All around her, cheeses were stinking. Huge blocks of butter were lined up on the two shelves at the back of the shop. Brittany butter was overflowing from its baskets. Normandy butters, wrapped in canvas, looked like models of stomachs onto which some sculptor had thrown wet cloths to keep them from drying out. Other blocks, already in use, cut with large knives into jagged rocks with valleys and crevices, looked like landslides on a mountain gilded by the pale evening light of autumn. Under the gray-veined red marble display counter were baskets of chalk white eggs, and in their crates on straw pallets were bondons, end to end, gourneys arranged on a platter like medals, in darker colors with greenish tinits. But most of the cheese were piled up on tables, and there, next to the one-pound packs of butter, was an enormous Cantal cheese on beet greens, looking as if it had been chopped with a hatchet, then a golden Chester and a Gruyère that looked like the fallen wheel of a primitive wagon. From Holland, there were balls like decapitated heads smeared with dried blood with the hard shell of an empty skull, which has given them the name “têtes-de-morts.”
A Parmesan added an aromatic pungence to the heavy smell. Three Bries on round boards were sad as waning moons. Two very dry ones were full. The third, in its second quarter, was oozing, emitting a white cream that spread into a lake, flooding over the thin boards that had been put there to stem the flow. Port Saluts shaped like ancient discuses had the names of the producers inscribed around the perimeters. A Romantour, wrapped in silver paper, was reminiscent of a nougat bar, a sugary cheese that had strayed into the land of sour fermentation. The Roqueforts, under their glass bells, had a regal bearing, their fat, marbeld faces veined in blue and yellow as though they were the victims of some disgraceful disease that strikes weatlhy people who eat too may truffles. Alongside them were the goat cheeses, fat as a child’s fist, hard and gray like the stones rams kick down a path when they lead the flock.
And then there were the smells: the pale yellow Mont d’Ors released a sweet fragrance, the Troyes, which were thick and bruised on the edges, were stronger-smelling than the others, adding a fetid edge like a damp cellar; the Camemberts, with their scent of decomposing game; the Neufchâtels, the Limbourgs, the Marolles, the Pont l’Evêques, each one playing its own shrill note in a composition that was almost sickening; the Livarots, dyed red, harsh and sulfurous in the throat; and the Olivets, wrapped in wanut leaves the way peasants cover rotting carcasses of animals lying by the side of the road in the heat of the sun with branches.
The warm afternoon had softened the cheese, the mold on the rinds was melting and glazing in rich reds and greens of exposed copper, looking like badly healed wounds. The skin of an Olivet beneath an oak leaf lifted up and heaved like the chest of a sleeping man. A flood of life had made a hole in the Livarot, releasing a cluster of worms. And behind the scale in a narrow box was a Géromé seeded with anise that was so tainted that flies had dropped dead all around it on the veined red marble.
The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola
There are more images to come as I get them sorted, namely detail shots and installation shots without a newly mopped floor! In the meantime, here is the final drawing, In time’s furrows. I gave an artist’s talk to an intimate group last night, then more people arrived for the opening. I received some great feedback. There was consistency in observations about this piece (and about Farm collapsing during my open studio in Paris) that has definitely got me thinking. I’m very proud to see it finished. I’m tired and glad to have a break from being cold and covered in charcoal. I’m looking forward to lazing about today thinking about the piece before going in to look at it one last time. I leave Belfast tomorrow. In thirty days, the walls will be painted. I feel strange, sad and liberated.
The wall drawing here at Queen Street Studios is going really well. I only have a few more days to go. I’ve already learned so much, about my process, the difference between this and other ways I’ve worked, the medium, working within new spaces, documentation and the performative elements of my practice. I am looking forward to seeing it completed, and to taking some time to write down some of my conclusions. Here are some images of the work as it has progressed: