Summer in the City

Programming

Summer for me tends to mean either working on or recovering from a festival, but I still remember fondly the French summer school holidays – Les Grandes Vacances, a seemingly endless 8-week stretch of perfectly free time. However, Summer in the Suburbs wasn’t exactly action-packed, so I would have been grateful at the time for this Mairie de Paris initiative: the Pass Jeunes (Youth Pass), a bundle of free or heavily discounted cultural offers for anyone aged 15-25 and living, studying or working in Paris.

Amongst the 26 free activities, pass holders can choose from admission to several museums, temporary exhibitions, cinema, music festivals (jazz, world, and classical), heritage buildings and sports activities.

13 further activities are offered with a discount: a visit of the Eiffel Tower and the zoo, a river cruise, a hot air balloon trip and more exhibitions.

As an added incentive, there’s a competition to win a few more cultural/lifestyle activities: more exhibitions, singing and circus lessons and free subscriptions to Vélib, Paris’ shared bike scheme. Each voucher used unlocks a password to input on the Pass Jeune website – so the more offers they access, the more likely users are to win rewards.

Here’s my imaginary summer line-up of Grandes Vacances weekly activities – if only I were a few years younger and living in Paris – for a grand total of €8.5.

 

1. Les années 50 at the Musée de la Mode

Not just any 50s fashion but 50s fashion in France – Givenchy, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, Christian Dior, Jacques Griffe, Pierre Cardin… Here’s a teaser in French with sweeping views of the outfits on display.

 

2. Ballon de Paris

Billed as the biggest in the world, this hot air balloon changes colour to indicate the quality of air, from red for very bad to green for excellent.

Here’s a Go Pro video filmed 2 years ago – according to the comments, the orientation is all wrong, but it’s still a nice view.

There’s also a permanent webcam to see Paris from the sky whenever the balloon is up and flying.

 

3. L’Etat du ciel at the Palais de Tokyo

I try to go to the Palais de Tokyo whenever I’m in Paris, because it’s actually quite small and exhibitions i’ve been to so far felt slow-paced and spacious. I also like the fact that it’s right next to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (which permanent collections are always free to visit).

L’État du ciel – a title borrowed from Victor Hugo’s essay Promontoire du songe, in which the author wrote that “the sky’s normal state is at night” – is “a homage to many artists’, poets’ and philosophers’ reflections on the physical, moral and political factors that shape our world”. Artists include Ed Atkins, Camille Henrot, Steve McQueen, Tony Oursler, Dominique Ghesquière and more, with a focus on performance and time-based art.

 

4. JR au Panthéon

The Panthéon is a 17th-century neoclassical church that has been used as a burial place for eminent French citizens – all men except Marie Curie – since the Revolution. It is currently one of 9 heritage sites hosting a participatory photographic installation by artist JR, whose mobile “Inside Out” photobooth van travelled through France earlier this year to collect photographic portraits.

The Panthéon is undergoing major renovation work, and the commission is a great way to draw attention to the building and its signification in French history, whilst questioning its function as a place of consecration of the great and the good by infiltrating it with 4,000 anonymous portraits.

The video below is in French but shows lots of views of the installation.

 

5. Jeux, Ruses et Hasards at the Forum des Images

3 short films – Zig-Zag, Le Jeu de l’Oie by Raoul Ruiz, Le Coup du Berger by Jacques Rivette and La Boulangère de Monceau by Eric Rohmer, as part of the “Goût du Jeu” thematic retrospective, surveying the notion of play in films. There are many more of the 70+ films that I would like to discover or watch again, but this selection of shorts by 3 great filmmakers seems like a safe bet.

 

6. Marc Ducret – Tower Bridge at the Paris Jazz Festival

Marc Ducret’s Tower Bridge is a project based on “an attempt at transposing in the musical world a short chapter from Vladimir Nabokov’sAda, in which the writer weaves a whole labyrinth made of mirrors, memories and correspondences, eventually building a form which in turn leads to his other books, themes and emotions”  (from the press release). The 12-piece band incorporates two-third of the excellent Trio Journal Intime (Matthias Mahler on trombone and Frédéric Gastard on bass saxophone), so it’s got to be good.

 

7. Pierre Henry: Voyage à travers ma modernité at Paris Quartier d’Eté

A pioneer of musique concrète and precursor of electronic music, Pierre Henry has been artist-in-residence at Paris Quartier d’Eté (an annual eclectic programme of performing arts) for the past 7 years. If I had to choose only one of the 6 concerts presented at the recently renovated Carreau du Temple, it would probably be Symphonie pour un homme seul, a musical collage in 12 movements featuring vocal fragments recorded backwards, accelerated or repeated, whistles, footsteps, doors slamming, metallic sounds and a prepared piano, which he composed with Pierre Schaeffer in 1949-1950.

Here is a film of the choreography of the same name by Maurice Béjart, created in 1955 and based on the Eroïca movement of the “symphony”.

 

8. Avec motifs apparents at the Cent Quatre

Large-scale in situ installations by 5 artists at the Cent Quatre, a new(ish) arts centre opened in 2008 on the site of the former municipal undertaker services.

Artists include Pascale Marthine Tayou, Xavier Juillot,  Jérémy Gobé, Alice Mulliez and Prune Nourry.

Art at all costs?

The Long Read

… the charismatic ideology of ‘creation’… undoubtedly constitutes the principal obstacle to a rigorous science of the production of the value of cultural goods. It is this charismatic ideology, in effect, which directs the gaze towards the apparent producer – painter, composer, writer – and prevents us from asking who has created this ‘creator’ and the magic power of transubstantiation with which the ‘creator’ is endowed. It also steers the gaze towards the most visible aspect of the process of production, that is, the material fabrication of the product, transfigured into ‘creation’, thereby avoiding any enquiry beyond the artist and the artist’s own activity into the conditions of this demiurgic capability.

– Pierre Bourdieu, in The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field

So if we follow Bourdieu, what is the – old and tired – myth of the artist-as-demiurge hiding? Where would it be steering our gaze away from?

There’s a big clue in this quote:

I don’t care where the money comes from. It could be rolled by the mafia. If it goes to the arts it becomes good money.
– Lord Goodman, Chair of the Arts Council England (1965 and 1972)

And in this other one too:

All money’s dirty money. Not that I’m saying BP’s money is dirty.
– Alex Beard, Deputy Director of Tate

The value of art – symbolic, social, financial – is the result of a complex chain of transactions, just like any other human production. Sponsorship is one of these transactions: an exchange between a corporation providing financial support and a cause-driven institution – championing something worthy and with a wide appeal, such as the arts, health, education or social justice – providing grateful recognition.

When art is created or presented using public funds, we expect that it should reflect this origin and therefore be accessible to all and contribute to the social good: well-being, social inclusion, education. Investing in the arts comes with the condition that they should be aligned with the principles of a democratic government and contribute to its mission.

What is at the other end of the transaction between corporations and arts institutions? To quote Wikipedia on “Theories of Sponsorship”:

A range of psychological and communications theories have been used to explain how commercial sponsorship works to impact consumer audiences. Most use the notion that a brand (sponsor) and event (sponsoree) become linked in memory through the sponsorship and as a result, thinking of the brand can trigger event-linked associations, while thinking of the event can come to trigger brand-linked associations.

Sponsorship is a two-way endorsement: the arts institution is sharing the symbolic value of its cultural products, the corporate sponsor is imparting its brand image on the audience experience. The view that money get cleansed of its origin – and its symbolic ties – when it contributes to making art happen is a convenient celebration of the “magic power of transubstantiation” of the artist-creator that leaves in the dark the implications of the legitimacy gained by the sponsor through this transaction.

