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

Second Floor

Virtual Street Art: Tour Paris 13

Spotlight

Tour Paris 13 is an old crumbling residential tower in Paris’ 13th arrondissement marked for demolition in less than a month. It’s also, for that remaining time, allegedly the biggest collective street art project realised to date. Over 100 artists, coming from 16 different countries, were invited to use the 9-floor, 36-apartment tower as their canvas – from the basement to the facade and every single inch of the floors, walls and ceilings.

The art is as real as it gets and visiting the tower is free as long as it’s still standing, in small groups of 49 people maximum at a time for safety reasons. So what’s virtual about it? How we can experience it.

El Seed

El Seed

While the artists were working inside the tower, the project was kept under wraps and extensively filmed by Thomas Lallier – in preparation for a documentary – and audio recorded by French public service Radio France (well known for their excellent ‘création radiophonique’, or radio art), to create an immersive digital experience.

Second Floor

Second Floor

When ‘visiting’ an apartment, a collage of user-generated images scrolls across the screen, revealing the space by fragments, and the voices of the artists at work raise above the ‘soundtrack’: traffic, sirens, footsteps echoing in these empty spaces, doors creaking, phones ringing, and the sound of the spray can, with that clicking of the shaking and phrasing of the breathing, in long lines and short bursts.

Sébastien Preschoux

Sébastien Preschoux

The project was spearheaded by Galerie Itinerrance, a local gallery specialised in street art. It’s not the first time that it spills out of the walls: as well as representing artists and showing their work, gallery owner Mehdi Ben Cheikh has been offering ‘official’ outdoor tours to discover large-scale murals in the neighbourhood (presumably commissioned). In an interview available on the Tour Paris 13 website (with English subtitles), he talks about his remit, as a street art gallerist, to have an ‘urban practice’. He also tries to describe the tower project:

I don’t like the word exhibition. It’s something a bit strange… It’s not a museum, it’s not a gallery, it’s not a wasteland neither, it’s not a squat… It’s a mix of all of these. It’s something more or less organised, but that still has a soul.

He also talks about the role of the internet – and therefore of digital experiences such as the tower’s – in making street art “the first truly international movement”.

Shoof

Shoof

After 31st October, the Tour will be closed to the public, but the website will remain accessible. During the following 10 days, virtual visitors will be asked to ‘save’ the art by clicking on what they want to keep, pixel by pixel. The resulting archive will become a ‘witness’ of the artistic project.

Mosko

Mosko

Finally, the 52-minute documentary that will be released in September 2014 will reveal the creative process of the artists involved, but also the history of the tower itself and of the neighbourhood, pre- and post-urban renewal.

Sean Hart

Sean Hart

All photos are from Tour Paris 13‘s website; click on images to access the artists’ individual photo gallery, interview and biography.

Sleepless Night, Healthy Cities: the Nuit Blanche charter

Spotlight

It’s Nuit Blanche everywhere tonight: in Toronto, where I currently live, and where I’m hoping to catch, amongst others, Your Temper, My Weather, an intriguing exploration of collective meditation and bees at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the giant Ai Weiwei bicycle installation outside City Hall (where, ironically, the current mayor is not known for his love of alternative transportation); in Paris, where it all started in 2001 (or so the legend goes, but it appears that Helsinki’s Night of the Arts and Nantes’ Les Allumés have been paving the way since 1989-1990); in Brussels, where intrepid urbanites, smartphone in hand, can take part in an interactive game called Raiders of the Lost Archive; in Metz, where one of last year’s piece was this mesmerising all-night video mapping of the markings left by mysterious deep-sea creatures called paleodictyon nodosum, projected on the Centre Pompidou-Metz (below); and possibly elsewhere, as the number of participating cities keeps growing year on year, although some celebrate their participatory art extravaganza at other dates or under other names, such as Light Night in Liverpool.

Given the success of the event, an umbrella organisation, Nuits Blanches Europe, was created to enable participating cities to share their experiences and exchange projects and artists. The project does not seem to have its own website, but I found the following charter on the Nuit Blanche Brussels website, in English and French, which articulates the civic impact ambitions of the initiative:

(English)

  • NUIT BLANCHE is a free cultural event open to all which takes place every year from the end of the summer to the beginning of autumn and lasts one full night.
  • NUIT BLANCHE gives pride of place to contemporary creativity in all its forms: the plastic arts, projections, installations, music, performance art and street theatre, circus arts and travelling shows.
  • NUIT BLANCHE turns the spotlight on public spaces from every angle: places normally closed off or abandoned, peripheral locations or even prestigious or heritage sites, are revisited in a unique way by artists.
  • NUIT BLANCHE allows organising cities to reflect together on how life after dark in cities is currently changing and to put in place appropriate services and methods of organisation (local economy, signposting, lighting, safety, services, etc).
  • NUIT BLANCHE provides an opportunity to promote environmentally-friendly mobility: easier access for cyclists, use of the tram, public transport, river buses.
  • NUIT BLANCHE encourages interaction between city centres and outlying districts.
  • The partner cities of Nuits Blanches Europe decide on a joint artistic project to be implemented each year with a view to developing exchanges not only between cities but also between artists and European audiences.

