The excuse for my visit to Paris was SmartCity, a conference organized in the frame of the festival Emergences. Emergences is an 'international festival of electronic cultures and new art forms'. However, one must accept that in a city like Paris the word 'international' doesn't necessarily that tacit rules will be respected and that the activities and conferences will be held in any other language than french. That's probably why i enjoyed the event so much. While both the issues discussed and the quality of the speakers invited to the panels were definitely of international relevance, the festival had a homely feeling with an audience ready to participate and dialog, un-refrained as they were by any lack of knowledge of the ubiquitous english.
The conference focused on urban activism and artistic interventions in public space, a theme which offered a splendid contrast with the venue of the conference: the very chichi Maison Internationale at the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris.
There were some good moments but the one that got me glued to my seat, pen in the hand and eyes on the screen was the presentation of mOmentoMoNUMENTO, a joint project by Brazilian collective Coloco & French experimental architects of Exyzt whose pavilion at the Venice architecture biennale of 2006 i had enjoyed so much.
Exyzt's works engage mostly with temporary interventions, ephemeral constructions and the presence of diversity in urban space. They have recently joined forces with Coloco to submit to the institution Cultures France a project that will be part of the official programme of the French Year in Brazil (February-July 2009).
The final project stems from a research started in 2001 by Coloco.
The desire of these people is to live in the center of the city, close to the services. They organize the general functioning of the building: bathroom and garden for the collectivity are installed, trash collection is organized, spaces on ground levels are reserved for the elderly, etc. Sometimes, the dwellers are kicked out of the building but in some cases, they manage to reach an agreement with city officials (conscious that the abandon of the center of a city for the suburbs is a growing problem) and their dwelling become permanent and 'legitimate'.
Coloco came to consider that these inhabited skeletons of buildings give way to an unexpected collaboration between the construction industry and invention prompted by necessity. This idea is at the origin of the skeleton dwellings: a safe and assembled structure is supplied to a group of inhabitants-builders. It can be improved according to the needs and resources of its occupants, who contribute their labor, advised by professionals.
The skeleton dwellings derive from a logic of opportunity, being easily inserted in dense urban areas and diversifying the supply of low-cost urban housing.
Meanwhile, Exyzt is also working on the rehabilitation of disused spaces and on alternative and cheap forms of dwellings.
A first project they presented is République Ephémère where 450 architectural students from Europe were given some rudimentary tools and materials to organize for 2 weeks their life as a big community in the enclosed space of the two wharehouses?
The challenge took the form of a one-to-one scale construction game that doubled as a laboratory of architectural and social research. The conceptor team built the main collective equipment (kitchen, washrooms, a hotel) beforehand. The rest would be a village autoconstructed and automanaged by its inhabitants.
Each student was untrusted with a survival kit, including a construction manual and security instructions, and a defined quantity of scaffolding and textiles. Geometrical problems could arise, as this amount of scaffolding, sufficient to build one cubic room could then be combined with others: for example, 2 kits put together could give rise to 3 dwellings.
The affinities and exchanges between the participants were gradually translated into architectural terms. More complex, personalized structures were developed over time. The implantation looked like a cross between an organic. medieval village and a refugee camp. It kept transforming itself, not only on the level of the individual sphere, but also on the level of the collective organization.
The second project Exyzt spotlighted was an intervention inside and outside of the Palast der Republik, a gigantic relic of the communist era, now demolished and about to be replaced by the (very tacky imho) reconstruction of its predecessor, the Berlin Stadtschloss.
Under the menace of a demolition act, Raumlabor, one of the most brilliant group on the German architecture scene, decided to occupy and open the monument to the public. They called Exyzt to give them a helping hand.
Der Berg (in german: the mountain) is an artificial mountain, a surrealist architectural performance built to react to the absurdity of making a tabula rasa of a part of Berlin's history in order to build the replica of a long disappeared building.
This collaboration resulted in a 20 meters high triangulated structure made out of scaffolding and fiber glass textile. The installation invaded the theater, while another team made it spread through the roof and onto the front porch of the building. Der Berg became a monument inside a monument.
After this introduction, Exyzt and Coloco focused on mOmentoMoNUMENTO, the project they are working on for the official programme of the French Year in Brazil (February-July 2009). The idea is to follow on the steps of the French tradition to 'offer' monuments to foreign countries (think of the Statue of Liberty). This monument, however, is already on site. Well, sort of. The architects have obtained the help of the city of Sao Paulo to spot one of the many skeletons that have been standing for years in the city center, waiting to be reconquered by Exyzt and Coloco.
The building they've set their sight on was built in 1965. It is the first building with a facade entirely made of glass. Occupied at some point by the federal police it has now been left to decay. The main problem the architect have to solve is that living inside the building is almost un-conceivable without air conditioning which has been dismantled in the meantime. The whole electrical setting has to be re-installed as well (especially if one wants to have access to the top floor by lift.)
The project responds to Sao Paulo government's desire to find new solutions that will inject life back into the center of the city: inhabitants have moved to the edge of the city, leaving many abandoned buildings and a thick infrastructure of roads behind them.
The building is left at the disposal of the architects for one year. If at the end of the project, the result is deemed good enough by the city, it could become a space left permanently occupied by cultural organizations, art galleries, artists residencies, etc.
Exyzt and Coloco want to make the rooftop (originally planned as a landing spot for helicopters) accessible to the public.
The project is currently self-funded. Any help and feedback would be most welcome.
In little more than 24 hours, i managed to visit some compelling art events in Paris. My first stop was for numeriscausa, a gallery that dedicates its energy to prove critics, audience and institutions (hence the market) that the so-called digital arts have achieved maturity.
The space is currently inhabited by the robots of France Cadet. With her exhibition, Artificial Curiosity, the artist questions once again the relationships we have with our pets, whether they made of hardware or flesh and blood, she also takes a critical look at the limits of science and eugenism.
At the entrance, you're greeted by a wall of Hunting Trophies (video), then by an installation bearing a title that references one of Philip K.Dick's most famous novels: Do Robotic Cats Dream of Rlectric Fish?. An electronic kitten is sitting in front of the TV set, transfixed by the image of a virtual fish, floating around the screen.
Will one day robotic pets behave like our cats and dogs? Will they be willing to engage in social activities or watch TV? Will they want to be entertained like the rocking robot that awaits visitors in the back room of the gallery?
Its name, Gaude Mihi, comes from a Latin expression that can be translated as 'amuse me', 'entertain me'. As soon as the robot feels a presence it starts balancing itself. All the robot wants is to have fun without any consideration whatsoever for the entertainment of its owner (though i must say that i found his behaviour hilarious), it rejects 'interactivity' (the presence of a proximity sensor is not enough to qualify the piece as really interactive) and participation, redefining in the process the roles of the toy and the player.
Video visit with France Cadet (in french.)
On view at the Gallery numeriscausa in Paris, until October 25, 2008. France Cadet will also have some work exhibited on October 20 to 28 at Slick, a young contemporary art fair which takes place in Paris on the occasion of FIAC in Paris.
Sorry for the long silence. I made a few trips, spend two days offline (not my choice obviously) but i'm going to be back on track and in full swing tomorrow. In the meantime, here's a quick post to remind you that this blog is alive.
Two days ago, i was running around Paris trying to cram as many exhibitions as possible into one single Tuesday. One that stood out was a solo show of David-Ivar Herman Dune aka Yaya at Lucile Corty, a gallery that makes out for his tiny size by spreading over three floors off the Arts & Métiers metro station.
David-Ivar Herman Dune aka Yaya sings and plays the guitar in a band called Herman Dune but he also creates drawings, illustrations, and collaborates with other visual artists.
Summoning recurrent characters such as aliens, surfers or the blue big foot, his drawings are referencing his songs, everyday-life thoughts or popular culture connected to childhood like Disney's Pete's Dragon.
Yaya's graphic works about the Blue Bigfoot Of The Negev, an endearing blue creature living on a black ink and white paper land, are shown at the Lucile Corty Gallery until October 25, 2008.
Built in 1975, the Superdome stadium has hosted numerous Super Bowls (the American football championship's final), a Rolling Stones concert, Pope John Paul II, the Republican Convention and in 2005 it served as a "shelter of last resort" for the refugees of Hurricane Katrina. The Louisiana Superdome builds thus a bridge between entertainment and anguish. Taking inspiration from the paradoxes of the stadium, the Palais de Tokyo in Paris is currently running SUPERDOME, a set of five solo exhibitions balancing between entertainment and desolation, pop culture and religion, minimalism and über-geekery. They continue a program testing the notion of the elasticity of art which started with the exhibition Five Billion Years (see report, part 1 and part 2). All artists were showcasing only one large-scale piece, apart from Jonathan Monk whose paintings and installations were spread over both the Palais de Tokyo and the neighbouring Musee d'Art Moderne. It was, how can i put it... very Palais de Tokyo. Slightly edgy but not too much, fun, pop, easy to understand by the hoi polloi like me but nevertheless carrying more substance than it might seem at first sight.
Daniel Firman 's elephant Würsa stand still and upside down on her trunk. The pachyderm could only manage this delicate exercise at a distance of 18,000 km from the earth or if she were on a planet with a circumference of 2,484,0031.1 m (because of its weak gravitational pull). It is on the basis of learned scientific calculations that Daniel Firman reached these conclusions. The life size and hyper-realist sculpture borrows from the skills of a taxidermist named Jean-Pierre Gérard and puts into a new perspective the most basic physical laws of this world.
The super-star and borderline kitsch (but don't we love kitsch?) installation is Fabien Giraud & Raphaël Siboni's Last Manoeuvres in the Dark is a networked field of 300 terracotta Darth Vader masks, perched on high sticks and aligned in a military formation like the Xian army. Outfitted with a set of ethernet ports and a microprocessor, each mask is wired to a monolithic black computer fitted with an artificial intelligence program. The system has been given the task to compose and play the darkest song ever. The evil anthem is assembled from a huge catalog of music that range from Gabriel Fauré's Requiem to heavy metal songs.
