On Saturday May 6th at 8:30pm, the Macareux in Paris will be hosting the first Paris performance of the Invisible Bordeaux live sp...

First Paris performance of the Shuman Show on Saturday May 6th!

On Saturday May 6th at 8:30pm, the Macareux in Paris will be hosting the first Paris performance of the Invisible Bordeaux live spin-off, the Shuman Show!

Loyal readers will be familiar with the Shuman Show, a words-and-music extravaganza that has been developed around a subject covered on the blog: Mort Shuman. The 75-minute show provides samples of the music Shuman wrote throughout his career, interspersed with a number of anecdotes that not only connect to tell the full story, but add extra layers of understanding to the songs themselves. Above all, the Shuman Show is great fun.

So, if you live in Paris or can find some way of getting there, then make sure you're at the Macareux on May 6th. Alternatively, if you have friends or acquaintances in the city, urge them to come along!

And, after a number of performances in and around Bordeaux, it is apt that Paris should be the next stop for the Shuman Show, given Mort Shuman's longstanding love affair with the city. To complete the picture, I now need to set up dates in Shuman's other "hometowns", London and New York! To be continued!...

Here is everything you need to know about the Paris date:
> Saturday May 6th 2017 at 8:30pm, Le Macareux, rue du Croissant, Paris 2e.
> Admission: €10 on the night (free for children).
> Please register your attendance via the Googleform here.  
> Full introduction to the Shuman Show available here.

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Like many blogs, Invisible Bordeaux has also developed its presence on social media channels including Twitter , Facebook and Youtube ....

Bordeaux life through a lens: my favourite local Instagram accounts

Like many blogs, Invisible Bordeaux has also developed its presence on social media channels including Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. And one of the essential outlets used to promote blog items and share random pictures as and when the opportunities arise is Instagram.  

There are many talented people feeding Instagram, and some happen to be based in Bordeaux. I thought I would share links through to a few of my personal favourite accounts: these are the Instagram people whose publications I look forward to, and whose camera (or smartphone) lenses never fail to capture the city from an unusual or unexpected perspective. If you want to see pictures of the Miroir d’Eau and Place de la Bourse, there are plenty of sources, but if you want to view Bordeaux differently, check out these accounts:

It is difficult to pack more depth and perspective into Instagram posts than Amélie seems to manage. She captures a timeless vision of Bordeaux with people occasionally passing through. She also has a great eye for unusual exteriors and enjoys playing with reflections.  
Pictured below: “Allez hop, c'est parti les enfants !”

Eric’s territory branches out beyond Bordeaux to include le Médoc, Arcachon Bay and beyond. His work is 100% smartphone photography and features some recurring characters: a little toy superhero who ends up in various situations, and Eric himself, invariably captured mid-jump. 
Pictured below: “#rickyworld_jump #pontchabandelmas”


Jean-Christophe mixes and matches techniques and styles, and is at his best in urbex settings surrounded by skateboarders, cyclists and parkour enthusiasts. His pictures are as full of life as they are varied.
Pictured below: “| Le parkour adolescent | 2/3”


This account, led by Bordeaux Walking Tours owner Hela, has developed nicely over recent months. The pictures uncover surprising and unexpected spots throughout the city, and often come with interesting, informative added-value captions.
Pictured below: “Palais de la Bourse banquet hall.”


Another account fed by a tour guide, Caroline, and another account that is not afraid to go off the beaten track. The pictures are so well-balanced they could almost be oil paintings.
Pictured below: “Sun in the "roman" part of Bordeaux Cathedral.”

University lecturer Lesley provides a delightful take on her adopted home city. Many of her pictures capture early-morning/early-evening scenes from her commute, providing an accurate portrayal of what it is really like to live and work in Bordeaux.
Pictured below: “Leaving work on a Friday evening.”

Greg’s feed features a lot of the city’s essential landmarks, always in style and often with a surprising twist. He also ventures further afield and clearly has a lot of fun playing with colour and light.
Pictured below: “Du plus petit au plus grand...”

