Animaux, Mythes, Villes, Contes nègres, Fragments, Miracles are the six revealing titles of the leading chapters of Yona Friedman’s illustrated tale 1001 nuits + 1 jour (litteraly: 1001 nights + 1 day), a new artist’s book produced and published by mfc-michèle didier this Spring 2014.
The drawings in 1001 nuits + 1 jour originally covered the walls of the architect’s first Parisian studio, on boulevard Pasteur. This decor designed in the 1960’s, was taken apart in 1968 when Friedman left the studio on boulevard Pasteur for his (now famous) apartment on boulevard Garibaldi. 168 drawings of them all are reproduced today in the artist’s book 1001 nuits + 1 jour. As for the new mural pattern of boulevard Garibaldi, a true “merzbau” of the 21st Century, it is now part of the CNAP collections.
Caroline Cros underlines « The question of decor is fundamental in Friedman’s case (...) he does not conceive architecture without the design of its decoration ».1 It is thus impossible for him to visualize his studio with empty walls, «what counts the most for him is to personalize his living space » she continues. « ...I have created my own world, in order to assimilate my lifestyle. I am convinced that everyone can do so» Yona Friedman confirms. This idea that each individual is responsible for the enhancement of his/her environment by being himself the subject of its evolution underlies all of Friedman’s thought process. He elaborated further on this principle in the manual A better life in towns, commissioned by the European Council in 1980 for a campaign on renewing the cities.
This is exactly what the architect focuses on in this book. He offers each of us the possibility to recreate the display with the drawings from his studio on boulevard Pasteur on our own walls. Indeed, all the drawings in 1001 nuits + 1 jour are detachable and can therefore recreate a decor. Depending on how they are laid out, new associations are born and new stories can be told. It is also possible to put the drawings back in the position in the book, where they were initially. Today, the colour of the drawings have faded slightly under the sunlight and the architect’s eye, only the most resistant pigments are left unchanged. We can only guess the initial rich variety of hues chosen by Friedman.
The studio on boulevard Pasteur was small, its surface measuring 27m2, but Yona Friedman’s imagination knew no boundaries. He broke free of this restrictive reality to reach other places drawn up by himself: places in which he would have liked to live – in Atlantis or in an oasis without desert (in reference to the title of the images, Atlantis and Oasis sans désert) – or with the delicious company of women, his girlfriends’ girlfriends, «les amies de mes amies», as the artists writes... Friedman also escapes by illustrating legends and made-up tales, twisted or readapted to his liking as we can see in the stories of Samba Gana à Ségou or that of saint George who Friedman confronts to a crocodile instead of a dragon. The book consists of 168 drawing-scenes illustrated in a « naïve » manner, his distinctive style that can be found equally in his animated film Les aventures de cheveux lion2. The African influence shows in his drawings as well as in his choice of subjects, although Yona Friedman does include the adventures of Don Quijote in the chapter Contes nègres. Such mixing of genres reflects the freedom of thought that the artist cherishes so. Myths merge with each other, the centaur meets Adam and Eve, Noah and Gilgamesh both face lions. In Friedman’s world as it is depicted in 1001 nuits + 1 jour, the traditional order of things is mixed up, the hunter and the rhinoceros chat with each other and the lion wants nothing but love, but he’s scary (in reference to the image entitled Le lion ne veut que l’amour, mais il fait peur). As for Men, they return to their animal state. In accordance with the architect’s classification, the lovers outside the city (Les amants hors de la ville), and many others, find their place next to the bulls, the horses and the birds, who are in turn associated with other legendary images: a lesson of synchretism and of equality offered once more by Yona Friedman.