The sources of inspiration for this installation are many. The main one is the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. As Siboni explained in an interview i read in the Palais magazine: 'And then there's that scene where the character realizes the computer is taking over and disconnects it, and the image of a computer that regresses to the point of reciting the children's song. That scene gave us real inspiration for the project. What is meant by an 'evil' computer or indeed by a computer that 'regresses'? It's by making the computer regress that Kubrick demonstrates its intelligence.'
Arcangelo Sassolino's Afasia 1 is a nitrogen-powered sculpture that shoots empty beer bottles, those icons of rock culture, against a wall at 600km/hr inside a zoo-like metal cage. The shooting happens every few minutes. Meanwhile you're left wondering whether you should opt for safety and step back or let curiosity take over and walk closer to get a better view of the blast. The waiting for the upcoming and -let's face it- absurd blast only adds to the anxiety. The artist wanted visitors to add a visceral experience of art on top of the usual intellectual one.
All my little Superdome images.
Superdome runs at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris until August 24, 2008.
Some notes from an exhibition i saw a month ago in Paris:
Bêtes et Hommes is a 3500m2 exhibition which explores the relationships between humans and animals.
The exhibition takes place at the Grande Halle of La Villette which used to "welcome" animals in the past: the space had been initially built in 1867 as a slaughterhouse for the cows which would then feed the Paris markets.
The exhibition takes individual situations involving a human being and an animal as its starting point and suggests an alternative way to think about living creatures, questioning their place in our society and proffering ideas about cohabitation that might inspire the world of the future.
Patrick Bouchain based the design of this exhibition on structures that brings man and animal together: the shelter, the refuge, and the den. Visitors navigate from one tent to the next one, the way to move from the beginning to the end of the exhibition is not always clear which makes the experience all the more interesting, it felt sometimes like being lost in a cozy jungle.
Once again congratulations to the press office people for their poor job: i was not allowed to take pictures and could only use the few images they provided us with. Their photos show the exhibition without visitors (which makes it hard to judge the scale of the tents designed by Bouchain) and most of my favourite works were not featured in the image press kit.
Still, Bêtes et Hommes is a very good exhibition. La Villette is an exhibition centre dedicated to science and technology and it was exciting to see how well this exhibition makes use of artistic works to highlights some key concepts (full list of art works).
The exhibition proposes new ways to think about animals, challenging preconceived ideas you might have, giving different points of views, asking questions but never coming with answers for you to swallow passively.
Four themes are presented:
When devoid of his or her hair, isn't Höller's Orang-Outang more human-like?
Animals have a job to do
Animals force us to choose
The exhibition space is also hosting living animals in residency (a bit as if they were artists) such as Mynah birds, iguanas, buzzards, crows, vultures, and otters. Each of them is a witness of the conflict and cooperation relationship with humans. These animals were either hurt or healed by humans, seized at customs or at private homes, etc.
Henry Horenstein's Aquatic photo series with an amazing close-up of a squid and other marine portraits
The basics: Toy Comix, which explores the importance of toys and games in contemporary comic strips worldwide, is running until March 9 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
The goods: The curators invited contemporary artists to pick up a toy in their collection and create an art piece starring the toy. The result is that an exhibition which you'd expect to be for the Under 12 Only is a huge hit with adults.
Comic strip artists who had shown a particular interest for toys in the past were asked to feature the toy as the main protagonist of a story in 3 comic strips.
Other artists were commissioned an installation --which the museum calls a "universe"-- revolving around toys.
Benoit Jacques used discarded materials to build a flying vessels surrounded by smaller flying objects (planes, birds, parachutes, etc.) and angels made especially for the project. Poudre d'Anges (Angel Powder) is light, dreamy and poetic.
Helge Reumann & Xavier Robel suspended some of their Soft Fabric Toys, plush pink objects with organic shapes, and mixed them with wooden toys, race cars, latex super heroes in ridiculous posture, etc.
- For his installation Perte de connaissance sous les visages (Loss of consciousness under the faces) Stephane Blanquet took his cue from Hans Bellmer's eerie dolls. selected dolls from the 19th and early 20th century and had them done masks. The dolls, most of them stripped down from their luxurious clothes, are slightly scary and threatening. They sit, stand or hang above a ground which looks dirty and unwelcoming.
- Winshluss, Cizo and Felder created the Jouets M. Ferraille, Chambre de démonstration avec enfant (Toys Mister Ferraille, Demo room with child).
Also on show: the OuBaPo (Ouvroir de Bande-dessinée Potentielle (Potential Comics Workshop) made a collective work which reflects on other artists' contributions to the exhibition; Sardon's Le Tampographe installation, the Pecking Chicken movies by Jean-Michel Thiriet which feature the adventures of a mechanical chicken; interviews of artists talking about their favourite childhood toy.