Projet d’article sur la Fileuse pour le livre collectif de ma collègue et amie Elena Raviola, merveilleuse danseuse italienne virevoltant la pensée au coeur de Copenhague :
Paper for the Book of my Colleague and Friend, Elena Raviola
Université de Reims Champagne Ardennes
A Portrait of the Spinner as a Wasteland.
Past and Present Testimonies of la Fileuse, Friche artistique de Reims.
In this paper, an illustration of the notion of « free space » is offered by a group of participants in a collective project called « La Fileuse », located in the city of Reims, France.
The concept of « free space », « free zone » or « heterotopia » (Foucault, 1986; Foucault et al., 2009; has been explored, in the tradition of social movements, by authors interested by the material dimension of the organization of the collective (Polletta and Jasper, 2001, Polletta and Kretschmer, 1999; Fligstein and McAdam, 2012; 2011). They complement the view of collective action in the streets with a description of more quiet times and spaces actors use to infuse the intention of their movement and agree on its strategic directions.
As such, « free space » is deeply rooted in collective memories (Halbwachs, 1997; 1994) that are being recollected and revived as people spend time together on a regular basis, keeping records of past encounters and past events and transforming them to make sense of present actions (Wachtel, 2014). Arts and crafts are an important dimension of this heritage and they are key in the process of transmission. They often are the « things » which social life (Appadurai, 1986) will pass to other groups and make it possible for them to access traditions they need to learn about. This is what we want to explore now.
The case we have chosen to explore the role of arts and crafts in a « free space » is that of a French artistic wasteland (or autonomous zone) called « La Fileuse ». It opened in 2012 after two years of prefiguration by a team mandated by the city council in the Orgeval district. To fully appreciate the nature of the project, one must take into account the effort, by the French Ministry of Culture, to rejuvenate and promote previously industrial districts by offering them to artists as workshops (rapport Lextrait, 2001. The buildings are still shaped by their previous use, and a change in the nature of the district (in the form of gentrification) is often associated with the projects for artists (Collective, 2011). However, each artistic wasteland is different (Thuriot, 2013), depending on the local context. In particular, it is influenced by the past history of the place where the wasteland is settled.
In Reims, the artistic wasteland is set in an ex-textile factory, a 50 years old concrete building in the periphery of Reims. The name of « la Fileuse » conveys part of the initial intention of Pauline Quantin and Serge Pujaut when they initiated the project. The « spinner » or « spinster » (in old English) is a figure already present in the mythology, and it is still very present in modern and contemporary art as a symbol of time and memory. In an artistic wasteland, one cannot but think of the epigraph of the Wasteland, by T.S.Eliot in 1922:
Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent: Sibylla ti theleis; respondebat illa: apothanein thelo.
[I have seen with my own eyes the Sibyl hanging in a jar, and when the boys asked her “What do you want?” She answered, “I want to die.”]
The story of the city of Reims, the city of Sacres (where the Kings of France were crowned in the cathedral), the martyre city (destroyed by World War 1) brings in a whole spectrum of memories, with strong rites and symbols. Another dimension is the deindustrialisation, with the last 30 years decline and quasi disappearance of the textile industry in the region, whereas it had been at the heart of its activities since the foires de Champagne (Fairs) in the Middle Age. The role of the « Fileuse » as an artistic wasteland involves all these dimensions, the destruction and reconstruction of the city and the attempts to maintain productive activities , part industry and part services so it can contain its decline.
In Reims, the Orgeval district, one that had been so far quite isolated, has been connected to the city centre by the tramway and large constructions ensembles are emerging. Meanwhile, visual artists and living artists (mostly theatre companies) have been using the 3000 square meters of the old textile factory as workshops and stage. This was the intention of the direction of culture and patrimony of the city of Reims, and that makes the project an institutionalized one from the onset, whereas the organization of the place is left for artists to decide, in the tradition of artistic squats. This tension between institution and transgression are interesting to explore as part of the notion of artistic free zone. Because it can also explain specific choices and the transformation of the place in the future, it seems necessary to take into account actors’ take on the situation and their understanding of the place and its intention (Baxandall, 1985) .
As we celebrate three years of existence of La Fileuse, many testimonies can be gathered to describe, in more specific terms, practices and meanings within the « free space » and how its past history as a textile manufacture influences actors’ work there.
We document the present situation by offering a multiplicity of points of view : Pauline Quantin, Serge Pujaut were the initiators of the project. Today, Elsa Bezaury, Nina Penz and Samuel Lauzé are there as coordinators of the collective. Jean Bigot, Dominik who is part of the collective Zinzolines as well as Sandrine Brisset. Jean invents collective memories at the occasion of official commémorations, shows and évents. Dominik works with children in Reims, especially in relation with the district houses (maisons de quartier) and this year, Sandrine’s art pieces will be at the heart of the textile village at the occasion of the sustainable week in Reims, on May the 30th.
In the paper, we plan to describe and interpret individual and collective work in an artistic wasteland by mentioning direct testimonies by actors, providing in-depth descriptions of a few artistic projects and the “key moment” of the “Ateliers d’artistes” (April 6-7 2015) when the place is open to the public so people can visit and exchange with artists in their work environment.
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