This discussion workshop – organised on 16 February, in the Friche La Belle de Mai centre in Marseille – explored the place of artistic experimentation in such prestigious events as the European Capitals of Culture. These experiments blur the borderlines between the micro and the macro scales, the local and the global. But on what conditions can they preserve their values and fulfil themselves within this framework?

Artistic experimentation in Marseille three years before being European capital of culture - February 2010

Installation Footsak/Les Pas Perdus – (Durban) – 2010

An area that is still as fertile as ever
The city of Marseille is a particularly fruitful area for projects involving what are known as “Nouveaux Territoires de l’Art†[New Are(n)as for the Arts] or “NTAs†. This designation (following the recommendations of a report which Fabrice Lextrait was appointed to write in October 2000 by Michel Duffour, who was then Secretary of State for Decentralisation of the Arts and Heritage under the Socialist Jospin government) was established at an international conference organised in 2002 in the Friche la Belle de Mai centre in Marseille. It was then evident that the NTAs cover an abundant reality involved in the essential issues of artistic and cultural action. But the fantastic hope raised by the 2002 conference did not keep its political promises. However, the founding values of the projects that identify themselves with this designation are more active than ever. There are many different, effective approaches, as proven by the Marseille example. The perspective of Marseille Provence 2013, European Capital of Culture and the spotlighting that will be created by this event is an opportunity to remind oneself that these creative areas concretely experiment the conditions required for the establishment of real artistic and cultural democracy.

Material for narratives
Addressing these experiments on the basis of their territorial roots does not in any way mean limiting them to a geographical area or confining them to local specificities. These projects all aim to take a lot of inspiration from the context in which they develop, but in order to transcend it and thereby, through practice, to work for alternative relations between art and the local community. They are fundamentally cross-cutting and trans-sectorial, and they are part of a decentralisation movement that is suffering severely under the government’s present policy.

As pointed out by Pascal Nicolas-Le Strat, these adventures are the ferment of accounts and stories that could then provide material for other political and social narratives. And the researcher stresses that the social sciences themselves also need to go beyond their own walls.

But the crisis context encourages inward-looking withdrawal. Faced with many difficulties, particularly economic problems, artists are restricted to within boxes that stifle them. Similarly, the thoughts produced by academics and researchers do not manage to permeate through to society.

Majority-oriented projects
© Salle d’exposition/Marie Legros – 3 Bis F (Aix-en-Provence) - 2010
Therefore the visibility of these projects entails a narrative above and beyond the field of the arts. It is a matter of reinitiating the political dimension within these actions. It is evident that, for the moment, the national and international political context does not encourage the emergence of such initiatives. But, if the powers-that-be limit the development of these projects, they still do not manage to completely eradicate them. Although they are considered as minority-oriented projects by public authorities, they are fundamentally majority-oriented in their aim to concern all sections of the community, as near as possible to their everyday life. The project initiated by Guy-André Lagesse and his association Les Pas Perdus, called Footsak - La balle au bond 2010, is emblematic of this ability to enchant reality. Three artists kick a football across the African continent, from Marseille to Durban, during the period of preparation for the World Cup. On the way, they are catalysers of an in situ artistic process, actively involving the local population that they meet. Therefore they celebrate the fanciful imagination and inventiveness of the “world of the humble†.

From the micro to the macro

Therefore these approaches move easily between here and elsewhere, between “micrological†and “macrological†approaches. But they do not fit easily into the frameworks of institutional recognition. How can one obtain this legitimacy without being confined within standardised approvals? How can these processes and experiments incorporate positions “of great stature†which favour the dimension of the large-scale event? In this respect, the perspective of Marseille Provence 2013, European Capital of Culture, is emblematic. To a great extent, Marseille Provence won the title of European Capital of Culture through this area’s capacity to be a centre of creative experimentation. However, in order to attract a maximum number of visitors, the programme of events for the year 2013 will probably highlight forms of artistic excellence, more for a showcase effect than for real cultural development of the area. As regards the participation of the local people, will it be really based on a joint construction approach that incorporates their desires and aspirations?

Looking towards the future

In any case, projects that are really rooted in the city do not wish to be relegated to the fringe. They have managed to develop know-how in terms of leading projects, project management and mediation. They have invented innovative, operational forms of governance which should be used as a model by the European Capital of Culture and more generally by all public policies. For these approaches help us to address the complexity of relations that govern society. They go well beyond simply artistic concerns to affect many fields in a cross-cutting manner, such as political, economic, social, educational, urban and environmental fields, etc. At a time when public policies must include radically new paradigms, these projects anticipate the transformations and open up horizons to the conditions for living together in harmony. In 2012, ten years after the conference on the Nouveaux Territoires de l’Art, an event that mixes actions and discussions could reaffirm this evident fact.

Fred Kahn
Texts written on the basis of discussions in Marseille the 16th february in La friche la belle de Mai
Quentin Dulieu
Coordinator of Discussion Workshops

Modified on Thursday 19 May 2011