The Failure Variety Show: What Happened!?

 From left: Eric Olson, Emmett Montgomery, and Timothy Firth suited up for failure

From left: Eric Olson, Emmett Montgomery, and Timothy Firth suited up for failure

For those of you wondering what took place at our Failure Variety Show at Bumbershoot, and for those who were there and want to see it once more, take a look at these excerpts of failure, featuring the following brave souls:

Comedian Emmett Montgomery (our unflappable host)

Playwright Kelleen Conway-Blanchard

Singer/Songwriter Carrie Akre

Comedian Brett Hamil

AND: Our Rube Goldberg Machine Creators, Eric Olson & Timothy Firth!

In keeping with the show's theme, the quality of the video is poor, but we think it gives you a sense of the event and how much fun everyone had- enjoy!


The Failure Variety Show

Bumbershoot

At Bumbershoot!

Sunday, August 31, 1:45-2:45pm

Charlotte Martin Theatre, Seattle Center (at the Seattle Children's Theatre)

FEATURING: Carrie Akre, Kelleen Conway Blanchard, Bryan Cook, Brett Hamil, and Eric Olson w/ Timothy Firth; hosted by Emmett Montgomery!

Entry to the show requires a Bumbershoot festival ticket, which can be purchased here

The Project Room presents an hour-long variety show featuring a critical part of the creative process: failure. Mixing humor with artistic disaster, The Failure Variety Show will feature rapid-fire presentations by a talented lineup of special guests, followed by the live on-stage reveal of the Failure Variety Show Rube Goldberg Machine, created during the show by artist Eric Olson and destined not to succeed.

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Why are you making a Rube Goldberg Machine during a live show about failure? you may ask yourself. Well, we thought it was the ultimate test of something that's really difficult and is certainly not meant to be made in one hour in front of an audience in a theater. Thus, it has a high potential for disaster, and we think you will enjoy watching us face failure live on stage.

Why are you collecting stories of failure, and what am I supposed to do about it? you may also ask yourself. In order avoid failing alone, we would like to hear your personal anecdotes of failure for sharing during the Failure Variety Show (yes, you can be anonymous). Send your failure story to info@projectroomseattle.org

About the Presenters:

In the early ’90s, Carrie Akre was the lead singer of Hammerbox, a potent alternative rock outfit with guitar hooks as sharp as Nirvana’s but without the record label push the group deserved. In August 1993, Hammerbox performed at Endfest in Washington State to an audience of more than 14,000 fans, sharing the stage with well-known college-radio favorites like X, Social Distortion, and They Might Be Giants. The group was dropped, marking the beginning of Akre’s difficulties with major labels, one that would motivate her to start her own label, Good-Ink Records. Akre formed the band Goodness in 1994 whose self-titled first album was first released on Y Records and then later re-released onLava, an imprint of Atlantic Records. Their second LP, Anthem, for Atlantic in 1998 was shelved after failing to produce a “single”. The label dropped the band soon there after. Goodness disbanded in 2000. In 1999, Akre joined the Rockfords with guitarist Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Rick Friel (vocals), and ex-Goodness members Danny Newcomb (bass) and Chris Friel (drums). Akre released her solo debut, Home, in 2000 (on GoodInk Records), Invitation in 2002 (on self owned My Way Records) and Last the Evening in 2007 (on Loveless Records).

KCB

Kelleen Conway Blanchard is a Seattle playwright. Her work has been seen/produced at Annex Theatre, Macha Monkey, Balagan Theatre, Weird and Awesome, Live Girls!, 12 Minutes Max, 14/48, Spin the Bottle and as part of FringeACT. Her plays have been nominated for the Gregory awards and the Gypsy Rose Lee awards. Outside of Seattle, her plays have been part of Eight Tens at Eight in Santa Cruz, the 2nd Annual Festival of New Short Plays in Belfast, Maine and Perishable Theatre’s Women’s Playwriting Festival. She is inspired by ordinary creepiness and terrible secrets. She also enjoys those internet videos of raccoons. Her new play, The Blood Countess will be produced at Annex theater in the Fall. Come see it! There will be blood. http://thisisprettycreepy.blogspot.com/

