Located in Troyes, for thirty years the Centre d'art contemporain / Passages has been developing a program of exhibitions and residencies. As a structuring axis, the residency is a tool for involving the whole region, creating many opportunities for exchange. For two years, in cooperation with the National Radioactive Waste Management Agency (ANDRA), a residency has been established based on the memory of storage centres. It offers an artist the possibility of confronting a rare field of experimentation. Selected in 2012, Julien Carreyn takes an unconventional look at a previously foreign world.read
Antoine Marchand: You have just finished a long residency led by the Centre of Contemporary Art / Passages and Andra (National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management). This kind of project cannot be considered as a “conventional” residency and brings up numerous questions, and in particular ethical issues. Did you hesitate, or rather did accepting this invitation give you the opportunity to view things from another angle, from “inside”?
Julien Carreyn: Through their proposition of this residency, Andra was addressing an important question: how to communicate a long-lasting message to future generations concerning the possible dangers of their radioactive storage facilities and how can art, which seems closely related to the notion of memory, be used to do this?
For me, it was also a question of “how was an artist, who we consider a ‘”specialist” in mysterious and obsolete atmospheres full of erotic fantasies, going to address an exploration of radioactive waste management?”
This question of “how to protect future generations”, we could assume that everyone, the agency and the artists, would interpret it in the same way. We live in the same country, speak the same language, share the same values. Upon consideration, however, we could ask ourselves if we were approaching the question from the same angle. “Practising artists” perceive “art” as their absolute imperative. Art was difficult to define, but it was both the cause and the effect, both the driving force and the result, and serves only itself. The artist’s ethics can therefore only be deontological: he creates what he must create, consciously, and without worrying about the consequences. On the other hand, the issues raised by Andra reveal a “consequential” ethical theory. It is a case of “not making future generations bear the consequences of today’s choice’s”. In other words, a sort of prospective selflessness which aims to minimise the potentially detrimental effects of an action without giving any prior thought to the action’s legitimate deontology – or rather, setting aside this deontological thought since the action was clearly required by the reason of State: the ethical reflection can therefore only focus on the consequences of this initial and irreversible decision. This meant that we could then ask ourselves if the differences in these two approaches would inevitably cause a divide between two types of ethics, or even between two absolute reasons – that of Art and that of State – whereby the latter could, rightly or wrongly, be considered as using the former in an attempt to integrate a deontological dimension that was, by defition, denied to it.
It was when I noticed this imperceptible yet radical ethical shift that I was able to understand why my work, as well as that of my predecessor (Veit Stratmann) and maybe my successors, proved itself to be the hiatus between each person’s mechanisms and expectations. The question was nothing more than a pretext for the artists, a means to access the source of potential inspiration represented by Andra.
Not to dedicate a work to Andra and not to reduce one’s work to Andra. To view Andra as the backdrop and to treat its corpus as a contamination of my work. To explore all the avenues where serendipity could be exploited.
I don’t doubt that the artists do not really care about helping Andra. Although it would be awfully dishonest and terribly cynical if one were to completely disregard the project’s values, pocket the 25 000 euro research funding money and get to work in the impressive designated area.
A. M.: Yet is such a stance really possible? Is it possible to wholly assume your work whilst complying with Andra’s wishes? Is it a constant work of adjustment? A reworking of Andra’s wishes? Or a new way of thinking for you?
J. C.: The problem was that in finding a solution for radioactive waste management – which was of course very unlikely – we were contributing to the pursuit of a pro-nuclear policy. Although I am not an Eco-campaigner, nor did I agree with such a policy (and it would have been difficult for the Centre of Contemporary Art / Passages or Andra to introduce a “pro-nuclear” artist). The relationship between Andra and the nuclear issue was not very clear for a lot of people. Since the agency could not guarantee the lifespan of their storage facilities, should they not have alerted their sponsor, the State (who was expecting the agency to say that everything was fine and the situation was under control), their interlocutors or their citizens to the area of uncertainty which may engender a pro-nuclear policy? Would this not have been the logic of an ethical engagement (memory group, sustainable development)? Surely not. Its role was to manage existing waste, which is already an enormous and essential task. The assertion of an ethical position was probably more to do with its public image as well as its own internal acknowledgement, like a sort of good conscience with the need to “reassure itself that it hasn’t forgotten”. It would have been impossible to properly undertake such work with a bad conscience, and the work done needed to be the best possible.
