From Hope to Labyrinth: Summer Exhibitions Review

By Maeva Chargros

Besides reading all days long, summer holidays are also a perfect occasion to visit some museums… or enjoy some festivals. I had been willing to go to the Rencontres d’Arles for years: I finally managed to go there last month! This festival allows you to stroll through the streets of this centuries-old city while visiting various photography exhibitions. Art photography, photoreportage, experimental, contemporary art, light and sound, video artworks, you name it! If you’re a visual art enthusiast, Arles is definitely the place to go to during the summer! Here is a very small excerpt of what can be seen during this year’s edition (open until September 23!), as well as some comments about two other exhibitions I’ve been to, both in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon.

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#HOPE – Fondation Manuel Rivera-Ortiz (Arles)

An entire building dedicated to this word: hope. In the first three rooms, you discover the fate of 50 refugees in a small French village through the camera of Patrick Willocq. It could be summarised with two words in French, three in English: “welcome, go back!” (“bienvenue, dégage !”). The presence of tens of flashy orange life jackets – used by refugees crossing of the Mediterranean Sea – reminds the visitor this is not just about art: this building is home to humanity’s best quality, the ability to keep hoping no matter what happens around us. DSC_2569The testimonies shared in the fourth room also covering the theme of refugees in Lebanon are simply heart-breaking and the pictures – taken by Omar Imam, himself a Syrian refugee – stunning. “Experience: ex-jihadist”, one of the pictures says, showing how complex the topic of reintegration into the society is for those who come back from ISIS and other terrorist groups. Read more about his project here.

God told me one day to stop beheading people.

DSC_2572One of the most vibrant and emotional rooms contained only three artworks: collages of various known or less known pictures from archives, developed with the collodion process (a 19th century photography technique), with a text engraved in them. One was showing the atrocities related to violence in the Middle-East; the second one was focusing on Hiroshima, the Vietnam War, and other terrible events that took place on the Asian continent; the third and last one was covered with illustrations of the consequences of xenophobia and racism, be it slavery, torture or other forms of discrimination. The first one had verses of the Bible engraved on it – “in” the pictures – in Latin, Hebrew and Arabic languages. The second one had a Tibetan prayer (the heart sūtra) written in Old Kanji. The last one, the Declaration of Human Rights written in an African dialect (probably Mande or Kru). Though the images are absolutely terrible, I understood it as a form of prayer from the artist, Matthias Olmeta, hoping such abominations won’t occur again, and therefore I thought this exhibition, “Traité de Paix”, was the most “beautiful” among all projects despite its tragic topic.DSC_2593

Even though everything was captivating in this exhibition, I had to focus on only a few projects. The last two I would like to mention are both related to Latin America – a region I knew very little about until the second semester of Euroculture, by the way! Patrice Loubon and his “L’autre c’est le même” project (“The other is the same”) mix photography with “arpilleras” (see below), a patchwork technique typical of Chile and especially the Pinochet period. Nowadays, this art is mainly used for touristic purposes: the photographer gave back to these artists – women – their original purpose. Last but certainly not least was “Puro Pueblo”, by John Hall. It took decades for him to find an editor who would accept to publish some of his pictures taken in the 1970s during the pro-Allende demonstrations that followed the coup d’état – some still remain unpublished today! Every single one of his shots speaks louder than thousands of words; he developed them in a sink of a hostel room, just before leaving the country. If you can read French, I recommend you click here to know more about the story behind his pictures.

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Under torture you cannot see the line between real and surreal. I saw myself in a serene place holding my daughter. That image motivated me to survive.” (“Live, Love, Refugee”, by Omar Imam)

You can learn more about the exhibition and its different projects here and here.

Extensions de Graffitis & Labyrinthes (Villeneuve-lès-Avignon)

If you don’t know the name of this French city, it is rather normal: its good old rival, Avignon, stole the show for quite a few centuries, on the eastern shore of the river Rhône. Popes are more important than cardinals, after all, right? DSC_2633

The first exhibition, Extensions de Graffitis, was located in the Fort Saint André, on top of the hill overlooking the city. My favourite artwork is not hard to guess: it is the featured picture of this article. It represents the Saint Michel prison in Toulouse, drawn in iron powder on a magnetised structure by Nicolas Daubanes. I can’t quite explain why I was mesmerised by this work: it is almost hypnotising, as if the magnet had some sort of influence on the spectator, perhaps. The rest of the exhibition was also very interesting, covering a wide range of techniques – including graffitis from the late Middle-Ages and the 18th century, for instance, found on the walls and floors of the fort itself. Pascal Lièvre’s project of drawing the names of feminist activists in grey sparkles had an effect close to a meditation session – which is not so surprising given its title, “Rêver l’obsur” (dreaming the darkness). DSC_2632
In the same city, I found “by chance” another art exhibition in the Chartreuse monastery. It is called “Extensions Labyrinthe” and it was very well adapted to the monastery itself: I got lost quite a few times during the visit, completely forgot any sense of time, and ended up waiting for a drop of water to fall in a room put in complete darkness. The pictures below show a few “expressions” of the theme “labyrinth” as interpreted by the artists of the exhibition.

Overall, all exhibitions were very interesting, including the one I haven’t mentioned in detail, “Le Dernier Testament” by Jonas Bendiksen – closed now, unfortunately. However, I highly recommend you visit HOPE before September 23rd: a couple of hours minimum will be necessary to seize the greatness of every project presented there. The Rencontres d’Arles mix techniques, topics, and perspectives in a unique way: if you can’t make it this year, include it your agenda for summer 2019! As for Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, you have until November 4 to see the labyrinth… don’t hesitate to lose yourself in the contemplation of the artworks, but don’t forget also to pay attention to this wonderful historical place. Indeed, France is currently struggling to maintain most of its historical heritage, sadly, and such exhibitions also aim at drawing more attention and more visitors to these monuments.

Note: all pictures have been taken by the author of this article with the permission of the exhibitions’ managers.

 

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