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Studio space at 59, Rue de Rivoli. Photo by Eric Francis

Space for Reality

THERE is a relationship between physical space and psychic reality. Often, dreams communicate the changes we are going through as metaphors of space, such as a "new addition" on your house or apartment appearing with stunning realism one morning, so real you wake up expecting it to be there. Such a dream might represent an expansion of your interior mental or emotional space: you're growing inside.

Sometimes, the metaphors happen in real life, such as when a new space allows you to alter the pattern of your life, or change the shape of your thinking. Usually, the patterns have more power than the physical dimension we inhabit. Those habits often come with us when we move, and yet sometimes we slowly shape, adjust, build on them or shed them.

Discovering 59 rue du Rivoli, the artists' squat in the heart of Paris, was a pleasant shock to my imagination. In fact, the place reminded me that I had one.

I never lived there or even slept there. I only did one project there. But part of me took up residence in that building, as if my psychic artist body found a little alcove and set up the paints and canvas. I have a deep and abiding love of abandoned industrial spaces. They have a feeling of limitless potential that makes me want to reach into it.

People wonder nervously what would happen to civilization if society were really free. Art is an experiment in freedom of thought, feeling and concept within a defined space. Sure, there are rules, and the rules are different everywhere. But they are easy to break, and part of making art is breaking some rule that pertains to art, but doing it in a creative way.

True, sex has yet to find its rightful place in the world of art, so instead we get porn (I include advertising here, and music videos), which lacks mainly in imagination, and in feeling. And we get romance, where you think you know the ending before it happens.

Art is an empty space wherein the synapse of reality illuminates your inner landscape.

Think of your mind as a field. You're walking around this field, and that represents the basic level of consciousness. It's dark out, and you cannot see that far ahead or around you. But you walk, with a mix of caution and confidence.

You want to explore, but you're also a little nervous about wandering too far away from where you started. Maybe you won't get back. That fear nags you until what's ahead is more interesting than finding your way back to where you were.

Suddenly it occurs to you to feel your feet making contact with the ground. Because the ground represents base consciousness, the basic level of clear awareness, your feet touching the ground represent the part of thought where you actually make contact with self-awareness. Self and awareness of self encounter one another.

This feels strange. Your feet are...there, whereas they were not exactly there a moment ago, but you were still walking, so obviously they were there: but where were they? Now you're in contact, grounded and a little more awake. You look around and the landscape looks brighter, and you can see further. You look around for the Sun, but it's nowhere to be seen, and the light seems to have no source.

Vaguely it occurs to you that it's coming from your own mind, but you dismiss this as silly and instead enjoy the feeling of your feet on the ground.

You can see far enough to look at the landscape and choose where you want to go. Every direction seems equal to every other. You are lifted of the burden of right and wrong, and for the first time feel the strength of knowing you have the choice of what is right and wrong for you.


Part of what shaped my experience of 59 was the people I knew there. Much of what grounded the space as real for me were living examples who had chosen to honor their creative stream as the first value in their lives. At the time, I knew I was not quite doing this. Spending time around people for whom this was an obvious quality of existence gradually shifted my awareness, and I attuned myself to that way of life just a little.

Then there were pictures I took. 59 was one of two places in Paris where I noticed I was taking breathtaking photographs. I had rarely taken photos just for beauty's sake. I never considered myself a photographer, just an editor who had to fill in taking pictures when a story or cover required them. Being confronted by the beauty of my work was a little confounding for me. I guess I was really surprised, but kept on with the experiment. I mean, it felt good to see those pictures.

All I was doing was walking around photographing what I saw. It seemed unintentional, but the images seemed to vibrate with intention.

I surmised that part of it, part of these results, involved the space itself, and at the time omitted the fact of my relationship to the space. But none of this would be there [for me] if I did not choose to go there. That building could not walk a mile along the Seine, cross the bridge and knock on my door. I had to bring myself there, and look at what my eyes were seeing.

Photography is about light, and the way the rays of energy filled up this building radiated with life force. It was like you could bring anything in and it would morph into art with no effort on your part. Noticing this and then feeling it work in my pictures was like discovering a property of nature that I had entirely missed -- and maybe it missed me too.


I know that sometimes that creative space opens up, and it seems like fear rushes right in. This is one of the perils of opening yourself up, and it does keep some people away. I don't think there's an easy answer for how to address this except to say awareness helps.

The thing with fear is that it's energy, and it also helps to do something with the energy. Creative process is a healthy way to process fear. The act of making something, mixing color, or experimenting with form are a fine ways to ground, or calm your mind. When you're done, or when you stop in an interesting place, you get a reflection of yourself, of your process, in the form of a created work.

Maybe the scariest thing about art is the freedom it implies. Getting over that is a matter of practice, and testing the edge again and again, discovering that the edge moves outward, the space opens, and with no effort on your part the lights pours in through those windows illuminating the splashes of paint that cover the wall.


Here are some photos from my session with Sara, one of the founders of 59 Rivoli.

More photos are in a 2005 photo gallery: