Place Ravignan and Picasso at Montmartre

Place Ravignan and Picasso at Montmartre were included in the exhibition
Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Curated by Janie Cohen and on view at the Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT
February 3 – June 21, 2015

Place Ravignon + Picasso at Montmartre in the exhibition
Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon
Fleming Museum of Art.

Place Ravignan

Place Ravignan, 2015
Research for Place Ravignan

In the process of creating these works, Karson staged and produced recordings, and also captured existing sounds online, using sites such as Google, Sounddogs, Wikipedia, and You Tube. Her vision is achieved through a broad sense of perspective, and executed in a manner similar to movie directors working with actors, editors, and sound effects. Karson’s handling of sound is also influenced by the tradition of musique concrete, which relies on the apparatus of reproduction, as well as incorporating generative compositional techniques using live software playback.

Located at the exhibition’s entrance, Place Ravignan features an audio collage housed by a vintage Cygnet horn from the Edison Fireside Phonograph. Appearing worn and weathered, this sculpture plays with our expectations of early 20th-century artifacts and the simulated presence transmitted by an audio recording. The piece depicts the physical environment that birthed Cubism and served as home to a number of luminaries of the Modernist art and literary movements. It crafts a soundscape that evokes the surroundings of Le Bateau Lavoir, Picasso’s studio in 1907, where Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was painted.

Place Ravignan imagines a walk from Picasso’s studio through the bohemian neighborhood of Montmartre. The composition is named after a small cobblestone square that faces Le Bateau Lavoir and it maps out a narrative based on incidental noises, or “found” sounds. The building was known for its dark, drafty interior and creaky floorboards, so much so that it was nicknamed for the laundry boats anchored in the Seine. In Karson’s collage we hear the warm crackling of a coal stove, cries from Minou (Picasso’s cat), steps in the hallway, a knock at the door, and the bells of Sacre-Coeur Basilica. Trotting horses and the roar of early motorcars are detected, as we mentally travel past Le Chat Nair and famed cafes, filled with lively chatter. A distorted mix of Erik Satie’s music floats through the neighborhood, punctuated by the restless murmurs of pigeons. Clinking wine glasses and dishes are heard, while a crowd’s laughter and banter intensifies.

As a vessel, the sound sculpture evokes composers such as John Cage, Annea Lockwood, and Stephen Vitiello, as it transports viewers from an interior space, inside Picasso’s studio, to that of the public and outdoors-essentially a space of social engagement. Karson’s idea of place in this work is based on a virtual and idealized site that is informed by historical and contemporary research. In this process, she consulted Google maps, a 1900 edition of the travel book Baedeker’s Paris and its Environs, and Loving Picasso-the journal of Fernande Olivier. Picasso’s mistress between 1904 and1911, Olivier is a recognizable figure from his Blue Period, Rose Period, and African Period , as well as in his Cubist work.

Laura Blereau
From the exhibition catalog Staring Back, On Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon
Fleming Museum of Art, Burlington, VT

Jenn Karson and Coberlin Brownell, two Burlington-area tech gurus with backgrounds in art, engineered the technology for Staring Back. Karson focused on sound art while earning her MFA in design and technology at the San Francisco Art Institute; she now teaches in the University of Vermont’s engineering college. For the street soundscape, she researched turn-of-the-century Parisian guidebooks, among numerous sources, then layered sounds of cathedral bells, a passing horse and cart, a cooing dove, the clink of tableware, bits of French conversation and other clips. The whole is broadcast from behind a wall-mounted 1907 Edison phonograph horn, which Karson found for the exhibit.

Amy Lilly, Art New England, May/June 2015

Place Ravignon
Jenn Karson, 2015
Found sounds, foley, created with Max/MSP
Edison Horn, ca. 1907, collection of Jenn Karson and Ken Mills
Thanks to the University of Vermont Fab Lab

Picasso at Montmartre

Still from video “Picasso at Montmartre”

(3) Picasso at Montmartre

Picasso is seen here in the cobblestone square (Place Ravignan) just outside facing his studio, a few years before he would paint Les Demoiselles. The dilapidated studio building was known as the Bateau-Lavoir, or the washing boat, a name coined by Max Jacob, a writer and friend of the artist. Standing high on the hill of Montmartre, it swayed and creaked in high winds and rain, reminding its inhabitants of the laundry boats moored in the nearby River Seine.

Beside the horn, the tech gurus created a video installation. Brownell focused on augmented reality while earning his MFA in emergent media at Champlain College in Burlington, where he now teaches. The video begins with the iconic photo of a 23-year-old Picasso standing in the square outside the dilapidated Bateau-Lavoir, which housed his studio. Slowly, the image fades to a black-and-white video collage of Karson’s engineering student impersonating Picasso against the same background, smiling knowingly.

Like the hypersonic sound installation in the next room (The Picture Was an Outrage)—where the comments are read not by actors but by locally known curators, artists and other community members—the video component is intended to “make the piece really active for the campus and broader community,” says Karson. At the same time, the team wanted the immersion experience to “avoid nostalgia.” Karson adds, “The dissonance of having that student there…it’s so true. We’re bringing ourselves to that other time period, but we’re not there.”

Amy Lilly, Art New England, May/June 2015

Picasso at Montmartre
Video installation
Coberlin Brownell and Jenn Karson, 2015
Photo: Pablo Picasso at Montmartre, Place Ravignon, ca. 1904

Special thanks to Andrew Giroux ’15 and Alan Mosser of the UVM Theater Department.


Staring Back: The Creation and Legacy of Picasso’s Desmoiselles d’Avignon

February 3 – June 21, 2015
Fleming Museum of Art
University of Vermont, Burlington VT