To delve deeper into the ethics of arts sponsorship, arts activists Platform have put together a study guide titled Take the Money and Run?, a selection of 9 key texts available for free consultation in the Live Art Development Agency study room (in East London) (as well as most likely in large libraries). It aims at providing readers with a set of critical tools, case studies and references to help arts organisations and artists take an informed position on their financial model. Texts include an edited collection of documents on public arts funding, State ideology and social engineering, an Arts & Business publication titled Using Art to Render Authenticity in Business (available online), or else a conversation between artist Hans Haacke and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu on the impact of sponsorship and censorship on the arts.

Activists are getting increasingly vocal – and creative – to highlight the cooptation of art by corporate interests. Platform is a member of the Art Not Oil coalition, alongside Liberate Tate, Reclaim Shakespeare Company / BP or Not BP?, RisingTide, Shell Out Sounds and the UK Tar Sands Network, who are creating imaginative and high-impact campaigns to highlight to the public the associations of large arts institutions with oil-related companies.

I took a look at some critical enquiries from other countries using diverse methods – citizen journalism, visual essay and crowdfunding, video games – to question the links between art and power. If art provides a good ROI for political and commercial interests – and why would they invest otherwise? – at what cost to the art, the artists and the public does this come?

1. The citizen whistleblower: Louvre pour Tous (France) – 2004-present

Created in 2004 by designer Bernard Hasquenop to react against the change of concessionary regime at the Louvre (first revoking free admissions for teachers, then for artists), Louvre pour tous is “an observatory of public museums dedicated, through articles and in-depth investigations, to monitoring the rise of commercial interests: the ever-increasing weight of philanthropy, for better or worst, sponsorship masquerading as philanthropy, privatisation of the public space, dubious merchandising, high prices, blurring of borders between advertising and exhibition, exaggerated attendance figures, deliberate lies…”

The website – all in French and mostly about French museums and cultural policy – is a goldmine of information unveiling the tangled relations between art and power and probing the gaps between the ideal and practice of cultural democracy . There are too many interesting features to mention them all, so I’ll just choose a few:

www.louvrepourtous.fr
@louvrepourtous

2. The epic fight for freedom of speech: Banned on the Hill (Canada) – 2011-2014

What would you do if you discovered you were blacklisted by your own government for speaking up on climate change and the tar sands?

When Canadian artist Franke James’ European tour of her climate change-related artwork was suddenly cancelled, she started an investigation into her government’s practices, documented through a visual essay turned into an animated video (above). She also crowdfunded a public art campaign to put up posters on outdoor ad sites across Canada and in Washington.

20130515083903-FrankeJamesDoNotTalk_500

If the press coverage on James’ story is anything to go by, the government’s attempt at censorship has rather backfired – not only contributing to spreading the message far and wide, but also confirming that even governments and businesses take art very seriously indeed.

Franke James has been awarded a Gold medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2014 for the book version of Banned on the Hill – available here.

www.frankejames.com
@frankejames

3. The satirical business simulation: Oiligarchy (Italy) – 2008

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MolleIndustria create social simulations that lay bare the mechanisms of war, politics and business – in their own words, “homeopathic remedies to the idiocy of mainstream entertainment in the form of free, short-form, online games”.

Oiligarchy is a playable commentary on the oil industry in which the player takes the role of an “oiligarch” managing the extraction business in the homeland and overseas and lobbies the government to keep the carbon-fossil based economy as profitable as possible. A post-mortem available online explains the choices made and references used by the game designers.

Oiligarchy

Capture d’écran 2014-07-12 à 13.09.55

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www.molleindustria.org
@molleindustria

Virtual Street Art 2: Promenade Nocturne in Marseille

Spotlight

Google have collaborated with French sound artist and urban storyteller Julie de Muer to create an immersive night walk through the back streets of Marseille using the Google Street technology.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-21 à 23.32.22

Promenade Nocturne / Night Walk takes the virtual walker in Julie’s footsteps, through the narrow, graffiti-covered ruelles of the Cours Julien neighbourhood in Marseille. The walk is guided by Christophe Perruchi, musician and street art enthusiast, who shares his personal insights. A map shows the recommended route, but also some off-track options in dotted lines, and the location of the 34 “secret” landmarks to check out.

