4. A snapshot of cONcErn in Cosne-d’Allier
Since July 2014, we have been developing a site for ‘endangered’ artworks situated at the geographical centre of France, in Cosne-d’Allier. Here, a dilapidated industrial site – formerly used for the manufacture of agricultural trailers – stretches alongside the river l’Œil (lit., the eye) and offers almost 3000m2 of different spaces: self-contained rooms, large halls, an attic, covered outdoor spaces, and green spaces.
Our approach is to rehabilitate the site both for and through the reception of artworks. To put it differently, the challenge for us is to establish a balance between the potential for assimilation offered by the vacuity of the space and the transformative power that the artworks might exert on their environment. If cONcErn cares about artworks at risk of destruction or abandonment, then the same applies to the site of their reception. This approach also implies that the rehabilitation of the site is a slow and continuous process and that there will not be a date for a ‘grand opening’, properly speaking. In this spirit, and after only a few weeks of essential cleaning, in October 2014 we organised a public reception of two artworks: Un Immeuble (2006) by Olivier Thuault and Scène de Parole (2008) by Accès Local/Philippe Mairesse (figure 16). Since then, other works by different artists have been received (figures 17–20), each time engendering a variety of new questions. But for now, let’s focus on the particular story of Scène de Parole by Accès Local/Philippe Mairesse in order to portray the type of questions that this project brings about.
Scène de Parole found itself in a crisis after being exhibited in the context of Philippe Mairesse’s participatory performance Choisir qui on écoute (2014) at the Villa Méditerranée in Marseille. Although the event’s organisers offered to facilitate the work’s return journey, there was no destination for Scène de Parole to be delivered to. This was because Mairesse could not provide a space for continued storage and there was no subsequent exhibition of the work scheduled. Coincidently, Mairesse had just heard about the project cONcErn and didn’t hesitate to contact us. … This was how Scène de Parole became destined for Cosne-d’Allier, thus escaping its alternative route leading to a Marseille rubbish dump.
Due to the urgency of Philippe’s request to accommodate his work, we had to act quickly and postpone any considerations about the modalities of our agreement. This rather chaotic start immediately launched cONcErn on an exciting journey of practice as experience; however, it also gave rise to a first wave of criticism for not having put down in writing, before accepting any works, the terms and conditions under which cONcErn receives artworks. This criticism did not come from the artist(s) concerned but from friends and art professionals who strongly advised us to establish a form of agreement with the artists that would release cONcErn from all responsibilities concerning any artworks received and clearly set out the conditions under which the works would be kept. In particular, it was pointed out that despite cONcErn only accepting artworks on the verge of destruction or abandonment, legally the works’ authors retained the right to prosecute cONcErn in case of damage or theft of the work while in storage at cONcErn. However, we felt that the rules of cOncErn had to be established gradually, on the basis of the practical experience gained with each new arrival and, for the time being, a relationship of trust between cONcErn and the artists. It was also important for us to establish these rules in a manner that was coherent with the rest of the project – that is, as an artistic experiment based on the artworks received. This is where the idea came from to involve Philippe Mairesse and his Scène de Parole in our exploration of the form and content of a possible contract between cONcErn and the participating artists. Mairesse had initially conceived his scène as a platform on which to activate his dispositif d’écoute, a very particular set-up aimed at destabilising habitual dynamics of group discussions, where the strongest orators usually dominate the discourse. Based on a given topic, Philippe initiates discursive performances in which up to twelve participants are equipped with headphones, microphones, and custom-made dial boxes that allow participants to select the person they want to listen to but does not allow them to know who is listening to what they say. Using an additional set-up connected to a recording device, Philippe randomly scans through the individual discourses, thus generating an audio document that contains a discontinued narrative of the topics discussed.
To put it briefly, in April 2015, we organised a steering committee to discuss the particularities of a potential contract, and invited Mairesse to reactivate his work at cONcErn (figures 22–24). The committee comprised artists, art professionals, historians, and a couple of laypersons interested in the project. During this meeting/performance, different ideas and opinions were expressed, providing a rich resource with which to establish a written agreement between cONcErn and the participating artists.
In the following, we will outline the key points of the agreement, which was adopted in May 2015. The agreement sets out the legal framework between the participating artists and cONcErn as a registered non-profit organisation, and also defines the rights and responsibilities of cONcErn with regard to the handling of the artworks at the space in Cosne:
• All artworks received by cONcErn remain the property of the artists. cONcErn does not accept any donations of artworks. In case of an artist’s death, the heir(s) must respect and sign the written agreement or, otherwise, withdraw the artwork.
• The deposit of artworks at cONcErn is free of charge and is, in principle, temporary. The artist can withdraw her or his work at any time. The maximum duration, which might be indefinite, is agreed on between the artist and cONcErn on a case-by-case basis. At the end of the agreed period, a new agreement can be arranged, the artist can recover her or his work, or she or he may request an orchestrated and documented destruction of the work at cONcErn.
• cONcErn does not make a selection of works based on aesthetic or thematic criteria. Nevertheless, for a work to be eligible it must meet three mandatory conditions:
(1) The work must be facing involuntary destruction or abandonment.
(2) The work must have been previously exhibited.
(3) The work must lend itself to remaining visible at the space in Cosne; that is, cONcErn does not accept works that must be kept in flight cases or other protective covers.
