Portrait - Partrice Duhamel
October 8, 2008
My dear friend,
Now that’s you’re gone, I feel I can express all my love for you. Your wry smile won’t bother me, nor your blue-eyed gaze, your deliberate calm, or your silence. I’ll also tell you that for me you were the friend who knew how to listen and to be there, simply be there, with your fears, your hopes, your anger, your humour, your intelligence and your unbridled imagination.
I remember that spring day when I landed at Vidéographe as a summer replacement and stayed five years. You were already there as an intern. We recognised each other at first sight, and a great intimacy grew up between us. But first I had to tame you; you were a little fierce and on guard, with an intimidating shyness, and your trenchant, almost severe judgments sometimes lacked compassion. I understand now that you were short of time and that you had to get to the nub of things quickly. For you waiting was always a torment.
In addition to your art, and your contracts, you were involved at Vidéographe and the Clark gallery as an administrator and a thinker. At Vidéographe, you were a training person, editor, and member of the co-production committee; later, when the centre was going through a rough patch, you were a member of the board of directors and then its chairperson. Sometimes you regretted investing too much time in these structures because you felt that you were neglecting your life and isolating yourself just a little bit more.
I remember the time I lived at your place for a month, alone with your things, your books and your music. This is where I felt your presence most keenly. First I noticed your magnificent knife collection. They were everywhere, carefully lined up side by side, big and small: Layolle, Norton, Opinel . . . blades, cutting blades, flashing metal, arms, tools, utensils. Together, they confirmed an aspect of your mind, which each knife seemed to illuminate in a different way. I was struck by this metaphor of knives and your mind, an illuminated mind which knew how to cut through reality, detaching meaning from confusion, cutting up fine pieces, peeling, freeing content from the casing that behaviour and convention can sometimes be. Patrice, your analytical strength wasn’t your only powerful tool; you also had great tenderness and a passionate gentleness, as well as an astounding life force that you absolutely had to share. Another one of your collections showed me this gentleness you modestly concealed. All those bars of soap that accumulated in your bathroom, so many fragrant objects of many shapes and colours, capable of perfuming, softening, soothing, so fleeting in nature and destined to dissolve in something greater than ourselves.
Dear Patrice, you were a true archivist, an inexhaustible compiler, always ready to feed our ideas with books, music and films. You also had an eye for little discoveries: creaky bits of kitsch, squeaky thingamajigs, pointless patents—everything, absolutely everything, that could become the starting point of a new project, could feed into another or end up in a notebook in case it ever came in handy.
Eternal gatherer of bits and pieces of human existence, rag-picker of our experiences, veritable Dr Freud of video with your essays on dysfunction, discomfort and the unconscious. Your head in our garbage, our secrets, you were so attracted to our dark sides. Your heart and mind were in your work without respite, you took your pencil, your guitar, your camera and observed everything around you, you wanted to fill every void, especially those that separated you from your friends, your loves and yourself . . .
Your art took everything you had: your time, your nights, your appetite, your money. Behind in your finances, there was always a book that had to be read before your phone bill, a record to be listened to before your Visa bill, a beer to drink and the old organ you had seen at the Petits Frères des Pauvres thrift shop.
For several years you had harboured a mute anger with your body. Illness threatened you and you had to slow your pace. You knew you were a condemned man, you knew very well how your diabetes would advance. You spoke about it rarely, and if you did it was in clear and concise terms. I wasn’t entirely surprised when I learned it had beaten you, because my video camera stopped working on that Wednesday, September 24 while I was on holiday in the Îles-de-la-Madeleine. Right when I was filming, as is my wont, a little sprig of grass on a root being lashed by the sea wind and the tide. I thought of you when everything stopped and went dark, because that camera was yours before you sold it to me.
Now we are responsible for your work, which is not made of stone or steel but of paper, pixels and music, but so just and necessary because you brought it into the world with a kind of suffering and with a lot of love and determination. Rest assured we will use your work to contaminate this world steeped in conformity.
I’ll see you around, my friend. I’ll be waiting for your news, because I know that we are all connected to life, even in death.