Bryan_Cook

Comic/writer Bryan Cook, recently named one of LA Weekly’s 10 Comics to Watch for 2014, is the host and creator of the live show (and podcast on the Nerdist network) Competitive Erotic Fan Fiction (one of Rolling Stone’s Top 10 Comedy Podcasts) presented every month at The Virgil in LA, as well as all over the US. He writes for Funny or Die, was featured in the comedy special Dancing Around the Shit Fire with Kyle Kinane, and has performed at JFL Chicago, Outside Lands (SF), High Plains Comedy Fest (Denver), SF Sketchfest, Bridgetown Comedy Fest (Portland), Riot LA, and Bumbershoot (Seattle). Cook has also contributed to McSweeney’s, written for Ridiculousness on MTV, Fashion Police, and various Joan Rivers projects. 

Brett

Brett Hamil is a standup comic based in Seattle, where The Stranger called him “a truly treasured ham.” He writes a monthly humor column for City Arts Magazine along with cartoons, essays, videos, and interviews. He performs at clubs, colleges, and festivals all over the U.S. and Canada, including the Bridgetown Comedy Festival (Portland), Northwest Comedy Fest (Vancouver) and Bumbershoot (right here now). He is the creator of the award-eligible one-man sketch comedy podcast Ham Radio with Brett Hamil, featured on the Earwolf Podcast Network’s Earwolf Challenge. His videos have been featured on websites like Upworthy and the Daily Dot, receiving hundreds of thousands of views. He lives atop Beacon Hill with his wife and two dogs, all of whom he found on the internet. 

Emmett Montgomery (FVS Host) is a storyteller, comedian and artist who first found the stand-up stage in 2004 and has been failing beautifully ever since. Emmett has been involved in a lot of things including critically acclaimed comedy collectives, post apocalyptic variety shows, underground wrestling leagues and family friendly comedy nights in pizza restaurants. Mr. Montgomery has been featured the film “Seattle Komedy Documentary”, the coffee table book “Seattle 100: a portrait of a city” and multiple festivals including Bumbershoot and the Bridgetown Comedy and Sasquatch festivals. In addition to wandering the country telling jokes, he currently curates and hosts a love letter to Seattle in the form of variety show/sharing party entitled “Weird and Awesome with Emmett Montgomery” at the beloved Annex Theatre; and is a member of the Seattle chapter of the Bushwick Book Club, a collection of musicians and artists that create and perform original works based on literary sources. 

EJOlson

Eric John Olson (Rube Goldberg Machine Designer w/ Timothy Firth) is an artist and engineer. He studied computer science at Seattle University and human-computer interaction at Columbia University. Olson works with video, digital media, installation and participation to explore how we relate to ourselves and one another. Recently he helped create SEAWORTHY, a curatorial project dedicated to creative practices that value collaboration, experimentation, and social engagement.

Read more about other TPR programs related to the topic of Failure 

Preparing for The Failure Variety Show: The Rube Goldberg Confessionals

July 10, 5-8pm: In preparation for The Failure Variety Show at Bumbershoot, we will be testing our plans for a Rube Goldberg machine and collecting YOUR stories of failure! Stop by for a lively open house as we ask for your input and get ourselves ready for TPR's first Bumbershoot appearance.

Featuring Eric Olson, Failure Variety Show Rube Goldberg Machine Designer; and Emmett Montgomery, Failure Variety Show Host and Presenter

Why are you making a Rube Goldberg Machine during a live show about failure? you may ask yourself. Well, we thought it was the ultimate test of something that's really difficult and is certainly not meant to be made in one hour in front of an audience in a theater. Thus, it has a high potential for disaster, and we think you will enjoy watching us face failure live on stage.

Why are you collecting stories of failure, and what am I supposed to do about it? you may also ask yourself. In order not to feel like we are failing alone, we would like to hear your personal anecdotes of failure; we are collecting them for sharing during the Failure Variety Show at Bumbershoot (yes, you can be anonymous).

Read more about the Failure Variety Show here

EricJohnOlson_headshot.JPG

Eric John Olson is an artist and engineer. He studied computer science at Seattle University and human-computer interaction at Columbia University. Olson works with video, digital media, installation and participation to explore how we relate to ourselves and one another. Recently he helped create SEAWORTHY, a curatorial project dedicated to creative practices that value collaboration, experimentation, and social engagement.

