Desperate to take a break from the creatively–dead confinement of my Wharton existence, I went to see Ali Lotz’s installation, “Les Fumeurs,” in the Addams gallery for the Junior Show.
In its most basic sense, Les Fumeurs is a black and white film showing individual portraits of fifteen people smoking cigarettes; this is mirrored by an eerie set of photographs of the sitters, where everything except their hands is colored-in with black sharpie. As the camera rolls, it captures the sitters flicking their hair, sighing, smiling to themselves, and staring into nothingness. As the sitters are alone onscreen and in their private moments, each person’s smoking tics and idiosyncrasies become clear. They smoke at their own pace, until they finish. And one by one they leave the shot, and their picture disappears. The structure of the single act of smoking strikes the perfect balance, where the sitters are free to be themselves.
Ali is the gal wearing the stripy sweater in the bottom left hand cover of the video. I met her at (cough) Owls (cough) last semester and we awkwardly cemented our friendship when I saw her around Addams shortly after. (She didn’t remember me.) Sometime in late November, in the first month we knew each other, Ali showed me footage for the film. At that time, I recognized only a few people in it.
As the weeks passed, I floated vaguely throughout the stages of Les Fumeurs’s creation; sitting next to Ali for hours in the MacLab whilst she colored in the photos and I worked on my design project for a class, watching her piece the photos together on the floor of Diane’s bedroom.
But when I saw the final video in the gallery, I realized that in two simple months I had met and formed great relationships with many of the sitters. They had added so much fun and meaning to my life. As I had gotten to know Ali, I had been part of an ever-deepening, intricate web of Penn students and not even known it. Seeing the film was like watching a small puzzle of myself; a tiny yet eye-opening window into how I’ve revealed myself to these new friends in such a short space of time, and how they have changed me.
Three of the sitters are strangers.
One is a friend from middle school, who has been brought back into my life by lucky magic.
Three are new friends who I’ve pulled aside at parties. We’ve bonded in discussions about our sex lives, the heartlessness of humanity, cultural differences, and whether or not money really matters. Ironically, I’ve confided in them about the 2-4 people that I find attractive in this film.
I’ve kissed many of them, but two on more than a platonic level.
One is a random hookup that will never reawaken from the dead.
I’ve smoked with them, drank with them, snuggled with them on sofas, danced to "Come on Eileen" with them and sat outside with them in the cold, while they smoked and I chatted in my typically awkward, non-smoker way.
For me, Les Fumeurs demonstrates the strange way in which Penn life brings totally random people together, and how great friendships and even romance are born in a way that is impossible to predict. Ali’s eleven minutes of silent, bewitching film is a cross-section of my life here. She has pinned down the unique essences of each person as I know them. It sums up all the great conversations and priceless moments of college bliss that I’ve been lucky enough to share with them.