Rachel is a professional photographer who uses Instagram to showcase her work. Her pictures are sharp, well-constructed, and the Bordeaux on display here is neat and elegant, albeit with the occasional rough edge.


Gilles is an accomplished photographer. Although not the most prolific contributor on Instagram, what he shares is charming and often unusual. He has an eye for hidden details and will also go looking for angles which most people would never think of!
Pictured below: “#coucou #garonne”

The watchyou_bordeaux account is managed by a collective of Instagram users, who select #wu_bordeaux hashtagged pictures of Bordeaux posted by a variety of users. The approaches and subjects are eclectic, but as a gallery the watchyou_bordeaux feed provides one of the most dynamic and inspiring overviews of the city.
Pictured below: a shot by @7cmosaique as featured by watchyou_bordeaux.

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Invisible Bordeaux came across an unexpected delight when out and about on a recent assignment, for tucked away above the remna...

Jardin des Remparts: Bordeaux’s secret garden on the old city walls

Invisible Bordeaux came across an unexpected delight when out and about on a recent assignment, for tucked away above the remnants of the old city walls is the small but perfectly-formed Jardin des Remparts, another contender for Bordeaux’s “Best Kept Secret” award! 

Although seemingly rich in history, as a public garden the story is a recent one: the Jardin des Remparts, in its current form, was first opened to the general public by the city council in December 2013. This development was a by-product of a campaign called Bordeaux [Re]Centres, the local application of a nationwide project to revitalise run-down areas in city centres. The latter went by the delightful, easy-to-remember name of PNRQAD (Plan national de requalification des centres anciens dégradés).

The 2013 breakthrough followed on from initial efforts to bring the place to life in 2010, led by a local association poetically known as “Le Bruit du Frigo”. They held various happenings here in an area that was, in essence, little-used land that was split between the student housing organisation CROUS and the vocational training establishment ERP Robert Lateulade (the city council has gained the right to use the State-owned ground and will, in time, fully acquire the property). Prior to that, the area was part of a convent, le Couvent des Capucins.

The garden’s most notable characteristic though is that it stretches along the old city walls ("les remparts"), as hinted at when looking at the long, linear stone wall which separates the Jardin from neighbouring houses (as pictured above). By one of the two entrances to the garden (where there are currently temporary metal staircases, set to be replaced by permanent steps sometime soon), a surviving section of the 14th-century wall is fully exposed. At garden level, there are even traces of the old artillery terrace and parapet walk.

Top: remnants of the old city wall by the eastern entrance to the park. Bottom: traces of what must have been a doorway to and from the parapet walk, or else a sentry post.
The remainder of the 3,400-square-metre park is suitably low-fi and yet neat and pleasant. A pretty row of plane trees is broken up by the occasional bench and, more surprisingly, a small shrine or oratory, no doubt a survivor of the area's convent past. Looking closely, a Latin inscription can just about be made out at its base. The text reads “Filioli mei, quos iterum parturio, donec formetur Christus in vobis”. With a little help from Twitter, and more specifically the good people at the Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), this was identified as being a bible verse, Galatians 4:19, the King James translation being “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you”.

The oratory and the old steps which led down to the courtyard.
The fenced-off remains of a stone staircase lead down from the oratory to the courtyard of today’s vocational training establishment, although it is easy enough to imagine the scene being that of the 17th-century convent. Down at that lower level, some serious street art now adorns a wall that forms a bit of a dead end for visitors. As I take a photo of the wall, a dog runs up to the wall and starts performing for the camera before heading back up to join its master and his fellow dog-walkers.

I believe the dog's name was Watson. Elementary.
For it turns out that the Jardin des Remparts is a meeting point for the local dog-owning community (although I must say that, having read an article over at the brilliantly-named thetropicaldog.com, I was indeed expecting to encounter some canine friends). It is still early on a Sunday morning, but a group of dog-walkers have assembled towards the middle of the 100-metre promenade. And while I’m in the vicinity, a further gentleman and his two greyhounds arrive only to be gently told off for being 20 minutes late for the appointment!