Walk start

The Marseille-by-night atmosphere is conveyed by field recordings – echoing footsteps, music spilling out of bars, buzzing conversations on terraces – and a soundtrack composed by Perruchi.

Artworks and other points of interest to explore are signaled by icons to be clicked on.

Snapshot with secrets

Selected artworks can be explored in more details, with a mini-gallery and a few words about the individual artists.

Blaze - papier

It’s not all about street art: historical and cultural facts are part of the visit, such as this quote by Schopenhauer on Marseille.

Capture d’écran 2014-06-21 à 23.26.51

A stunning scrolling panorama of the city at night, with clickable points of interests, is also one of the ‘secret’ treasures to unlock.

Panorama with click points

A few 1-minute films – a timelapse video of a mural painting (below), street musicians, a chef describing his favourite dish, an elderly Marseillais recalling a personal story – are interspersed in the walk like as many chance encounters.

Part immersive virtual urban walk with great sound and visual effects, part video game with a territory to explore and treasures to discover, part interactive tourism trailer for Marseille, this first Promenade Nocturne is a captivating experience with many layers to explore.

The walk is available in French and English

 

Jazz sous les pommiers 2014

Spotlight

I’m just back from Jazz sous les pommiers, a long-established festival in the small town of Coutances, Normandie, where I was lucky enough to be invited as the UK Coordinator of a Franco-British collaborative project called Jazz Shuttle. It was a short stay – only two days – but packed with discoveries and emotions, so I wanted to commit them to memory before going back to the rest of my activities (mainly more jazz and more festivals right now).

The festival takes its names from the ancient apple trees – pommiers – on the town square, under which it all started 33 years ago. It’s a busy week-long festival, with over 50 indoor gigs that represent a wide spectrum of contemporary jazz, as well as daily outdoor amateur showcases and street theatre. It’s a remarkably well-run event that attracts a huge (and fiercely loyal) audience: 37,000 in 2010, in a town that counts 9,000 inhabitants year-round. As hotels fill up quickly, the tourism board has developed a bed & breakfast system with local residents who have a spare bedroom to rent. That’s just one of the festival initiatives that transform the way audiences access the music; I picked up below my personal musical and experiential highlights.

Jazz & Châteaux 

On Friday morning, I got up early to embark on a coach tour of the Normandie countryside and take in two concerts in unusual venues.

First stop was the 17th-century Château de Cerisy de la Salle, where the famous annual Colloques de Cerisy, an influential series of academic conferences on literature, philosophy, science and society, have been hosted since 1952. After an enlightening introduction about the Cultural Centre by its current director Edith Heurgon, Rhizottome (Armelle Dousset, bisonoric chromatic accordion & Matthieu Metzger, sopranino sax) performed their singular interpretations of traditional dances in the castle’s barn.

The second castle was the 16th-century Château de Canisy, self-styled “world’s oldest B&B”, a grandiose setting with a small formal theatre space, fully draped in pale gold, where vibraphonist Frank Tortiller gave a solo performance.

The total round-trip was just over 3 hours long and offered an interesting collective experience: all on board a school bus borrowed by the festival for the occasion, chatting away and letting ourselves get driven to the gigs, with no worries of being late or getting lost. I found it immensely relaxing and conducive to attentive listening. In previous years, the festival offered similar programming linking music and heritage on foot and by bike, paired with cider and cheese tasting (which sounds even more appealing, but probably more tricky to organise weather-wise for a late Spring festival).

Magic Mirrors

Magic mirrors is the French name of what is called Spiegeltent in English – which comes from the Dutch term for ‘mirror tent’: a good example of European linguistic mélange.

This was finally my chance to experience the magical world of these travelling performing spaces, originally built in Belgium at the end of the 19th century as mobile dance halls. They come complete with wooden floors, a raised stage, a bar and a circular central standing space surrounded by stalls. They are decorated with stained glass, mirrors, velvet and brocade, in a fairly exuberant and circus-like Art Nouveau style. There are still a few of the original 1920s tents touring the world, as well as new modern ones.