Emmett Montgomery is a storyteller, comedian and artist who first found the stand-up stage in 2004 and has been failing beautifully ever since. Emmett has been involved in a lot of things including critically acclaimed comedy collectives, post apocalyptic variety shows, underground wrestling leagues and family friendly comedy nights in pizza restaurants. Mr. Montgomery has been featured the film “Seattle Komedy Documentary”, the coffee table book “Seattle 100: a portrait of a city” and multiple festivals including Bumbershoot and the Bridgetown Comedy and Sasquatch festivals. In addition to wandering the country telling jokes, he currently curates and hosts a love letter to Seattle in the form of variety show/sharing party entitled “Weird and Awesome with Emmett Montgomery” at the beloved Annex Theatre; and is a member of the Seattle chapter of the Bushwick Book Club, a collection of musicians and artists that create and perform original works based on literary sources. 

L’Aquila Essay #3: The Proposal

As the final phase of Veit Stratmann’s work for our Failure topic, the artist visited from France to present a proposal for the abandoned city of L’Aquila to TPR’s audience. L’Aquila is fascinating because it embodies a cyclical mess of an empty city, regulations, unhappy former residents, and no solution in sight. TPR has been following Veit’s research, which you can read about here:

In response to L’Aquila’s difficult state of being neither here nor there, so to speak, Veit drafted a plan for a “people counter” that would calculate individuals who enter the city. The failure in this, as he stated, is that if it were to be produced with the city’s permission, it would then negate itself as a subversive act- it only works if no one knows it’s there- yet it can’t be done from a practical sense without the city’s permission.

With this in mind, below are images of the city itself and Veit’s proposal:

A People Counter
by Veit Stratmann
Presented at The Project Room
February 6, 2013

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Above: The city of L’Aquila

Some premises:

An artistic gesture in L’Aquila cannot be oriented around its potential public reception – for there is no public. It cannot, therefore, be construed as an “artwork”, which draws upon the fact of being out of the ordinary.

This artistic gesture can neither formulate questions nor constitute a proposal because there is no one on the receiving end of such an invitation, nobody to take any questioning into consideration.

An artistic gesture in L’Aquila can only be effective if it is stripped of the privilege of being considered artwork and becomes autonomous, inventing a functional objective in the city (which may or may not be taken into account).

In order to be efficient, an artistic gesture carried out in L’Aquila should be both discrete and plausible within its environment. Its artistic origins should never come into question.

The functionality of such a gesture cannot target an improvement of the situation in L’Aquila because that again would suggest the taking into account of information disseminated by the work by a given public.

An artistic gesture in L’Aquila should integrate the the part of the city that was the most densly populated of the city. In this way, the work can take shape not in the sculptural, self-contained sense but within the materiality of the city itself. In being limited to the materiality of the city itself, the work can be detached from the amorphous societal structure of L’Aquila and avoid becoming “extraordinary”.

Description:

Double photoelectric barriers will be installed at each of the 70 entrance points to the core zone of L’Aquila. This was the most densely populated area of the city before the 2009 earthquake. The frequency and the direction in which the infrared beams forming the barriers are interrupted will allow the number of by-passers entering and exiting the city to be counted. The number of people within the given zone will be accounted for at all times.

The photoelectric barriers will be installed at a height of 120 cm (approx. 4 ft.) off the ground to avoid counting wild animals (especially stray dogs, which are extremely numerous in the old city center). With similar logistical reasoning, the barriers will be installed at intervals of 150 cm (approx. 5 ft.) in order to distinguish between people moving in cars and pedestrians. A person on foot cannot span the same distance as a moving car and therefore he can only block one sensor at a time whereas a car can block two simultaneously. Since car circulation in the city center is nearly exclusively that of official vehicles (police or army) carrying two passengers, moving cars will be counted as including 2 people per car.

