Speech to launch an exhibition of handbags by Michele Boukobsa

Speech to launch an exhibition of handbags by Michele Boukobsa – Sofitel 2 July 2001

The French and the medium of film, have been having a love affair for about a century.

The French regard film as almost their own National possession as they claim the invention of it but “POSSESSED” might be a better description for the deluded French, as it must be clear even to them that no single place has possession of film, not even Hollywood.

Film is more a currency than a commodity, it’s exchanged like a dancing partner; without loyalty and it always plays the field.

Possessiveness is a trait common to lovers, French or otherwise. The handbag and the woman have an interesting relationship. Possession or ownership are not in question here. A woman owns her handbag. It’s her defence, her beautiful weapon.

My mother said the state of a woman’s bag told you the state of her mind. She would do this while glaring at my mostly open and over-flowing bag, it shrieked insecurity and probably worse – she said.

Women know this while men do not. And why? Because they learned from those same women their mothers whilst sometimes snapping their little boyish fingers in the catch “Don’t you ever look into a woman’s hand bag.”

I’ve often thought this strong admonishment with finger-snapping for emphasis, may have left some vestigial scars – however that’s another thesis. Men find hand bags mysterious if not forbidding – and women like it that way.

In some languages the word bag is the same as is used for a woman’s most hidden and intimate parts, this also may have left some psychic residue – who knows?

But not on women. The hand bag is a portable strong box, it’s a defensive article because it’s virtually all we possess when we go out in the world ….

The hand bag is a tool-kit, a respository for proofs of identity, of skills like driving licences, the container of connections to family or other dear ones in photos, of emergency equipment, for beauty corrections, first aid or accidents.

It’s full of secrets. It’s private and yet it’s on display.

Michele Boukobsa’s bags remind me of tortoise-shell – still used for bags. We women have stolen the protective carapaces and skins of other soft bodied species for generations. These shiny layers of film resemble those brittle but strong coatings that we used before we had plastics.

Michele Boukobsa is a French Moroccan artist.

If you’ve ever visited Morocco you may remember the quality of that country’s design, it’s attention to detail, obsessive geometry and labarynthine layers of pattern. And yet the work is shy not showy. It’s the work of clever introverts.

I dare to say that Michele’s attraction to film stock is part French but mostly Moroccan.

She is not taking part in a didactic debate about Goddard’s mise en scene. If she had a film of Goddard’s she wouldn’t discuss it, she’d cut it up and re-order it in a bricolage of her own making, regardless of the narratives and time lapses the films represent and record.

She turns the ephemeral or immaterial into the tangible and the purely tactile. But the effects of light and colour are still there, like Chartres cathedral’s stained glass on a slightly cloudy day, the memories are still there.

Film, is of course not as ubiquitous as we’d imagine, its future on celluloid film stock is not permanent. This stuff is delicate, fading, it will be replaced by digital and video alternative, so these bags have an elegiac quality to them too, which makes them almost precious, like endangered birds or flowers, this man-made stuff must also perish ….

Bags are simple things, but like ideas they travel. And these bags have travelled from Paris to you