By Julia Parmley
There’s a connection between the City of Light, french macaroons and Dangerous Liaisons.
And according to alumna Anya Firestone, B.A. ’10, it makes complete “cookie sense.”
When she was accepted into a six-week creative residency program at the Paris Parsons School of Art and Design beginning in June, Ms. Firestone had her project mapped out. She had plans to create a blueprint of the city using tags of garments she had collected over the past four years. This idea was based on a mural of Manhattan made of price tags that she created for a high school art course.
In her application to Parsons, Ms. Firestone said her project would “exemplify the importance of Paris’ structure and layout, which in itself is a design to be marveled at.” And Ms. Firestone knew what she was talking about: she had explored—and fallen in love with—the city while living there during her junior year at GW.
“I want to create the feeling of being surrounded by Paris, by being wholly wrapped in something beautiful,” she wrote. “And through the use of tags, the evidence of my personal fashion, I will connect the aestheticism of the city to that of couture.”
But in her first few days, as she walked around Paris—past the Tuilleries, the Petit Palais and the Eiffel Tower—Ms. Firestone realized she had become “oddly frustrated” with her inability to experience the “perfection of the city” with all of her senses.
“Aside from my sense of sight and maybe touch, there is no other way for me to experience the magnificence of it all,” she says. “And so I started to think: what is it in or about Paris, if anything, that I can do or experience with all my senses that will allow me a more satisfying possession of the city? And then, how could I somehow manifest this artistically?”
Fortunately for Ms. Firestone, she found the solution to her frustration in the tiniest —and most delicious—of places.
While eating a macaroon in a teashop near le Madeleine church, Ms. Firestone realized the cookie itself was symbolic of her view of Paris: it was pleasing to the senses and can be possessed and destroyed through consumption. She also found connections between the macaroon and Paris to two artistic experiences she had while a senior at GW.
In a poem she wrote about Paris for a poetry class, Ms. Firestone came to the conclusion that Paris did not need her to love it and in fact “might not need her at all.” On a whim, she Googled that last line and discovered it led her to the Marquise de Merteuil, the character she was about to play in GW’s version of Dangerous Liaisons.
“I was stunned; my one liner about my Parisian infatuation took me immediately to the woman I was to become in this play,” she says. “I then realized something that greatly influenced my performance and would come to influence the art I made whilst in Paris: The way I feel about Paris is the way my character la marquise feels about her male counterpart, Valmont—she needs him far more than he needs her”
These experiences—as well as inspiration from Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” and Georges Bataille’s “Eroticism”—guided Ms. Firestone to her final project: creating three, giant macaroons in pink, green and blue.
“This small lovely elegant macaroon to me is emblematic of Paris; thus, if my artistic task is to destroy Paris, I would thus then need destroy the macaroon—by creating something,” she says.
Ms. Firestone also wanted to illustrate one of her favorite lines from Dangerous Liaisons-- “illusions, of course, are by their nature sweet”—by transforming the macaroon from its “original ephemeral context” to the “indestructible realm of art,” specifically painted sculptures.
“By making the macaroon large the experience of looking at it would be disturbed, and its petite charm would be eradicated,” she says. “It would not smell as sweet as almonds, nor would it feel delicate as a biscuit. And of course, it was not to be eaten; thus, the height of the experience of enjoying a macaroon, the eating and the destruction, would not be allowed to happen.”
To create the macaroons, Ms. Firestone used hot wire cutters, a liquid foam catalyst and giant saws— all which required a large oxygen mask and sticky fingers.
“It was for a good amount of time quite a stressful experience,” she says. “There was a time I feared these sculptures would look like giant pink hamburgers. But two days before the final exhibit, they were finished, and the outcome was delicious—visually speaking, of course.”
Once the macaroons were created, Ms. Firestone put on her marquise costume and posed with the macaroons in the Luxembourg Gardens. She says the experience became a kind of “interactive performance art” as people watched and even posed with her.
“There, in the open green flowering space, I existed both as myself and as la marquise, with the creations I made that stood as creations of destruction of Paris and of Valmont—the love objects whose possession could only be had by their destruction,” she says. “And, after all was said and sculpted, I finally felt that, for the first time, Paris did indeed need me.”
In addition to creating her project, Ms. Firestone also completed workshops with visiting artists, which included a photo project about Parc de Buttes Chaumont in Paris, participated in a horror film and visited several art museums.
Although the program was itself an educational experience, Ms. Firestone found herself learning from the seven other residents, who were from all around the world.
“I found myself constantly engaged in conversations, about art, people, perceptions and everyday life,” she says. “It’s quite amazing how eight random people can be assembled with eight entirely different projects and yet come together with a couple baguettes and some cheese and speak for hours on end by the glistening Seine—but then again, Paris really does bring something magical out in people.”
Ms. Firestone will return to Paris at the end of September to teach English through the French Embassy and will begin a master’s degree in contemporary art at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York next May.
Art has always been a part of Ms. Firestone’s life. In her Parsons application, Ms. Firestone wrote that she comes from a life “dedicated to producing, seeing, wearing and being wholly consumed by visceral visual art.” Her love of fashion in particular has led to a side career as a personal stylist and she says she hopes her art helps bring “an appreciation of aesthetics into the world.”
“Every moment of the day I take pleasure in wearing something beautiful, albeit quite unique or eccentric, so as to relish in being covered in art,” she says. “I delight in the prospect to inspire and to probe imaginations through the creation of art.”