Salon Revue - dancefloor view

‘Magic Mirrors’ – view from the dance floor

Salon Revue - Stalls

‘Magic Mirrors’ – Side Stalls

I saw two gigs there, including an all-star medley led by touche-à-tout Thomas de Pourquery, current artist-in-residence at Jazz sous les pommiers (a 3-year tenure during which musicians can immerse themselves in the local community and develop participatory projects). With his ‘Beautiful Freaks’, a bunch of musicians from varied musical horizons, he turned the Magic Mirrors into a cabaret-disco, a fitting use of the venue.

Laurent de Wilde’s ‘Fly’

My third space-and-music experience was in Coutances’ brand new arthouse cinema, which is fitted with what must be the most comfortable seats in the world.

On stage, Laurent de Wilde on grand piano faces electronic musician and improviser Otisto 23, who samples, reworks and loops the piano sounds with his electronic machines. Encircling them, panels of translucent fabric hang from a circular curtain pole, providing a 3-dimensional projection surface for video artist Nico Ticot (aka XLR)’s mesmerising visuals.

Neither my description nor the video above (filmed in 2010 at the New Morning) really do justice to the experience created by these three collaborating artists, but it was interesting to hear from Laurent that they have performed in all sorts of settings – namely in China’s Forbidden City and on a beach in La Réunion: like the Magic Mirrors, another travelling experience that takes the audience on a journey into its own world wherever it lands.

The Art of Disruption

Programming

How to present what you do, as a freelancer/contractor? How to be both descriptive enough to be credible, yet keep the door open to new collaborations? As François Matarasso puts it: “In this neoliberal world, where people are commoditised, a freelancer must be ready to stand in the shop window, if not the auction block, in his best clothes. We’ve all got an elevator pitch now.”

In a perhaps misguided attempt to cover all grounds, I’m currently using ‘Events Manager, Audience Developer and Translator’ on my business card. My ‘services’ page also lists Programme Management & Coordination, Research and Copywriting. I could go on – but I’m not sure that adding more specialities would make my achievements and skills look any better. In fact, such an enumeration is not even reflecting what I do overall.

That’s why I’m using ‘Cultural Producer’ on my ‘about’ page and on LinkedIn: because it’s not just describing the different parts of the process, but how they’re all converging.

Jeremy Deller, Procession (Manchester International Festival, 2009) via BBC Manchester website

Jeremy Deller, Procession (Manchester International Festival, 2009) via BBC Manchester website

I like this definition, used by someone called Gina Tarantino in her Penn State University blog:

A creative cultural producer is a professional that plans, designs, organizes and manages artistic projects that have a cultural impact on the public that will interact with them.

Play Me I'm Yours, 2012, Toronto (Mexico piano, University & Dundas)

Play Me I’m Yours, Mexico piano (Toronto, Canada 2012)

And even more this one, developed by London-based creative company Nimble Fish to describe their own practice, which they felt was not accurately reflected by the categories “Theatre” or “Theatre-in-Education”:

Cultural Producers establish, implement and manage a self-generated creative vision, typically outside the purview of traditional performance or gallery spaces. Cultural Producers are rarely restricted to a single artistic form, preferring instead to work with whatever combination of forms best suits a particular idea or theme. Cultural Producers often seek to animate or re-interpret public spaces in the context of the communities they serve, and consequently their work often has a strong component of community participation or co-creation.

City-wide flood simulation produced by La Folie Kilomètre and pOlau

Jour Inondable, city-wide flood simulation produced by La Folie Kilomètre and pOlau (Tours, France , 2012)

Arts Council England and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation commissioned a 2007 publication titled “The Producers: Alchemists of the Impossible” to “celebrate and explore the role of the producer in the arts” through 14 portraits of creative individuals.

One of the featured producers is Helen Marriage, co-founder of Artichoke, “a creative company that works with artists to invade our public spaces and put on extraordinary and ambitious events that live in the memory forever”. Artichoke will probably forever be known for the Sultan’s Elephant (see below), but they’ve also created, more recently, the city-wide night-time Lumière events in Durham and Derry-Londonderry, the giant spider in Liverpool and One & Other, Anthony Gormley’s Fourth Plinth Commission project.