(French)

  • NUIT BLANCHE est une manifestation culturelle ouverte à tous et gratuite, qui se tient chaque année de la fin de l’été au début de l’automne, durant une nuit complète.
  • NUIT BLANCHE privilégie la création contemporaine sous toutes ses formes : arts plastiques, projections, installations, musiques, arts de la scène et de la rue, arts du cirque et arts forains.
  • NUIT BLANCHE met en scène l’espace public sous tous ses aspects : lieux habituellement fermés ou abandonnés, lieux périphériques, ou encore lieux prestigieux ou appartenant au patrimoine historique de la ville, revisités singulièrement par les artistes.
  • NUIT BLANCHE permet aux villes organisatrices de réfléchir ensemble aux évolutions actuelles des nuits urbaines et de mettre en place des services et modes d’organisation adaptés (économie, signalétique, éclairage, sécurité, services…).
  • NUIT BLANCHE est l’occasion de promouvoir des formes de mobilité « douces » : facilitation de parcours à vélo, recours au tram, au transport en commun, aux navettes fluviales.
  • NUIT BLANCHE favorise les échanges entre les centres-villes et les quartiers périphériques.
  • Les villes partenaires de Nuits Blanches Europe décident, dans le but de développer les échanges entre elles et entre les artistes et publics européens, qu’un projet artistique commun sera mené chaque année.

Louvre-Lens: the universal museum?

Spotlight

In 2003, the French Department of Culture sent a call out to find a location for a new satellite outpost of the Louvrethe most visited museum in the world, with just short of 10 million visitors a year. Only the Pas-de-Calais region, in North-East France, responded to the call and proposed a number of cities; thus a brand new museum, designed by Japanese architects SANAA, opened in Lens in December 2012.

Louvre Lens, ad campaign in Paris metro by Giâm (CC)

Louvre Lens, ad campaign in Paris metro by Giâm (CC)

The Musée du Louvre-Lens – tagline: “Le Louvre autrement” – does not have its own collection but instead displays selected artifacts from the Louvre, in a series of temporary exhibitions – currently Time in Art, “A reflection on the perception of time”, and The Etruscans and the Mediterranean, “A new portrait of the city of Cerveteri”, with explorations of the sacred and of war planned for 2014.

Its main feature is the 120-metre long Galerie du Temps, where visitors can discover a semi-permanent display, drawing from “all civilisations and working techniques (…), from the birth of writing around 3500 BC until the middle of the 19th century, taking in the entire chronological and geographical scope of the collections of the Louvre museum.”

Louvre Lens, Galerie du Temps by Giâm (CC)

Louvre Lens, Galerie du Temps by Giâm (CC)

Louvre Lens, Galerie du temps by Giâm (CC)

Louvre Lens, Galerie du Temps by Giâm (CC)

Lens, at the heart of northern France’s depressed old mining country, was listed as 9th poorest French city in 2010. For a glimpse of what it was like in its heyday, you can read or watch Germinal by Emile Zola, inspired by the miners’ strikes of 1869 and 1884 (the film version features Russian actor Gerard Depardieu).

Louvre Lens by vincent desjardins (CC)

Louvre Lens by vincent desjardins (CC)

Louvre Lens by jpmm (CC)

Louvre Lens by jpmm (CC)

The location of the new shiny museum is brimming with symbols: on a former coal mine, transformed in a landscaped 20-hectare park, between a slag heap and the local football stadium.

Louvre Lens slag heap by y.caradec CC

Lens, slag heap by y.caradec (CC)

Lens, old mine by y.caradec (CC)

Lens, old mine by y.caradec (CC)

Is Lens the new Bilbao? Actually, Lens might be something of a new model for regeneration-through-museums policies, according to Atlantic Cities: with more modest costs and targets (500,000 yearly visitors), the return on investment might be both quicker to be felt and less riddled with undesired side-effects. The article refers to a 2005 book, The Globalized City: Economic Restructuring and Social Polarization in European Cities, where authors Frank Moulaert, Arantxa Rodriguez, and Erik Swyngedouw write:

“… the project transformed the city in unforeseen ways, some of them unwelcome. Economic stratification and social exclusion emerged. The transgressions of the new economic elite went beyond the normal complaints about gentrification, according to the authors; the shock of growth has had unfortunate side-effects for urban governance and democratic participation.”

Louvre-Lens is one of the projects that form The Global Louvre, which comprises exhibitions, excavations, partnerships and long-term loans around the world, as well as the Jean Nouvel-designed Louvre Abu Dhabi, self-titled “The First Universal Museum in the Arab World”, thrice delayed but planned to open in 2015. There’s quite a lot more than cultural tourism at stake here, as explained by the Louvre’s outgoing Director Henri Loyrette in this interview with The Art Newspaper: namely, cultural diplomacy, new revenue streams, audience development and the desire ”to revive (the Louvre’s) founding mission of being a universal museum”. 

Despite the early signs of success for the first two French attempts at delocalising Parisian cultural powerhouses to drive regeneration – Centre Pompidou-Metz is already the most visited exhibition space outside Paris in just 3 years, and Louvre-Lens is following closely – the French government has announced that it won’t pursue new projects of this type in France in the near future, preferring to wait for these two experiments to come to maturity before assessing their impact.

However, the latest French museum to open its door outside Paris, Marseille’s MuCEM, seems already set for a similar, if not even greater success, with a record 1 million visitors in its first 3 months. Designed by Rudy Ricciotti, the ‘Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Méditerranée’, one of the key projects of Marseille’s year of European Capital of Culture, is garnering critical praise for its bold design and elegant dialogue between the past and the future, but opinions are divided on its exhibition policy.