Agnès Varda (1928-2019)

by: , May 15, 2019

With her punk monk hairdo, her multicoloured clothing, and her potato getup, Agnès Varda was inimitable, visionary, fearlessly original.

She loved cards, all kinds of cards, especially tarot cards, which are sometimes dealt upside down. If we inverse our image of the crazy grandma, we find a very, very serious woman, who was, above all, a photographer. The potato project is a portrait of passing time, as she told the Canadian poet Lisa Robertson, an image of ‘energy, surviving energy, in old potatoes that you can no longer eat’. She took pleasure in this project, in ‘looking very carefully at things existing, and seeing them grow’.

She had the gift of knitting together radically different subjects, or rather of following the thread (yarn) wherever it might lead, as in Visages Villages (2017) when she moves from the eyes that the artist JR glued to the side of containers, to his refusal to remove his sunglasses, to Godard, who kept his on as well, to the time Varda got him to take them off to act in the film-within-a-film in Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962). I understand now that she was guided by her eye more than her intellect. Even if towards the end of her life her sight had gone blurry, as she recounts in that same film, in scrutinising the world as she did, she perceived links where other people only saw a blur. She showed me that we have to let ourselves be guided by our way of seeing the world: this is what makes our work belong to us, and no one else. 

She showed me so many things. How to flâner. How to browse at a flea market. How to mix different materials, different media. How to write in the first person: ‘to film, with one hand, my other hand’. That far from being a narcissistic act, it is an ethical duty, to emphasise our point of view, rather than pretending to some universal omniscience.

With her no longer here to help us see, blindness threatens. But she left us what we need to sharpen our vision. A body of work, like a pair of glasses.

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