I carefully make my way past the playful dogs and exchange a few niceties with one of the owners. We generally comment on how pleasant the Jardin is, but she quickly adds that it can only remain that way if people respect it. I ask her to explain what she means and she mentions that the place is often littered with the remains of food left by people passing through. And, in one corner, I do indeed spot some rogue beer bottles and wrappers that really shouldn’t be there. This is obviously a place that the locals have quickly warmed to and that is not be messed with; you get a feeling that the park is a natural extension of their habitat.
Views from the Jardin.
Finally, I make use of this unusual raised vantage point to take in a few sights that I’ve never before viewed from this angle: the spire of Saint-Michel church, the roof of the recently-renovated Marché des Douves building, and the exterior of the old convent chapel that lies within the grounds of the CROUS, a place which seems to be out-of-bounds but which can, apparently, occasionally be visited. I also spot an unusual, enigmatic white dome, which I think is pictured on the ERP Robert Lateulade's website here.

My time in the Jardin des Remparts has come to an end but I just know I’ll be back. I have a feeling the next time I’m in amongst the hustle and bustle of the Saint-Michel district or the Capucins market, surely among the liveliest and most energetic of the city's neighbourhoods, I will be only too proud to guide whoever is with me back towards the city’s secret garden on the old city walls, to enjoy a quiet walk in amongst the local dog population!

> Note: at this point in time, the Jardin des Remparts can only be reached via metal staircases on rue Marbotin and rue des Douves. Disabled access will reportedly be added in the future. 
> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Jardin des Remparts, rue Marbotin/rue des Douves, Bordeaux.
> Extra special thanks to Association Régionale des Enseignants de Langues Anciennes de l'académie de Bordeaux (@Arelabor), contacted via Émilie Bordographe, for help in deciphering and identifying the Latin inscription on the oratory. Thanks also to Alan Davey who was in touch too!
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français !  

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In the Sainte-Croix district, which lies mid-way between the Saint-Michel quarter and Saint-Jean railway station, there are a number of...

The abbey, the fountain, the wall and the statues: the sights of Sainte-Croix

In the Sainte-Croix district, which lies mid-way between the Saint-Michel quarter and Saint-Jean railway station, there are a number of unusual sights to take in. Here is the Invisible Bordeaux guide to four of those sights, bearing in mind that they are all interconnected in many ways.

Sainte-Croix church 

This magnificent church was originally an abbey that formed part of a Benedictin monastery whose roots can be traced back to the 7th century. As with many churches, sections have been added over the course of time: the right-hand bell tower dates back to the 12th century, whereas the left-hand bell tower is a relatively recent addition, conceived as it was in the 19th century by the architect Paul Abadie, who we have already encountered on the blog and who is perhaps best-known as the man behind the famous Sacré-Coeur church on the heights of Montmartre in Paris. 

The exterior is a remarkable succession of impressive details, such as the hundreds of individual carved figures above the main door. And I’ve always been a bit of a fan of the sculpture of Saint George slaying the dragon, which can be spotted over to the left-hand side of the main façade.

One of the most characteristic features of the church is its organ. It was originally installed in the 1740s by one of the abbey’s monks, one Dom Bedos de Celles. The organ was considered to be so good that, in 1812, the archbishop of Bordeaux decided he wanted it to be moved to the city’s cathedral. A straightforward “organ swap” and each church installed the other’s organ, as it were (other than the cabinets, which remained in place). In the 1970s, the cathedral decided to commission a new organ and the original Dom Bedos creation was transferred back to Sainte-Croix in 1984. The move as overseen by organ specialists Pascal Quoirin, who meticulously followed instructions drafted by Dom Bedos 250 years earlier. The relocation was a success and is regarded as a milestone event in the recent history of organs!