This problem is extremely ambiguous and there are no apparent solutions. I like what John D’Agata said about Yucca Mountain, a storage project in the United States: “I do not think that Yucca Mountain is a solution, nor is it a problem. What I do think is that the mountain is the place where we are, the point which we are at – a place that we have studied extensively, more than any other place in the world – and yet which remains unknown, thus revealing the fragility of what we know”.
A. M.: I was quite surprised when you told me that you had been chosen for this residency since your practices and lines of thought seemed to me to be mismatched with those of Andra, or at least they did at the time. Are the finished works close to what you had imagined at the beginning of your residency, or has the project evolved a lot (through your discussions with Andra employees, their expectations, through your own discoveries…)?
J. C.: The works are close to what I had imagined, in that I had not imagined anything until I had taken myself away from my usual practices and broadened my territory.
My interaction with the staff at Andra was not how I had imagined it. The premises, however, were dangerously photogenic. I exploited them to their limits and have several images of the infrastructure. When I brought them back to my work, though, they seemed empty and “unpopulated” and my erotic imagination came into play.
A. M.: And from the other point of view, what do you think Andra was expecting from you when selecting you for this residency, A “romantic” vision of nuclear waste storage? A quirky proposition which would offset the numerous polemics associated with the area?
J. C.: Andra was not necessarily expecting a work of art, but rather a study on the issue. But I couldn’t limit myself to that, to wasting six months producing nothing, just thinking about what could or could not be. How boring. The study should be a production and not a “project” to be produced at a later date. Especially as I found it to be a rather doubtful prospect to protect future generations by burdening them with the extra responsibility of implementing a project dating from 10, 100 or 1000 years before.
2030 Andra’s administrative offices. Filed away on a little shelf are the archives of 19 “art and memory”commision responses. The Huyghe project, the Lévêque project, the Parreno project, the Tschiember project, etc, are all there, inert, just a variation of the wallpaper, awaiting their implementation. Then the director of Andra retires, a new director takes his place and the projects will be forgotten.
The work that I have produced in this Troyes project “contaminated” by Andra consists of several series of images, photos and drawings and a logbook. They collectively form a testament. A testament is potentially sustainable, and there is my response to the agency’s question.
A. M.: So there is conflict between two means of envisaging these important issues, which are diametrically opposed. On the one hand we have this critical need to recycle nuclear waste, which has been delegated to Andra. This being an extremely pragmatic position relating to what you rightly call the “reason of State”, which leaves very little room for doubt or ethical consideration. On the other hand, you have your point of view as individual and artist, which is most probably against nuclear, and yet you are requested to “use your expertise” to help Andra. This is where the “ethical position” lies, that you alluded to earlier. Did you sometimes feel “manipulated” and involved in a legitimisation of Andra’s activities?
J. C.: No. Andra has its communication strategy and communications department, but this resarch was independent from them. However, if we look closely at this communication, it is clear that the impact and challenges of contemporary art are miles away from it. The communication addresses as many people as possible with simplicity and paternalism. If I were Yannick Noah or Muriel Robin, it might have been worth getting involved in a legitimisation operation.
I would like to come back to what you said: “Your point of view as individual and artist, which is most probably against nuclear”. Yes, as an individual it is my point of view. It can also leave traces in my point of view as an artist, bearing in mind that artistic deontology only concerns art, that everything in art is allowed, whether it be true or false. Also, I could have positioned myself as the world’s first pro-nuclear artist.
A. M.: Beyond the specific case of Andra, it is actually the role of artist that is in question here. The image of an artist in his workshop, hidden away from the world, seems completely archaic today. Do you feel that your work should mirror the state of modern society? or rather absorb it?
