Monday, 1 June 2009

Je Ne Suis Pas Un Artiste

The sun beats down hard on this dusty corner of Paris on this Sunday in May. For the passer-by, the scene in front of them here on Rue Ramponeau is a strange one. The yard is a wasteland, a collection of piles of rocks and pallets, and here and there patches of green forcing their way through the dry earth. On either side, monumental walls, covered with large, polychrome sprayed murals. To the rear, barely perceptible glass walls. This is La Forge de Belleville, a site that has been the scene of much controversy and debate recently.

Previously a key factory dating from 1912, it had been earmarked in 1991 for transformation into a small shopping centre before a group of artists decided to squat the building and eventually force the city council into a rethink. The artists were given permission to stay, this time as legal rent paying residents, on a rolling contract. The city of Paris was still the owner of the land, and paid for regular improvements to the buildings on site, and could still decide who or what could be installed here once the contract came to an end. As 2008 drew to a close and with the end of the contract nearing, the city decided to ask interested parties to bid for the new contract.

The group currently on site, known as la Forge de Belleville, strongly linked to the original artists who claim to have saved the buildings from demolition, was one of the bidders, but eventually lost out to a rival group of artists known as TRACES. This second association proposed to open the centre up to local residents, and to run regular events with community groups, something la Forge de Belleville had rarely involved itself in. Unhappy at losing the contract, la Forge de Belleville began a media campaign, bringing much of the debate down to one question; what is the role of an artist?

According to the Paris council, the artists on site had become more and more isolated, and little was clear in the way the association was being run. It was tempting therefore to make a clean change and plump for a new team, with artists who would be happy to run projects and integrate themselves in the surrounding community. A false debate for la Forge de Belleville, who believe that artists should be free to work how they please so long as they are paying rent.

The latest information is that they will finally be allowed to stay, but the debate continues. If a group of artists rents a property from the council at comparitively low rates, should they be encouraged, or even pushed towards social actions that may improve their local environment, especially in one judged to be difficult, as is the case here? Or, is the role of an artist simply to create and not be a social worker?

12 comments:

Owen said...

Interesting, reminds me a little of the story around "la Demeure du Chaos" near Lyon. Have you see that one? I did a couple of posts about it a while back, but lots of info on the net if you google the name, a pretty crazy place.

hannahinmotion said...

A mon avis, if an artist is paying rent, they should not be forced into any sort of social action, unless, of course, that's in their rental agreement. The trouble with this, though, is actually for the artist. Art is like that tree in the forest. If there is no one there to look at it, is it still art?

Peter said...

I believe that you could not force an artist to communicate, but at the same time I wonder what's the interest of being an artist if you don't? Maybe you want or need isolation when you create, but once the result is there...?

Ken Mac said...

the last shot is a beaut!

margaret said...

As usual, a very interesting post and story. This reminds me a bit of the Heidelberg Project in Detroit, Michigan. Action that starts out as sheer personal expression and an unauthorized transformation of the physical environment morphs, under a variety of pressures, into something with a socially acceptable mission statement and children's event programming. Not necessarily a negative outcome (could be exactly the right outcome) ... but it does undercut the notion of the Artist as unfettered lone visionary. Well, that's what you get for renting from the city council. ;-)

Starman said...

Isn't there some kind of law in France that states if you live in an empty building/apartment for 48 hours, it becomes yours? Since when is it the government's duty to tell artists what their role in society should be? Why don't they just tell them what kind of art they should produce?

Adam said...

Margeret and Owen: I don't know these two places, but I'll check them out. I guess most cities have similar sites.

Hannah and Peter: I have been inside this building before and seen the work of some of the artists as currently they open up maybe once or twice a year. I didn't see many of the artists though!

Starman: I don't believe that there is such a law, but nevertheless it is very difficult to evict squatters from a building. I agree with your concerns about state interference with the work of artists, but I don't think that would happen here. I think the city council are just concerned that they own a piece of prime land in a very crowded district and that to some extent it is going to waste here.

Cergie said...

Je connais cet endroit et en ai quelques photos des fresques et une des boîtes aux lettres. Je ne suis pas entrée au delà, du coté des ateliers mais lorsque je suis passée il y avait des artistes qui faisaient une sorte de sitting dans une cabane improvisée devant.
Je me pose la question : qui est ce Ramponeau ? Sans doute qelqu'un de terrible puisque mon père en était menacé (du "Grand Ramponeau") par ses parents lorsque il était enfant.

margaret said...

The weird, tragic, intriguing thing about Detroit is that so much of the city is simply abandoned-- whole neighborhoods, entire downtown office buildings. It's a universe away from Paris, to be sure. People can / have done anything they want in these orphaned places. Just imagine if this broken city was taken over by artists ... The Power House Project is attempting to do its part:

http://www.powerhouseproject.com/

http://detroitunrealestateagency.blogspot.com/

Therese Cox said...

What's amazing is that the council has been so open to re-imagining this patch of land instead of A) kicking everyone out and letting it fester or B) building another damn shopping center. The fact that this debate can happen at all is a testament to the way the city finds ways to honor its artists. Also, what a creative use of urban space. I love it.

Great story, great pictures, great post. Thanks for this.

ArtSparker said...

There's no right or wrong with this one, although my sympathies tend to lie with the original inhabitants.

Adam said...

Cergie: Il me semble que Ramponeau était proprietaire d'un bar/caberet ici...voyons...ah!

"Ramponeau, cabaretier de la Courtille, vendait, en 1760, de très mauvais vin à très bon marché"

Assez pour faire peur à tout le monde!

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