September 28, 2009 / 12:25 PM / 9 years ago

French journalist turns political scandal into art

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Dozens of names, from top French business leaders to politicians, spies and even a popular singer wind across the canvas in a rough table of handwritten notes, joined together like a sprawling family tree.

French writer and journalist Denis Robert (L) arrives behind a wall of gendarmes for the start of the trial dubbed the 'Clearstream Affair', at the courthouse in Paris on September 21, 2009. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

The names, all linked in some way or other to the biggest political scandal France has seen in years, come from the notebooks of Denis Robert, the investigative journalist who set the Clearstream affair running five years ago.

But now they are on the walls of a Paris gallery as part of a collage inspired by the case and cut together from Robert’s bulging files of scribbled notes, emails, text messages and newspaper cuttings.

“My background is in writing, so I’m not going to invent a new character for myself. My material is words, so I use words and afterwards, I can use pictures, images and other things but I really work in words,” Robert said, in a presentation.

The exhibition, called "Junk" at Galerie W in Montmartre, (here) runs until October 30 and is the latest foray into art for Robert, who held another exhibition of his work last year.

Over the collage of names — a version of a chart Robert made to follow the personal links in the case — stand the words “Love Story” in pink, a sour joke on a case whose bitterness has surprised even hardened observers of the French political scene.

Robert’s probing into the Luxembourg-based securities clearing house Clearstream was the catalyst for an intrigue that could have come from the pen of a latter-day Alexandre Dumas.

While investigating money laundering and financial corruption, he came into the possession of Clearstream documents that seemed to implicate some of France’s biggest names, from President Nicolas Sarkozy to Alizee, a popular variety artist.

He soon realized the documents had been faked but the case set off an unprecedented court battle, in which former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is accused of trying to use the bogus material to stop his rival Sarkozy winning power.

Robert is himself in the dock, charged with illegal possession of the documents. But he says that what he has been accused of is no more than the normal work of an investigative journalist.

He has no regrets about the affair, which has absorbed him for years. But the works themselves, with their dizzying lists and scribbled notes, give something of the obsessional flavor that hangs over the case.

“I will not say anything bad about Clearstream again,” several of the works proclaim, in a wild scrawl superimposed over the collages.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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