J. C.: Is it really that archaic? Could reclusiveness and solitude not also be ideal conditions for observation?
FORMS OF DISTANCE
Certain recent circumstances have led me to deal with the concepts of scale and distance. The former thought in methodological terms, the latter in moral terms, both from a historiographical point of view. As a curator, I have been involved in the research of topics linked to colonial histories that call for a constant reconsideration of where one is positioned, and from where one is speaking. Furthermore, a project (exhibition or else) is not autonomous from its conditions of production and reception and one cannot sublimate it from its contextual existence. The issue of distance becomes then crucial, but also its artificial sibling, distantiation (in Brechtian terms), which is perhaps needed as a form of translation and relation to reality.
Reading through the wealth of approaches represented in uncoupdedés.net and its celebration of institutional decentralisation experienced in France, I thought it would be useful reconsidering the implication of scale -or rather shifts scale – and distance in the production of contemporary art or in the way we think about art as a means to approach reality. Of course, I am not talking about this in absolute, all-encompassing terms, but rather as a way of offering a nuanced reading of how a decentralised network, to which uncoupdedés.net offers a visible existence, shows the relevance of these many ways of operating at different scales in the geopolitical entity called mainland France. In a way, all this has to do with what now seems a hackneyed expression: the production of knowledge.
Edouard Sautai’s collaboration with the Centre d’Art et Photographie de Lectoure offers an immediate consideration of the implication of a change of scale. By evoking flying, a situation that allows to see a reality at a particular level of detail, but also the making of models as another way of representing this reality at a different scale, Sautai reminded me of Bernard Lepetit’s considerations about the dialectic relationship, and constant oscillation between the micro and the macro. For Lepetit the fabrication of a model “does not distinguish between the different parts of the object but between the differents dimensions in which it spreads out” (Bernad Lepetit, “Architecture, géographie, histoire: usages de l’échelle”, in Genèses, 13, 1993, p. 129.) Likewise, Aurélien Mole’s fictional narrative about the future potential of research in the margins seems to reflect on the importance of considering particular micro-realities in order to recapture larger macro-perspectives.
But it is perhaps the question of distance that interests me the most here. In artistic research –and we may want to consider its modes of existence and qualities as in Jean-Pierre Cometti’s interview with Eric Mangion for Le Centre National d’Art Contemporain de La Villa Arson – distance is sometimes created and annihilated in a stroke, or perhaps created in one dimension of a project and obliterated in another one. Stephen Willats’ work offers perhaps an example of such dialectical interaction with a context where the artist is embodied in the photographic work, in the relative distance of the camera and what it points at which through composition, offers an immediate intimacy, and yet, paradoxically, a sense of estrangement. From a different perspective the idea of hosting as a form of offering a shortening of distance is dramatically staged in Berdaguer + Péjus’ intervention in the back building of the Centre d’Art Contemporain La Synagogue de Delme, where space is considered in it physical, affective and ghostly dimensions, materialising the multiplicity of directions in which distance operates.
Carlo Ginzburg considers and actualises the different moral implications of distance both in terms of time and space (Carlo Ginzburg, “Killing a Chinese Mandarin: The Moral Implications of Distance”, in Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance, Verso Books, 2002.) For the historian the inevitability of distance in time (the past becoming ever longer and the future shortening its distance to us permanently), towards which he or she is impotent can be counteracted through the way the past is remembered or written about. Distance in time and space often operates as detachment or oblivion, but also as admiration or desire –or perhaps sometimes as a paradoxical interweaving of some of all of these possibilities. (And here, I find interesting Valérie Mréjen’s fictional account in La Chapelle Saint-Jacques’ intervention on uncoupdedés.net, where the contrast and complex interweaving between civil time and experienced time become evident.) Transposing this to the field of contemporary art, the time-space framework of the artistic project, operates at several levels of close proximity and distancing, often transcended or further materialised through memory and documentation – Elie During’s contribution in relation to visiting the Cneai attests to this in a diagrammatic way. But if experience is at the core of the artistic act, then form becomes a way of shortening or elongating the distance to that which seemed to be pointed at. Adva Zakai’s intervention on uncoupdedes.net –as a step forward in her collaboration with Le Quartier Centre d’Art Contemporain – is a performance that happens in the time-space of a website, an act of giving form which creates an experience of place where the subject is not represented but embodied through words.
