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Frenchman who saw light

It is not easy to make light of Patrick Rimoux, the pony-tailed French artist from Paris who “sculpts” entire monuments, buildings and apartment blocks all over the world with the tool of light, often showing images and sometimes text as well. As part of the Bonjour India programme in the middle of next month, Rimoux will light up Jantar Mantar in Delhi. The French President is slated to inaugurate it.

Right now, Rimoux, who calls himself a “light sculptor”, is in town as Akar Prakar in Hindustan Park, along with Baudoin Lebon gallery of Paris, have mounted his show titled, Under the Sky. The focus is on an installation — a largish box made of strips of celluloid from old Bollywood films on which is being projected an impermanent and beautiful series of images of a kaleidoscope that is there one moment, dissolves and forms another one the next.

In spite of its relatively small scale, it has the complexity and grandeur of a Byzantine mosaic composed of minuscule dabs of paint that swim out of shape every other second to create new geometric configurations. In daytime, the installation looks different as he has coloured the opaque film — tiny dots and dashes — with a permanent marker.

Rimoux, who stands taller than most, was in a dapper black Burlingtons’ bandhgala for the opening of his exhibition on Wednesday. He explains in halting English that even as a child (his mother was a painter) he wanted to become an artist although his formal training began much later at Beaux-Arts in Paris where he had taken up sculpture. Earlier he used to work with clay but at Beaux-Arts he stopped that and began afresh with movie film — celluloid — using it like paper.

He is fascinated by cinema and one of his first assignments was lighting up a monument dedicated to Henri Langlois, the man who started Cinematheque, the first archive of cinema in the world in 1930. He used 24 photographs of Langlois that could be shown in one second and projected these on his tombstone.

After he discovered his new medium — it would not be far-fetched to say he saw light — he worked only with it and all over the world from South Africa to Canada. His work can be seen at the Great-Place of Brussels, the Geneva art museum, the French Embassy in New York, Sacre Coeur and the surrounding of the Centre Pompidou Metz in Paris, and the Freedom Tower for Nelson Mandela in Soweto for which he was in South Africa for six years. His projections add to the depth and mystery to these structures.

He first visited India in 2006 on an invitation to work in Chennai. He was there for six weeks and produced 26 paintings on actual film from old productions, works of the same category being on display at Akar Prakar as well. He took his exhibition to New Delhi and Mumbai.

“People discouraged me,” he says. Nonetheless in 2010 he came for the art fair in Delhi and collectors picked up his work. With Gallic shrewdness he had chosen to project snippets from both Mother India and Singing in the Rain, although they were as different as chalk and cheese. However, they had one thing in common. They were both made in 1957.

The Mantar Mantra, better known as Jantar Mantar, which means “instrument and formula”, in New Delhi, consists of 13 architectural astronomy instruments. It is one of five built by Maharaja Jai Singh II of Jaipur in early 18th century. The observatory was constructed to compile astronomical tables, and to predict the times and movements of the sun, moon and planets. Rimoux plans to use the architecture like screens and project on seven of the instruments movies about stars, sun, moon, light and life and the galaxy.

He says it is easy for him to get hold of old film from directors and producers in the West because they are familiar with his work. “I would like to work not only with Bollywood films but hope to get some by Satyajit Ray as well,” he says.

Rimoux did the light plans for cities like Morocco and Cayenne in French Guyana and has worked with important architects from all over the world as well. He says he is actually a “tailor of shadows” as only shadows define light.