june 2013

Gilles A. Tiberghien

“I consider my residency at the Ushant semaphore like a unique time to come back to my Mexican travel diaries. I have been writing them for about 35 years every time I go to Mexico. I would like to make a book, a “travelog” out of it. I have travelled a lot and written a lot of diaries while thinking about what travelling could mean nowadays. But my endeavor is not sociological: it is, before anything else, literary and artistic. Indeed, I dedicated an exhibition to this question of travelling and its relationships to art and literature, “For a republic of dreams”, which constitutes the third chapter of what I would gladly call “A poetic of the imaginary in movement”, where Le principe de l’axolotl & suppléments(The axolotl principle & additions) (Actes – Sud, 2011) and FINIS TERRAE, Imaginations et imaginaires cartographiques(Cartographic imaginations and imaginary) (éditions Bayard, 2007) are the two others.

Ushant appears to me like a place, which situation at the edge of French inhabited lands resembles a platform and a privileged observatory for dreaming and the imaginary of journeys on the other side of oceans. I lived on this island, twenty years ago, and, like many, the “wild” aspect of his west coast immediately struck me. A place that had made me want to come back, but yet never did. Thanks to this stay, I could find a moment of solitude and concentration to rework these diaries accumulated over the years and get going with a book of which I have started to write certain parts without really having the chance to give them a real coherence.”


This was the short text that described my project when I applied for this residency in August 2011. During my stay in June 2013, I strictly followed that program. I wrote day and night, on top of the Semaphore in the watch room, copying my diaries and organizing my notes in order to write the book I intended to finish one day. But what I essentially did then was decipher and put some order into these hundreds of pages, scribbled in my miniscule writing and looking up, every hour maybe, to watch the sea in front of me and the way the sun, at different times of day, made its color vary. It would be too long to tell the life of a lighthouse keeper that only has to keep himself or a “semaphorist” whose only task is to blacken still virtual leaflets on his computer. The only memorable events were firstly the visit of two technical officers and secondly the one of my friends Sophie Kaplan and Stéphane Crémer. I wrote on my diary on June 6:

“Bad night. I slept little because of an insomnia- I fell back asleep but I still woke up too early this morning. Drowsiness and headache. Two guys came in the morning to check the sealing of the roof.

“ – So, you are an artist?
No, a writer
Oh, and what do you write?”

The usual questions. Rather nice and curious people.

“ – It doesn’t scare you, all alone, like that, the “Shining” aspect of the place?”

Hum…, well, I have to think about it. Obviously, put this way… Doesn’t he have something else to tell me? After their visit, I spend several hours copying my diary and go to the village to do some shopping not without having checked “Sky weather” following the advice of the skinniest of my two visitors. The website is very reliable according to him. Tomorrow’s forecast: bad weather.

Then there was the visit of Sophie Kaplan with the Mahon, a collective of artists exhibited at the Criée, who she has taken to the island to spend the weekend, and the visit of my friend Stéphane Crémer, whose poetry book CompostI had prefaced. Stéphane slept two nights there and I went on my first walks on the island with him. I will not go on many others because of how worried I am not to follow my writing schedule. My neighbor, Mathieu, who I sympathized with and who makes weathercocks, invites me for dinner one night. He told me to carefully close behind me when I leave because people would not hesitate to enter the semaphore at anytime. One day, one of the residents found two people who were admiring the view from the watch room: they went up like if it were a public monument. Catherine Elkar and Marcel Dinahet also came one day – but they had warned me beforehand – and we had lunch together at the village. It was another one of these rare noticeable outings.

I took many books,A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers by H.D. Thoreau, among others, in which I wrote this for example:
“One can never go above the real events in our stories without prejudice. An example of pure invention cannot exist, as some suppose. Writing an authentic work of fiction means only taking the time and liberty to describe with more precision certain things as they are. An authentic description of reality is the pinnacle of poetry, since common sense only has a hasty and superficial vision of it.”

And now, I am left with the memory of the sea and waves, their permanent backwash, and the desire to come back to the lighthouse to continue a task that, however, can only be finished if I move away from it.