On a more often dealt with topic, the relationship, and therefore relative distance, between an artist and a context is problematised in several experiences related in uncoupdedés.net. Apart from the above mentioned work of Stephen Willats, one could quite clearly refer to Claudio Zulian’s strategies of working with specific communities as a filmmaker (portrayed here under the notion of empowerment), or the experience and ethical concerns of involving oneself as an artist with the management of nuclear waste. Is there a normative notion of distance that can be appealed to and therefore a prescribed form of responsibility which can claim a definite response to a context? It seems to me that Dora García and Jean-Pierre Cometti address this issue by discussing what constitutes the work of art which for García is a form of relationship between the author and the audience, and therefore is non-prescribed or scripted in absolute terms.
But what about proximity? What about the physical, embodied relation to what one distances oneself from or moves closer to? What about affects? Producers are affected by those they address their “products” to. As in Matthieu Saladin’s text about Cornelius Cardew’s work, presented in 2009 at the CAC Brétigny: “It [the act of listening] acts directly on its own source and affirms itself as an activity that, in collective production, reflects on what is being heard. Listening is not simply the space of passive affections, for it affects, in turn, that towards which it is directed” (Matthieu Saladin, “Like a Cloud Hanging in the Sky”, uncoupdedés.net, 2013.) It might be that outer space is not that far when one invokes its distance as a form of proximity with one’s own thoughts, but also, it is by observing the sky that one can see into the past, annihilating the physical distance that separates us from it as beautifully out by Emmanuelle Pagano: “To think is to get as close as possible to the absolute present, but our thoughts, our emotions, our memories, take time to travel in ourselves, to be distributed between our senses. To observe space is to watch what’s already happened, observing space is always nostalgic.” (Emmanuelle Pagano, “Night-Light”, uncoupdedés.net, 2013.)
Bolstered by its success and visibility, uncoupdedés.net is restarting and subjecting existing content to new voices. In 2014 and 2015, several personalities from outside France will be asked to become our editorial writers for one season. Their task will be to place the contents of the whole magazine in perspective, presenting them differently through the prism of their subjectivity and their own work contexts. Catalina Lozano (Colombia), Zasha Colah (India), Moe Satt (Myanmar) and Manuela Moscoso (Brazil): each guest editor will reformulate the actions of the centres d’art, various aspects of which they will have been able to perceive through the magazine. Each editor-in-chief will “roll off” a cross-cutting text, presenting an original re-examination of the resolutely fluid geography of the centres d’art. uncoupdedés.net repeats the challenge from the poet Mallarmé, resurrected in the cinematographic art of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet (Every Revolution is a Roll of the Dice, 1977). The guest editors, coming from a variety of disciplines, will widen the circle of expression even more. Choral and fragmentary, uncoupdedés.net takes just as much after puzzles as it does after memories, and naturally calls for cut-outs of every kind…
Independent curator and researcher, born in 1979. En 2011, she co-founded the curatorial platform de_sitio in Mexico City. Catalina Lozano studied history (Universidad Nacional de Colombia), visual cultures (Goldsmiths College, University of London) the theory and practice of language and the arts (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris). At the heart of her work are minor narratives and the revision of dominant historical discourses. Her most recent projects include Une machine désire de l’instruction comme un jardin désire de la discipline (MARCO, Vigo; FRAC Lorraine and Alhondiga, Bilbao, 2013-14), Being an Island (with Kasha Bittenr, daadgalerie, Berlin, 2013), La puerta hacia lo invisible debe ser visible (Casa del Lago, Mexico City, 2012), ¿Tierra de nadie? (Centro Cultural Montehermoso, Vitoria-Gasteiz, 2011) and Everything has a name, or the potential to be named (with Anna Colin, Gasworks, London, 2009). From 2008 to 2010, Catalina Lozano was head of the residency program at Gasworks (London). She is a member of the artistic team of the 8th Berlin Biennale (2014).