Sainte-Croix fountain (also known as Fontaine des Bénédictins)

In the grounds behind the church, known as Square Dom Bedos, a Baroque style dressed stone fountain which is now dry can be spotted, its twin staircases leading down to the basin which lies below ground level. It was first installed here in 1735 by another group of Benedictin monks, who were decidedly productive during that period! The fountain was listed as an historic monument in 1890, the year after the nearby abbey monastery building was converted, by architect Alphonse Ricard, into the city’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts.

The fountain is a veritable work of art, with various carved figures to take in, a pair of rather magnificent columns, the word “pax” prominently displayed towards the top, and a pleasing sense of symmetry that wouldn’t look out of place in the grounds of a royal residence. The piece is topped off by a shell-shaped motif. The fountain’s main initial purpose was to embellish the old city wall which ran alongside the grounds of the monastery, and that is our next stop.

Remnants of the old city walls

Over the course of its history, Bordeaux has gradually expanded, and in medieval times the fortified city walls had to be revised and rebuilt to keep up with the city’s outward evolution. The section of wall that can be viewed here is referred to as Bordeaux’s “troisième enceinte”, in other words the third-generation city wall. It was erected between 1302 and 1307 at a time when Bordeaux was under English rule. So, in a way, this is a little bit of England in Bordeaux!

Looking at it today, it is not too difficult to imagine archers positioned on the wall, their heads peering above the parapet to protect the city from intruders. On the city side of the wall, doors are positioned either side of the fountain. What could possibly be behind those doors? Another section of the “troisième enceinte” city wall can be found just a few hundred metres away. Invisible Bordeaux will be shortly investigating the subject, another one of the city’s hidden gems! 

École des Beaux-Arts

We finish up outside the École des Beaux-Arts, the city’s fine arts college. Within the grounds, near to the aforementioned fountain, a fine wrought iron gate can be admired. It is among the features retained by Alphonse Ricard when he overhauled the building ahead of the educational establishment moving in. Another door also proudly displays the word “pax”, a carved legend from the Benedictin monks’ era that has stood the test of time. But perhaps the most surprising exhibits are to be found outside the main entrance to the Ecole, where several pieces are on display and used by students for their artistic projects. To visitors, it feels more like walking into an archaeologist’s dream.

There is an elegant frontispiece that was originally designed to end up on Place de la Bourse, sculpted by Claude Francin, whose work does indeed grace the buildings on Bordeaux’s most picture postcard-friendly square. And there are four statues, referred to as the “muses” which stand atop the Grand-Théâtre. So what is the story there? Are they replicas? Originals that became damaged and were replaced? Whatever, it’s fascinating to be able to have a closer look at these figures which are the direct counterparts of the opera house’s statues that can only really be viewed from ground level and therefore from a certain distance.

> Find them on the Invisible Bordeaux map: Sainte-Croix church, Sainte-Croix fountain and city wall, École des Beaux-arts. 
> NB: Square Dom-Bedos (where the fountain is located) is only open daytime until 6pm and is closed at weekends.   

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Hundreds of sculpted masks, or “ mascarons ” (from the Italian “ mascherone ”), can be seen on the exteriors of buildings in Bordeaux. ...

New video: the 'mascarons' on Place de la Bourse

Hundreds of sculpted masks, or “mascarons” (from the Italian “mascherone”), can be seen on the exteriors of buildings in Bordeaux. On the 18th-century façades of Place de la Bourse, one of the city's most emblematic squares, there are 86 such mascarons to be spotted, 55 on the square proper while the others are on the waterfront façades of the buildings that flank the square.

Each and every mascaron seems to have its own unique personality, although some do seem to be eerily similar... and to make life easier for you, all the Place de la Bourse mascarons feature in this short clip! There are mascarons that represent ancient gods or mythological figures, others which are symbols of the city's slave trade past, and others still that depict bygone Bordeaux dignitaries.

So sit back, relax, enjoy the clip and then hop on a tram to view them all for yourself!