A display screen indicating the number of people present in the delimitated area in “real time” will be placed in the delimitated zone in the “Gazebo”, a structure made of glass and wood that served as an annex to the “Dolce Vita” bakery. This building is located in front of the old Hotel Sole on the corner of a little square formed by the intersections of Pizzo Doca, San Crisante and Tre Maria streets. The display screen is to be situated on this particular building because of its transparent structure and its familiarity to the public. However the building will not add any symbolic layer to the project. Because the Gazebo is at a significant distance from Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main street of the historic city center, its non-central location serves to diminish the importance of the installation.

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Map showing gazebo location there the people counter would be installed

The “People Counter’s” small size and location may thus be perfectly ignored. Furthermore, the display screen and photoelectric barriers the people counters/motion sensors only quantify a marginal aspect of the city. They do not intrinsically modify L’Aquila nor constitute any inherent potential of influencing the current situation there. And in referencing a purely “material” reality, the “People Counter” remains detached from the now shapeless society that surrounds it.

Nothing indicates the origins of the “ People Counter”. It is simply there, without any commentary. This is the only way in which it can avoid taking an “extraordinary” status. Because the information provided by the

“PeopleCounter” remains factual, the installation can slip, without resistance, into the non-system of l’Aquila.

2. Because of the decentralized location of the Gazebo, the “People Counter” can go completely unnoticed and unread. To read the screen, two choices are necessary. A decision to enter the delimited zone and leave the main streets to reach the site of the Gazebo must be made. Then another decision has to be made to stay for some time in front of the display screen, observing the changing numbers. If choice-making can be considered the basis for political action, then reaching the site of the “People Counter” and taking the time to watch the display represent decisions and actions that could result in the first embryonic step towards making political gestures in L’Aquila, creating the seeds of politics itself.

The “People Counter” is neither oriented towards the collectivity nor towards an individual. It simply records the presence of individuals within a given area. Yet, because of its location, each individual who takes the “People Counter” display into consideration automatically constitutes himself as a group member within the designated zone. Each individual who stops to watch the “People Counter” triggers – at least temporarily – the emergence of the nucleus of a society.

 

L’Aquila, Research Essay #2

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I am trying to undo the knot I am finding myself in with L’Aquila.

I am including an image of a protest of the citizens of L’Aquila, having hung their house keys on a construction site barrier as a demonstration against being forbidden to return to their homes and– in my interpretation– as a sign of the difficulty in being able to simply DO something. It is the only protest action I have ever seen that is a gesture of giving up.

This text is the continuation of my reflections initiated in “An Introduction to L’Aquila, Empty City”. This should not be taken as an independent text but rather as the further development and honing of – but also the deviation from – the ideas evoked in the first text. To read more about this project, click here.

1. The freezing of time and the dissolution of political space, which took place in the aftermath of the earthquake in L’Aquila on April 6th 2009, transformed the city into a “non-lieu”. A gaping black hole opened up where the city once was. And that black hole aspirated the meaning and purpose of the city, absorbing any notions of coherence, organization or social structure. As society itself was aspirated, all that is left is a carcass – of urban, architectural and security structures – devoid of life and disconnected from normal temporality. L’Aquila is no longer. All that remains is a “un-city” (I use the expression “un-city” in echo of the German word for vampires and zombies, Untote, which means the “not-dead”).

An “artistic gesture” carried out in this “un-city” would become the only structure capable of indicating the presence of life in a lifeless environment. It would be the only apparatus capable of underlining the passage of time in this city that has fallen out of time. The “artistic gesture” would echo the traces of life and societal structures. Effectively, it would become their replacement. But, by its very nature, an “artistic gesture” cannot replace something and this condition of “replacement” would annihilate any possibility of the “artistic gesture” actually being art.

In other words, any artistic gesture introduced in the “un-city” of L’Aquila is stuck in an indissoluble and paralyzing contradiction. As “art”, it is alive – or at least a trace of life. Yet in the “un-city”, it is lifeless and devoid of justification, dead. Art in L’Aquila would, like the city itself, become a zombie.

2. Not being able to avoid this reasoning, I began to accept that the two words that I chose as a starting point, “gesture” and “artist”, needed rethinking because linking them together made them seem pointless in the zombie-like zone of L’Aquila.

