Ecluse de l'Aiguille (Aiguille Lock), Canal du MidiJoël Barthès (b. 1955)
About the Artist/Site
An extensive series of manmade waterways that crisscrosses France ensures that boat and barge traffic can pass between surrounding oceans and seas. The Canal du Midi, the southernmost waterway, is interrupted, as are the others, by a series of locks, and connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. At each lock a lock-keeper lives on site, always available to adjust the water levels in order to facilitate maritime traffic. The Canal was inscribed as a cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 1996.
Joël Barthès was born in Carcasonne in 1955, and, after experimenting with several different vocations, moved to the Aiguille Lock in 1988, near the village of Puichéric, in order to become the lock-keeper. By 1992, he began adding wooden sculptures to ornament the site, which he created from branches, roots, and trunks of trees that he found nearby in the surrounding forested areas. He was particularly attracted to those elements with strange, gnarly, and odd forms.
Most of Barthès’s works are figurative, and many are humorous as well. Among them is a typical Frenchman toasting with a glass of wine, a runner with hair streaming out behind, a dancing couple, a musician, a monkey hanging from a tree branch, chickens and water birds, and even a crocodile sunning himself on the pier. After learning that a miniature elephant once lived in this region of l’Occitaine, Barthes created his own version, identified with a wooden label and protected within a wooden enclosure. “Humanoids” and “complicated accidents,” evincing unusual assemblages of materials that manifest eccentric anthropomorphic and zoomorphic forms, are among the most appealing of his many works.
Later Barthès began working with iron as well, utilizing recycled materials that he would find or that friends would bring to him: tubing, light shades, and rebar of all shapes and sizes. At this time he primarily works in metal, some of which he has painted and others which he has left the grey color of the original material; several are kinetic. He amuses himself and he wants others to amuse themselves as well: nothing is serious, he says, and nothing should be.
Barthès has achieved some local renown, and as early as 1994 began exhibiting his works regionally, in sculpture symposia as well as, at times, slightly further afield. Some of his works are available for sale, and may be purchased as one floats down the canal or as one approaches the village by automobile. The sculptures and the site are always viewable from the first of April to the first of November at the lock.
~Jo Farb Hernández, 2014
Barthès began sculpting after he was visually struck by the shape of a branch of one of the trees that he had pruned along the banks of the canal towpaths. He shaped it into a man that looked as if he were hailing passing boats, and was surprised and delighted when tourists stopped to photograph it. Their response stimulated him to continue to sculpt.
He later turned to metal, utilizing his welding skills, necessary for the maintenance of the lock, and continues to enjoy using found objects to create all kinds of unusual animals and figures, gradually filling up the space along the banks of the lock.
~Jean-Louis Bigou, translated by Henk van Es
Map & Site Information
Puichéric, Languedoc-Roussillon, 11700 fr
Latitude/Longitude: 43.221473 / 2.618026
Puichéric, Languedoc-Roussillon, 11700, France
The sculptures and the site are always viewable from the first of April to the first of November at the lock.
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