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A blog such as Invisible Bordeaux is, in essence, a linear compilation of content with articles stacked up in chronological order, with ...

You are here: browse the Invisible Bordeaux map!

A blog such as Invisible Bordeaux is, in essence, a linear compilation of content with articles stacked up in chronological order, with the most recent items given priority homepage treatment. 

But don't forget that there is another way of browsing subjects: by consulting the Invisible Bordeaux map! It includes literally hundreds of pinned locations in and around Bordeaux (and one in Canada), all of which feature photos, a brief description and a link to the related blog item. 

So get scrolling and spot the unusual sights that are to be seen. You can click through to the Invisible Bordeaux map here, and if you're viewing this page in a standard internet browser, it should also appear as if by magic in a window below. Enjoy!

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Bordeaux’s wartime history remains an opaque affair. Throughout that dark period, the city was the scene of many events, some of which ...

Le Juif et la France: when the anti-Semitic propaganda exhibition came to wartime Bordeaux

Bordeaux’s wartime history remains an opaque affair. Throughout that dark period, the city was the scene of many events, some of which were of huge strategic significance, some proved dramatic, others inspirational, while others stand out as particularly unsavoury when viewed from a 21st-century vantage point. One such example of the latter is an exhibition entitled “Le Juif et la France” hosted at the city hall over six weeks.

Outside the Palais Berlitz event in Paris,
photo source: www.cndp.fr
The context is well-documented: in late 1940, the Vichy regime began implementing a policy aimed at excluding Jews from any kind of role in the community. Jews found themselves being rejected from positions in all walks of life, from the civil service to education, press and the cinema industry. This policy facilitated the radical plans deployed by the Nazis to deport and exterminate Jews with a view to enacting their so-called “Final Solution”. 

To gain widespread public support among France’s non-Jewish population, the regime resorted to various propaganda drives that stigmatised Jews. These initiatives included the Le Juif et la France exhibition which was first held at Palais Berlitz on the boulevards in Paris from September 5th 1941 to January 15th 1942. The exhibition was organised by IEQJ, the Institut d’Études des Questions Juives, a body which was financed by the German embassy in France and overseen by Nazi security and propaganda services.

The exhibition sought to highlight the stronghold that Jews had secured within institutions and economic sectors throughout France. In addition, to help citizens become more effective in recognising the “enemy”, the exhibition provided a beginners’ guide to the physical features of Jews. It also went beyond these stereotypes to point fingers at emblematic individuals who were showcased on large panels, such as the furniture seller Wolff Lévitan, radio journalist Jean-Michel Grunebaum, playwright Henri Bernstein and the politician Léon Blum.

Some of the displays from the Paris leg of the exhibition, picture sources:
aufildelhistoire.u.a.f.unblog.fr, parisenimages.fr and voir-et-transmettre.fr
Reported attendance figures for the four-month run in Paris vary wildly; estimates range from 155,000 to 500,000 visitors! But it is generally thought that after initial success, interest soon waned as locals grew wary of what they were being fed. The time had come for the exhibition to relocate to the provinces and the plan was to hold it in ten other cities throughout France. In the end, it travelled to just two: Nancy and Bordeaux.

Significantly, the Bordeaux event was held in a wing within the grounds of the city hall, where the Musée des Beaux-Arts can now be found. The building had already served a similar purpose in May 1941, when it hosted an exhibition entitled “L’Allemagne de nos jours”, aimed at raising awareness about German culture and industry, its centerpiece being a bust of Adolf Hitler surrounded by a colourful hydrangea bed.

The Bordeaux leg of the Juif et la France exhibition opened on March 28th 1942 and ran for six weeks until May 11th (the Nancy event later stretched from July 4th to August 2nd). Again, it is difficult to establish reliable attendance figures but it is thought that over 60,000 viewed the exhibition in Bordeaux, including children from all local schools. The IEQJ's short-lived official publication, Le Cahier Jaune, later saluted the figure, equating it to 20% of the 300,000 living in and around Bordeaux at the time.