• All works accepted by cONcErn are presented at a public reception in Cosne-d’Allier. For this occasion, the participation of the artist is desired. The presentation of the work has to adapt to the nature of the host environment – that is, to all the works already present in the space and the characteristics of the space itself. A reception might group together the arrival of several works by different artists. Following the public reception, cONcErn is free to move the work to different locations within the space and to decide whether the work should remain visible or be covered by some sort of protection. Without having any obligation, cONcErn remains attentive to the wishes and recommendations given by the artist.
• cONcErn is not a place of conservation in the sense of a museum and cannot be held responsible for any natural deterioration or accidental damage to the artworks. cONcErn is committed to treat the artworks in a respectful way but it does not have any obligation to repair or restore the works. At the same time, participating artists are free to maintain their work(s) within the space as long as this does not have a negative impact on the host environment, including the other artworks present.
• cONcErn does not insure the artworks received but participating artists are free to insure their work at their own cost, providing that the insurance does not engender any legal obligations for cONcErn.
• cONcErn is interested in the life cycle of artworks and does not have an a priori vocation categorically to preserve artworks. While there has yet to be a precedent case at cONcErn, in some cases it may be more appropriate to consider destroying an artwork than to keep it indefinitely within the host environment. Any destruction at cONcErn will be an orchestrated and documented event, which will be included in the archive developed by cONcErn. cONcErn can suggest a public destruction of an artwork to the artist but has no right to destroy a work without the artist’s consent. In contrast, the artist has the right to request an orchestrated destruction of her or his work at any time.
• The artist retains all intellectual property of her or his work but grants cONcErn the right to take photos and videos of the work for the purpose of documentation, communication, and research.
Returning to the aforementioned steering committee, the audio document that Philippe Mairesse generated with his dispositif d’écoute during this event appeared to have an artistic interest in its own right. First, we used it for a simple sound installation at cONcErn, intending to give visitors additional insights about the ideas and challenges of the project. Subsequently, we transcribed the recordings and asked two stage directors, Barbara Schlittler and Christian Geffroy, to create a theatrical performance based on these transcriptions. Barbara and Christian were both enthusiastic about the singularity of the subject matter and the already quasi-dramaturgic nature of the text. During a short residency at cONcErn in June 2015, they worked with six actors to ‘put onstage’ a dramatised and, in our opinion, highly humorous interpretation of the original text, entitled Œuvres Bémol (figures 25–27). The piece has received very positive feedback from the general public, because people felt that Œuvres Bémol revealed in a very entertaining way the underlying questions and concerns of our project: Why do we preserve works of art? Who decides which works are of hereditary interest? Who has the right to destroy a work of art? Does it make sense to consider the environmental impact of artistic production? What is the relationship between artists and their works? To what extent are they attached to their works, and is it at all possible for artists to abandon their works? How are abandoned artworks perceived by the public? What significance does a project like cONcErn have in its local context? And so on.
The recording of this theatrical performance played an integral part in yet another artistic endeavour – a response to an invitation by the art gallery La Box in Bourges to present cONcErn in the context of the European Heritage Days 2015 – the national theme of which was, ‘Today’s creation, heritage for tomorrow?’ In contrast to our space in Cosne-d’Allier, La Box is an institutional white cube gallery with an emphasis on new production. Obviously, this invitation incited our artistic identity and looked for an idea that would present cONcErn in a way that went beyond the informative. At the same time, we did not want to produce a new physical work for this occasion, a work that arguably would have been destined, from the moment of its inception, to join the other works in Cosne!
As it happened, before the event at La Box gallery, we had been contacted by Pierre Bamford, an artist based near Bourges, who inquired about the possibility of cONcErn to accommodate a unit of bleachers which he had recently recovered and which he intended to use at a later stage in the context of a performance project. On the one hand, this request fell somewhat outside the remit of cONcErn because, in our view, the bleachers neither could be considered an artwork in their own right nor had been part of an artistic project. On the other hand, the bleachers could be considered to be an enriching element for our host environment in Cosne – if nothing else, the possibility of providing adequate seating for audiences at forthcoming events seemed attractive – and we considered it pertinent, logistically as well as conceptually, to benefit from our requested presence at Bourges as a means to recover Pierre’s bleachers at no extra cost and by using existing resources (i.e., a return journey between Cosne and Bourges with an almost empty van, compared with at full capacity). What is more, the bleachers not only triggered the conception of our artistic proposition for La Box gallery but actually became an integral part of it: they were installed in relation to a six-channel sound installation based on a re-edited recording of Œuvres Bémol that comprised six loudspeakers ‘onstage’, each of which was assigned to the voice of one of the six actors of the original performance in Cosne-d’Allier (figures 28–29). From a formal point of view, we felt that the ghostliness of the empty bleachers resonated strongly with the disembodied voices of the sound installation and, at the same time, the installation as a whole was an invitation for the audience to absorb and replace this emptiness with the presence of their own bodies.
On their arrival in Cosne-d’Allier, the bleachers were soon assimilated by the very environment that was also still home to Scène de Parole, the work that was at the origin of our sound installation at La Box. To us, it was like a meeting of old acquaintances who had never previously met, ready to generate new experiences in this shared terrain …
Go to next section: 5. In lieu of a conclusion