Durham Cathedral, Lumière Festival Durham, produced by Artichoke (2009)

Durham Cathedral, Lumière Festival Durham, produced by Artichoke (Durham, UK, 2009)

In 2012-2013, Helen Marriage was awarded a Loeb Fellowship by Harvard Graduate School of Design, to “study the intersection of design, public art and urban infrastructure”. She has since embarked on a series of talks and seminars on the topic of cultural disruption and ephemeral urbanism, and her recent presentation at the Ramsay Gardens Seminar series is summarised on International Futures Forum’s website.

She retraces the 5-year journey to get permission to close streets in London and stage a huge peripatetic performance, recalling the shifting point that made it all possible and the self-discovery that ensued:

For the first three years the answer was always no. But in the end the mood shifted:  from “why would we do this?” (a plea for justification, outcomes, evidence) to “why would we not do this?” (an enrolment in playing a part in producing something magical).  Helen’s message – “it will be fantastic and you will be really proud” – finally struck home.

In retrospect, she realised that she herself had been the problem. She had been asking an impossible question – in asking for permission. They could not possibly say yes. But once it got into the minutes that the event was scheduled to happen, everyone assumed that somebody else had given authority and from then on their role was to help.  It was a valuable lesson and one that she now follows always: her job is to take responsibility, to be the bearer of risk for everyone involved, which frees them up to be as helpful and creative as they can without formally ‘owning’ the project themselves.

Artichoke: Sultan's Elephant (London, 2006)

Sultan’s Elephant, Artichoke & Royal de Luxe (London, UK, 2006)

Reviewing The Producers for a-n , Charlotte Frost surveyed a number of established cultural production agencies (listed below). Despite clear differences, such as the diversity of organisational structures, she finds them to share three key functions:

  1. Matchmaking collaborative relationships: combining artists and artforms, often assembling a custom back-end team, and bringing together projects and venues, funders and other supporters.
  2. Providing the necessary time and space: directly by providing physical space (Artsadmin) or virtual platforms (Furtherfield.org), and also through committing to the long-term durational process (Artangel).
  3. Being the “risk absorber” (Steven Bode, Director of FVU): “Every project starts from square-one in terms of the producer having to find creative partners, a venue and, usually, funders” (Electra Co-Founder and Director Lina Dzuverovic); “Its very important that all of us, Artsadmin, Artangel, Forma, and everyone else… keep encouraging new work to happen, if we don’t, everything will get very stagnant. That is, what is inspiring and compelling for us, and it is something that I would reiterate to Arts Council England, this experimental work influences the mainstream and feeds everything else.” (Judith Knight, Co-Founder and Director of Artsadmin).
Floating Cinema, Up Projects (London, 2013)

Floating Cinema, Up Projects (London, 2013)

The video below shows the LIFT Festival production of Haircuts by Children, an “aesthetically scintillating experience”  developed by Toronto-based culture production workshop Mammalian Diving Reflex that has already been re-created in 30 cities.  Artistic Director Darren O’Donnell explains:

Haircuts by Children involves children between the ages of 8-12 are trained by professional hairstylists, and then paid to run a real hair salon, offering members of the public free haircuts. The project invites the consideration of young people as creative and competent individuals whose aesthetic choices can be trusted. While providing atypical entertainment for the public, Haircuts by Children also shifts the traditional power dynamic between children and adults, creating a safe social space where children and adults who live in the same community can meet and share a unique creative experience together. The idea that kids should be allowed to cut our hair evokes the same leap of faith, courage and understanding required to grant children deeper citizenship rights. For many it is actually less terrifying to contemplate allowing kids to vote.

Links:

UK

artangel.org.uk
artichoke.uk.com
artsadmin.co.uk
electra-productions.com
forma.org.uk
furtherfield.org
nimble-fish.co.uk
upprojects.com

CANADA

www.mammalian.ca

FRANCE

www.lafoliekilometre.org
www.polau.org