Yet the status of this “un-city” continues to fascinate me, and I feel that I need to keep trying to DO something. I realize that I need to dissolve the link between the terms “gesture” and “art” and then link each word separately to the “un-city” itself. The initial duality becomes a triangulation composed of “gesture”, “art” and “un-city”.

A triangulation does not allow for an artistic gesture in L’Aquila, but it does allow me to differentiate and modulate the relationships between the different components. This triangulation allows me to play with the various starting point combinations and their manifest or tacit presence. At least I can act.

3. For the moment, there seem to be two paths of modulation and potential action:

On one hand, I can carry out an action – make a gesture – in the urban and architectural carcass of the city, specifically in what was its public space. However this gesture must be plausible in its environment. The question of its artistic origin should not be posed.

On the other hand, I can carry out an action that is fully inscribed in the realm of art. However this gesture cannot be carried out in the city’s public spaces due to my issues with responding to L’Aquila’s current state by making art about it.

4. Even if these two possibilities are functionally opposite they are linked by an underlying condition. Neither possibility can be productive if it is capable of contradicting its surrounding or of constituting a corrective element:

  If an action carried out in the public space of L’Aquila has the capacity of correcting or contradicting the surrounding situation then it becomes extraordinary (perhaps even a work of art). It will then lose plausibility.

  If an action carried out outside L’Aquila has the capacity of correcting or contradicting the situation from a distance then it becomes a proposal for solving non-art related problems and loses its status of artwork. It will likewise be nullified.

My current possibilities for action seem to only be potentially productive if they are exclusively attached to the materiality of the city, measuring that which is quantifiable. At the same time, I can operate on the principle that in measuring, my potential actions delimit the field of possibilities and create forms. If these forms are based on measurement, they have a function and cannot be completely devoid of meaning. But this meaning appears, in given context of cause and effect, as a byproduct or a parasitical phenomenon. The notion of “meaning” as parasite may indeed have its place in the “un-city” of L’Aquila. It may even be plausible in its environment. 

Veit’s research continues during a visit to The Project Room on Wednesday February 6 at 6pm. Join us to see what he proposes to do about the empty city of L’Aquila.

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Military personnel stand beneath holidays lights in a deserted L’Aquila, December 2012

Successful People Talking About Failure

What does failure look like to an accomplished writer? How does an architect use failure as a productive tool? What can be learned from successful people who have managed daunting problems, and where are specific industries falling short? Join the conversation as we pick the brains of highly imaginative people by focusing on a topic most of us try to avoid. This program is part of TPR’s Failure series.

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Wednesday, December 12 @ 6pm: Trimpin, Sound Artist 

Trimpin is a Seattle-based kinetic sculptor, sound artist, musician, composer, and inventor. He has combined these varied disciplines into his extensive body of work since the 1970s, often creating kinetic sculpture installations that include the production of sound through the inclusion of mechanically or computer-driven instruments or entirely new sound sources. Trimpin has pioneered the development of computer-driven instruments and sound sculptures, including many built prior to the advent of the MIDI interface, but his work almost always includes acoustically produced sounds, and he has created devices to play every instrument of the orchestra. Most of his pieces integrate both sculpture and music in some way.

Trimpin is a MacArthur Genius Award winner and the subject of a documentary, TRIMPIN: the sound of invention.

Wednesday, January 16 @ 6pm: Jason Dodson and Faustine Hudson of The Maldives

In the great Northwest, The Maldives are more than a band, they are an institution. With a history that goes back more than half a decade (their friendships considerably longer), they’ve played every kind of gig imaginable- from backwoods festivals on the back of a flatbed truck to the inauguration of Seattle’s musically minded mayor.

They have overflowed the stages at SXSW, CMJ, Capitol Hill Block Party, Sasquatch, and Bumbershoot. In 2010, they were featured on MTV’s $5 Cover series which spotlighted the best of Seattle’s music scene.

What started as the personal project for lead singer and songwriter Jason Dodson has at times swollen to a small army of twelve before settling on seven full-time members. At some point, The Maldives became bigger than any one man.

