn’t an easy read. Hence I’ve been reading it (if sporadically) for several years, and will continue to do so for many more to come. The book is essentially a description of every room and its contents and inhabitants, of an entire Paris apartment block. Jigsaws seem to be a bit of a theme, with one of the narratives concerning an eccentric English millionaire who has devised the following to be his life’s project:
“For ten years, from 1925 to 1935. Bartlebooth would acquire the art of painting watercolours [by having a private lesson for one hour every single day].
For twenty years. From 1935 to 1955, he would travel the world, painting, at a rate of one watercolour each fortnight, five hundred seascapes of identical format (royal, 65cm x 65cm) depicting seaports. When each view was done he would dispatch it t o a specialist craftsman (Gaspard Winkler), who would glue it to a thin wooden backing board and cut it into a jigsaw puzzle of seven hundred and fifty pieces.
For twenty years, from 1955 to 1975, Bartlebooth, on his return to France, would reassamble the jigsaw puzzles in order, at a rate, once again, of one puzzle a fortnight. As each puzzle was finished, the seascape would be “retexturised” so that it could be removed from its backing, returned to the place where it had been painted – twenty years before – and dipped in a detergent solution whence would emerge a clean and unmarked sheet of Whatman paper.”
And now I remember that a few weeks before I’d even started the jigsaw puzzle, I’d been in my studio working out a new performance and had thought to myself how like a jigsaw it can be – the combining and placing of elements, the scoring of time, the look and the feel of a piece. Everything has its place, it can just take a little while to figure out exactly where it is. (Likewise with moving a lot of stuff into a big new house).