Along with the static exhibits, a makeshift cinema was set up under canvas in the gardens of the hôtel de ville, showing films including “Le Péril Juif” and “Les Corrupteurs”, and no less than three conferences were held each week.

The "cinéma permanent" and the same scene today.
The entrance to the exhibition (as also pictured in the lead photo at the top of the article), and the view today.
Reporting on the exhibition, local newspaper La Petite Gironde (whose allegiances lay firmly with German forces) related that those “forty days sufficed for our fellow citizens to take stock of the Jewish threat. In criminal enquiries it was hitherto customary to seek out the implication of a woman. We now know that when studying the causes of all misery, bankruptcy, financial disasters, scandals and war, we have to seek out the Jews”. Whether the message taken home by the people of Bordeaux was that clear-cut cannot easily be established, but the exhibition undeniably contributed to the climate that ultimately resulted in hundreds of Bordeaux Jews being rounded up and deported over the following months.

A closer look at the disturbing illustration that promoted
the exhibition. Source: http://paril.crdp.ac-caen.fr
What can be said about the involvement of local authorities? According to the writers of the authoritative biography of the mayor of Bordeaux at the time, Adrien Marquet (see footnote), the very fact that the city hall hosted the event demonstrated that the mairie was prepared to help channel the propaganda drive. Marquet (whose chequered legacy has long been earmarked as a future Invisible Bordeaux subject) certainly did not object to the event being held, although he kept a conspicuously low profile when it came to appearing at official functions, instead sending his deputy Robert Poplawski to the inauguration in his place.

In this instance, as so often when relating these wartime tales, what went on seems to be the unbelievable end-product of some unrecognisable parallel universe. And yet the setting is so familiar and so recent that it makes for chillingly painful reading. Then again, perhaps we need more stark reminders of these past events right now… 

This "Actualités Mondiales" clip reports on the exhibition in Paris:
> The authoritative biography of Adrien Marquet referred to further up the page is Adrien Marquet, les dérives d'une ambition by Hubert Bonin, Bernard Lachaise and Françoise Taliano Des Garets.
> Further reading:  
- https://www.histoire-image.org/etudes/exposition-juif-france-paris 
- http://www.gauchemip.org/spip.php?article8812 
- http://rue89bordeaux.com/2015/05/13-mai-44-dernier-convoi-bordeaux-auschwitz/
> Photos from the Bordeaux event extracted from report in IEQJ publication Le Cahier Jaune, archived by the Centre de documentation juive contemporaine (report featured in Adrien Marquet, les dérives d'une ambition). 
> Ce dossier est également disponible en français.

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Invisible Bordeaux recently came across one of the city’s most unusual – and, it turns out, controversial – permanent art installatio...

La Maison aux personnages: art house in the middle of our street

Invisible Bordeaux recently came across one of the city’s most unusual – and, it turns out, controversial – permanent art installations: a house located on a traffic island near to the Pellegrin general hospital, sandwiched on all sides by streets and the tram A line. Welcome to “la Maison aux personnages”.

The exhibit is the work of Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov and was unveiled in October 2009: it consists of a two-storey house comprising a number of rooms, each of which has been designed and filled with scenery and accessories to look like it is inhabited by an imaginary character. Visitors can tour the exterior of the house, peek in through the windows (including the upstairs room which can be reached via an outdoor staircase), and take in the various still-life scenes, with poetically-worded panels about the associated characters there to provide additional context and pointers. 

This is la Maison aux personnages, although at first glance there is nothing to suggest the house is a permanent artistic installation. Pellegrin hospital can be seen to the left.
Much like the outsize tracksuit trouser sculpture covered in the previous Invisible Bordeaux item, la Maison aux personnages was commissioned as part of a campaign to install modern public artwork at various points along the metropole’s tram network. The house and its surrounding square were arguably the most ambitious of the resulting pieces. Ahead of the official inauguration (in the presence of the artists, city mayor Alain Juppé, France’s then culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand, and the then president of the metropole, Vincent Feltesse), the area was a building site over a seven-month period.