Their debut full-length, 2009’s Listen to the Thunder (Mt. Fuji, produced by Grammy Award-winner Kory Kruckenberg), was the culmination of years of live playing, not a studio piece, but a faithful document of who the Maldives had become as a live band. Their latest release Muscle for the Wing (Spark & Shine) is the opportunity to bring the band’s assembled creativity together in a different way and explore their combined vision. And this time they brought in producer Shawn Simmons (The Head and the Heart, Grand Hallway) to capture it all. It builds on a heritage of cinematic American rock & roll that’s at turns chivalrous and fist-pumping, steeped in tradition but unbound by expectations. Dodson’s words reveal characters set in a widescreen frame, scenes from real life that often portray victims of the heart and casualties to the beast that is circumstance.

Wednesday, January 23 @ 6pm: Barbara Earl Thomas- Visual Artist, Writer & Deputy Director of the Northwest African American Museum

Barbara Earl Thomas a Seattle based painter and writer, and the Curator and Deputy Director of the Northwest African American Museum, which opened in 2007. She is represented in Washington by the Francine Seders Gallery, and her work is currently on view in the Tacoma Art Museum’s Best of the Northwest Exhibit that runs through March 2013. In 1998 & 2000 she received The Seattle Arts Commission award for new non-fiction. In 2007 she completed project coordination on a monograph for artist Joe Fedderson, University of Washington Press, published as part of the Jacob and Gwen Lawrence endowed series on American artists.

Barbara is a confirmed bibliophile. One of her recent best reads is Francisco Goya: A Life, by Evan S. Connell. This book is excellent. Of it she says “Inquisitions are not to be desired. Vote no if you ever have the chance.”

Wednesday, January 30 @ 5:30pm: Tom Kundig, Principal/Owner of Olson Kundig Architects

Tom Kundig is one of the most recognized architects in North America. He has received some of our nation’s highest design awards, including a National Design Award in Architecture Design from the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum; four National AIA Honor Awards; seven National AIA Housing Awards; and an Academy Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which recognizes creative individuals whose work is characterized by a strong personal direction. Recently, he was included in The Wallpaper 150, Wallpaper’s list of the 150 people who have most influenced, inspired and improved the way we live, work and travel over the last 15 years.

To date, Kundig has been awarded a total of thirty-seven AIA awards, and over seventy awards total. Olson Kundig Architects received the 2009 National AIA Architecture Firm Award (as Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects) and has twice been named one of the Top Ten Most Innovative Companies in Architecture by Fast Company.

Kundig’s work encompasses residential, commercial and institutional and is located around the world. His signature detailing and raw, kinetic construction explore new forms of engagement with site and landscape, which he frames in the workings of unique, building-size machines. In his houses, which are quickly becoming recognized as modern-day classics, brute strength and tactile refinement are held in perfect equilibrium. Recent projects include Art Stable, 1900 First Avenue Hotel and Apartments, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and private residences in Spain and throughout North America, including The Pierre, Shadowboxx, Studio Sitges and Hawaii Residence, Whistler Ski House.

Wednesday, February 20, 6pm: Carrie Akre, Vocalist

In the early ’90s, Akre was the lead singer of Hammerbox, a potent alternative rock outfit with guitar hooks as sharp as Nirvana’s but without the record label push the group deserved. In August 1993, Hammerbox performed at Endfest in Washington State to an audience of more than 14,000 fans, sharing the stage with well-known college-radio favorites like X, Social Distortion, and They Might Be Giants. The group was dropped, marking the beginning of Akre’s difficulties with major labels, one that would motivate her to start her own label, Good-Ink Records. Akre formed the band Goodness in 1994 whose self-titled first album was first released on Y Records and then later re-released onLava, an imprint of Atlantic Records. Their second LP, Anthem, for Atlantic in 1998 was shelved after failing to produce a “single”. The label dropped the band soon there after. Goodness disbanded in 2000. In 1999, Akre joined the Rockfords with guitarist Mike McCready of Pearl Jam, Rick Friel (vocals), and ex-Goodness members Danny Newcomb (bass) and Chris Friel (drums). Akre released her solo debut, Home, in 2000 (on GoodInk Records), Invitation in 2002 (on self owned My Way Records) and Last the Evening in 2007 (on Loveless Records).

Above image: Train wreck at Montparnasse Station, at Place de Rennes side (now Place du 18 Juin 1940), Paris, France, 1895.