Aleksandra Mir

The Big Umbrella

assistant's record, Paris, Feb 2004
By Edwige Cochois

I met Aleksandra Mir in 2002 when I was working at Jousse Entreprise Gallery. One day, we received a telecopy at the gallery: 8 or 9 pages, with drawings and explanations about her new specific project called The Big Umbrella. I remember very well one of this drawings representing Aleksandra holding a big umbrella with 16 persons under and a kitty. Everybody was smiling and looked very friendly. The project was to travel all around the world with this big umbrella to see how people could react and the social dimension of the object.

We had to find a manufacture able to realize it. Not so easy, believe me! When we start our researches, we had no idea if it was possible, how much it is, how long it takes! And Aleks wanted this sculpture to be an edition of 7!

First, we asked to professionals and they said no. We even thought about going to Thailande to realize it.

Finally, we found a little manufacture (Multi-Creation) specialized in accessories for advertises, cinema or attraction parks. The problem was they were unable to give us a price before doing researches. So, nothing happened for 6 months maybe. Philippe Jousse, the director of Jousse Entreprise Gallery and the producer, hesitated so much. His "yes" came in May 2003 only. One month later, I had an appointment with Aleks and MC. The girl showed us a kind of prototype made with a sunshade to have an idea of the shape, weight, materials etc… Aleks wanted it the exact replica of an English umbrella but 2 meters height.

I've followed all steps of the realization, talk with her about last details: handle, leather, chrome etc…It had to be ready for beginning of October and I've been delivered just a day before Aleks came for shooting pictures in Paris. When I received the Umbrella at the gallery, I was so surprised to see this huge umbrella. It was PERFECT!

Aleks was so busy (as usual!) and came only 3 days to do pictures. I booked a photographer (Sandrine Aubry) for 2 days and aleks asked her friend Jason Schmidt to shoot one day with us.

Jason is a fashion photographer. He was in Paris for another job but worked one day with us. I was assisting Aleks and filming everything, and Jason had his own assistant. The sun was shining and we were looking for locations with water all around Paris. We found fountains, ponds and cascades. We went to Trocadero, Concorde, Buttes Chaumont, standing in front of all fountains we found. Jason was so funny, so American! He was yelling people: "hey you! Come under the umbrella for a picture! Ok don't smile, don't look at me…" We had great time with him and people but the result was so fake because of this beautiful weather. Aleks started to be depressed realizing that it wasn't working as in her drawings.

The day after, we worked with the other photographer. We were 3 girls, an old car and a big umbrella and had fun. It wasn't raining and Aleks was stressed. We did pictures on Parisian bridges with the umbrella closed. Parisians people wasn't very reactive in front of this huge object except when we went in very touristy places like in Montmartre where people were screaming, following us and trying to catch the umbrella. A nightmare I filmed for 45 minutes! We went to Le Louvre and found a nice fountain. Aleks bought plastic boots and jumped into the fountain. It was beautiful to see how water could run on the fabric. A group of children came at this moment and saw her. Their eyes were amazed. It was Mary Poppins for them. But Aleksandra was more and more depressed because of the weather and she begins to feel very lonely under her umbrella.

The last day, we took the car and drove west to find rain. Aleks was sleeping at the back and Sandrine and me were singing as bad as possible to call the rain. We found it after more than an hour of drive in a small village. We found few teenagers (it was Wednesday afternoon) waiting for the bus. We did few pictures but it wasn't really what Aleks was expected. We left this village for a bigger one and before leaving we did a last picture of Aleks walking alone under the rain on a small road. "Alone again" I thought. Our next stop was La Ferte-Bernard. It was raining a lot and people were surprised to see The Big Umbrella. We helped people walking without being wet and met a group of teens (around 17 years old) waiting in front of the cinema. They came naturally under the umbrella, talked to Aleks, trying to pick up her, giving her some flowers, smoking cigarettes, waiting for their girlfriends. These boys were fantastic. It was one of our best moments in France, and the most important day because of the rain.

The show at Jousse Entreprise opened his door 15th of November with 10 different pictures. Aleks received a proposition from the Serpentine Gallery in London to realize new pictures in London and for a show curated by Rochelle Steiner in February 2004. We produced a new umbrella for London.

So, London was our next step. I had to come with The Big Umbrella by train. Nice trip! I arrived in London 6th of January for 4 intense days of work. We had diner with the new photographer, a German guy based in London called Heikko Prigge. Each morning, we started at 8:30am. I saw that Aleks was still stressed because there was no rain, one more time! The floor was a little bit wet and we went to the British Museum to do few pictures. Not far from there, there's a very old umbrella shop James Smith and Sons. Aleks was standing outside with the umbrella when a guy from the shop came to ask her where she found such a big umbrella and he invited us inside. It was funny! One of the pictures shows Aleks standing inside with her umbrella closed. The big umbrella hides her face. When she's with her umbrella, she's not her anymore. She belongs to The Big Umbrella. I love this picture.

Each time we shoot with the Big Umbrella, we don't know what could happen. Sometimes nothing happens for hours, for days. But when something comes, it erases all the shit we did before. During our work in London, we took so many cabs, walked so much, and crossed the entire city. We finished the day in a stupid Washing American Car. Guys were spraying the water on the umbrella. It was so fake. On the evening, we went for dinner with Aleks in a very bad Indian restaurant. We came back at the hotel and aleks vomited all night.

The second day, we program to go to Brighton but it was raining so much that we decided to stay in London. It was the perfect English raining day. We went very early on the London Bridge to see all workers crossing the bridge to go to their offices. We saw an army of umbrella. It was unbelievable!!! Aleks tried to cross the bridge under the umbrella but the wind was so strong that she was short of killing somebody. When it's windy, it becomes impracticable and very dangerous. But this day was "the umbrella day" and after the rain all umbrellas were laying on the floor. I've never seen so many dead umbrellas. And I broke myself two umbrellas. After we just walked around, taking pictures in the street, making break between two shootings. Breaks were important because working with cameras under the rain isn't so easy and we needed to talk. Sometimes we had to short our break when a fantastic rain was coming. We did also a visit to the Pink Tank (a piece of Aleksandra, a tank painted in pink) in suburb and did pictures. The show was done this day. We were exhausted but satisfied.

The last day, we had a meeting at the Serpentine and we took a picture of all the team under the umbrella. Walking in Kensington Gardens, we met girls with beautiful dogs playing with balls. One of these balls was jammed in a tree and girls asked Aleks to help her to catch it with her Big Umbrella. How helpful could be a Big Umbrella!!!

The project continued without me in Copenhagen and Dresden. I saw the pictures and it reflects Aleksandra's solitude.

Things never happen as you expect. It's maybe The Big Umbrella's lesson. You can't force thing to become social and friendly. You have to do with people, their feelings. You can't decide anything. But each performance with this object is huge.