All of which leads us on to one of the most surprising aspects of the installation: remarkably, the 148-square-metre air-conditioned house and its garden were purpose-built to become this artistic exhibit. Working to the designs drawn up by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov themselves (some of the original sketches can be viewed here) and inspired by the characteristics of Bordeaux’s échoppes and townhouses, the building was conceived by the architects Samira Aït-Mehdi and Sylvain Latizeau, and delivered by the contractors DV Construction.

Given the expense involved (somewhere in the region of 500 to 600,000 euros), the project has proved controversial. The politician Emmanuelle Ajon, a Bordeaux city councillor and Gironde department vice-president, condemned the venture by writing that it was “indecent to let homeless people look in on what it is like to have a roof, and to spend 560,000 euros on a house which will only ever be exhibited and never occupied”.

Peering inside.
A Direct Matin Bordeaux7 report collected opinion among locals who were dubious about the exhibit “which nobody ever visits”, “blocks the view” and is, in terms which echoed those of Emmanuelle Ajon, “a house that cannot be entered while there are homeless people sleeping rough nearby”. Finally, the associated Yelp page includes a comment from somebody who lives across the road, and who mentions the incessant traffic which isn’t exactly conducive to people reaching the house, let alone taking time out there to rest and reflect on its meaning. The writer signs off by saying “the work might be interesting but it remains invisible”.

Which, appropriately enough, is where Invisible Bordeaux steps in: I braved the elements to plot my way through the traffic across to the house, in order to report back on what there is to see through the windows. So here goes: I think the most interesting rooms to view were those entitled “En barque sous les voiles” (which includes a pretty wooden sailboat), “La soif d’inventions” (which appears to be a mad professor’s workshop, complete with illuminated fairy lights and a lot of work in progress) and “Ne jamais rien jeter” (with its collection of collections, i.e. hundreds of labelled items, along with a number of suspended objects and little cards with open questions to the viewer written on them). Of the others, “Le paradis sous le plafond”, in the upstairs room, featured little more than an armchair and a ladder to nowhere – it felt a bit overly minimalist and underwhelming. Most of the remaining rooms were more conventional living and sleeping quarters, and looking inside did feel a little voyeuristic, if you can picture a voyeur also standing there scratching his head about the meaning of it all.

Four of the rooms: "En barque sous les voiles", "La soif d'inventions", "Ne jamais rien jeter" and "Le paradis sous le plafond".
Anyway, having written all of the above, it turns out I’ve almost forgotten to acknowledge the Soviet Union-raised, New York-based artists themselves; just who are they? Ilya Kabakov was born in 1933 in what is now Ukraine’s fourth largest city, Dnepropetrovsk. For much of his life, his main activity
The Kabakovs,
picture source: artnet.com
was that of an illustrator for children’s books, but from 1980 onwards he became well-established as a painter and writer. In 1988, he began collaborating with his future wife, Emilia (née Lekach), born in 1945 also in Dnepropetrovsk, who studied Music and Spanish in Moscow before moving to Israel then New York, where she became a curator and art dealer.

The couple have worked together ever since and have earned distinctions including France’s Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 1995 and Austria’s Oskar Kokoschka Preis in 2002. Their work, which “fuses elements of the everyday with those of the conceptual” (according to artnet.com), has been exhibited in venues including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. The Bordeaux installation is just one of many public commissions delivered throughout Europe and elsewhere

So, how can Bordeaux’s Maison aux personnages be defined? If you extract adjectives from this article you’ll find words such as invisible, controversial, indecent, but also unusual, imaginary, poetic and interesting. As with all forms of artwork, there are as many definitions as there are people viewing the piece. If you haven’t witnessed the house yet, perhaps your time has come.

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: La Maison aux personnages, place Amélie Raba Léon, Bordeaux.

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