photo by Ivan Mathie

The purpose of art and its value in the social fabric

When I hear this topic, my first reaction is to resist: do we have to give a value to art, and so justify its necessity ? While it should have as only goal to just exist, in its own imperfection.

At the same time, we know that art is often used to establish a power, the one from "those who know", and who justify this way the domination they apply : what french sociologist Bourdieu calls "the distinction". My practice was always in the intricacies of these questions : I am convinced that art can help to live and to stand up, but at the same time, I am always suspicious from instrumentalization which keeps elitism. I remember a workshop I managed about cultural mediation for people in reinsertion who want to become socio-cultural coordinator. I proposed them firstly that each of us tell a powerful memory about his/her meeting with a piece of art (any kind of). Everyone told, with stars in the eyes, the shock of the discovery, trying to explain how it felt inside. Then I proposed to share another experience: when they felt excluded from an artistic place, and what they thought about that. Everyone spoke about feelings like anger, shame, reject. At least, I explained how for me, cultural mediation was precisely at the hinge of both of these memories : how art could help to self-esteem, appreciation, interpretation of the world; a spring to draw to empowerment a little more, to become more lucid, to not forget what we have deep in our guts, to stay sharpened, generous, uncompromising, open and sensitive. But in the same time, how it could be a tool of exclusion, or used as a showcase in communication operations, with prestige, money, profitability, playing on codes that just a little part of the population can deal with, and which are spread from a generation to the next, cultural patrimony added to economical patrimony.

Today in my work, I try to foil the second effect to keep only the first. I'm going to give some examples of these tests, emphasizing the fact that they are always tests, imperfect, awkward, insufficiently productives regarding the hopes we feed. However, I am conscious of these weaknesses, but I am doing that work again, full of joy, of the teachings of the past experiences, and of the desire I feel to think a shape specifically for a territory, in an articulation with the real life.

Firstable, I have to say that the scene of the theatre isn't very exciting for me, or only if I could imagine new rules with the reality, as we made with Nicolas Bonneau, inviting a famous political french figure to build a theater piece.

So I really prefer public space, or to be precise, all the places which are not dedicated to art or culture. I will tell three examples to explain the tools I use to try to make art have a role in the social fabric.

La Tournée took place in the french countryside, where shops had closed and the social link disappears year after year. We invent a mobile bakery: during the nine months, our Tournée went through the villages to sell a special bread designed by a culinar designer during a workshop with the local bakers. It was a special bread, baked with some organic flour coming from one of the cities, and crossed by a red thread, symbolizing the link between people. Our red caravan was thought with a scenographer and a local association dealing with knitting and basketry: we had for example made some canvas about the emblematic monuments as the new swimming-pool or the recent landfill. Each month, a newspaper was written, giving some stories from old people about common bread ovens, drawings from schools and portraits I wrote over the meetings. I believe that where there are people, there are stories, and artists are just here to revelate them.

For the Libourne city, my colleague Jonathan Macias and I lived under the view of everybody, in the empty shops of the main street, eating, sleeping, brushing our teeth behind the window, as it was our home. During one year, we made a lot of interviews, sociological researc, little talks in bars, trying to understand the urbanistic issues of the city, and how it affected people. Joining more universal questions (from intimacy of family or love stories, to the big metropolisation which is engaged everywhere), we proposed an experience where the people, in little groups, were invited to read a theater text about the potential gentrification of the city, the work of the winery worker, their enslavement to the big castles which are the pride of the french tourism, and other topics like that. Our goal was that people stay at the end to discuss together, and it worked. We didn't want that people become friends - that is not our problem -, but we wished they felt comfortable to share their ideas about the town and its evolution, with people they didn't know just before ; and that this proposition gave more empowerment.

“Suite pour transports en commun” is something which takes place in festivals or in cities they want to invite it. This performance works with the unexpected : it's dedicated to the users of the public transports (I refuse that hours could be communicated to the audience of the festivals). This is a very tiny disturbance which makes people raise their head and connect with each other, feeling sensitive humans and suspending the walk of the city.

To conclude, I think that art has a very important role in the social fabric, because that's it what produces stories which are the bases of our society. In front of the big crises we are going to face, I feel an urge to think new stories, because our brains could only create things they can imagine; and this imaginary will be the key of the answers we have to create in front of the fact we have to look at our world becoming lapsed.

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