The scent of woodwork is heavy in this brand new contemporary arts centre, still partly under renovation in places but assuredly open for business. Rising out of the concrete jungle of the ramshackle 19th arrondissement like a sandblasted breathe of fresh air, the building has retained some of its industrial features following its €100m overhaul, with hulking metal girders and prison-esque wire walkways above the main space, and a conservatory style roof flooding the expanse with light. Home to 19 separate ateliers and welcoming all mediums of art, the 39,000 m2 space at 104 rue d'Aubervilliers was, in days gone by, the main funeral headquarters of Paris where the hearses were kept, the black horses were stabled and practically every fallen Parisian’s coffin was once manufactured. Previous to its life as the so-called ‘factory of grief’ beginning in 1903, it spent 28 years as an abattoir. Lucky coincidence then that memory, death and decay are favoured subjects in the contemporary art world as all the artists are due to reference the past life of the building in some way, however slight, through their work created at 104.
In exchange for an atelier in this coveted new network, the artists must permit the public free access to their studios alongside the ticketed events on offer, from theatre and cinema to workshops and lecture series amongst other copious spectacles.
Amongst the first artists in residence are Anri Sala, the Paris-based Albanian video artist, perhaps best known for his work Dammi i colori ("Give me the colours") in the Tate Modern collection, pondering the gradual transformation of the Albanian capital Tirana into a kaleidoscope of once concrete-coloured buildings, under the auspices of visionary Socialist mayor, painter and art professor, Mr Edi Rama.
Lyrical and political, Sala’s cinematic oeuvre has graced the Berlin Biennale, the Musée d’art moderne in Paris and a 2002 double-residency in Mexico.
His work at 104 is concerned with temperature and a fictional film has been selected to represent every degree between –10Ã‹Å¡C and 40Ã‹Å¡C, including Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka and 12 Angry Men by Sidney Lumet, juxtaposing cinema of radically different countries, amateur and blockbuster, B/W and colour amongst other parameters.
Atelier 3 is home to Peruvian painter Juan Diego Vergara, here presenting a collage of French new wave and post-punk culture between 1985 and 1989. Having never set foot in France before now, he is piecing it together with information gathered from those who were here to experience it first-hand. Compiling these memories alongside the powerful art aesthetic of the record sleeves, zines, fashion and nightlife favoured at the time, the Collage Archive is designed as a monument to demonstrate how this now extinct scene had a knock-on effect in connecting people the world over.
Atelier 5 has been awarded to Jeleton, a collective of two multi-talented multi-taskers from Barcelona, Gelen Alcantara and Jesus Arpal. Active since 1999, they work in a vast array of mediums including audio, comic book photography, posters, performance and printing, drawing inspiration from dozens of references including horror master George Romero, Manga animation, alchemy, Os Mutantes and the myth of Eros and Psyche. Here they are deconstructing the French chanson, illustrating the lyrics, skewing the meanings and experimenting with resonance to interpret traditional songs with rock and roll instruments.
Next-door in number 7 is Nicolas Simarik, a promising French artist, broad-minded and free from affectation, who gained recognition recently for his fake catalogue La Déroute based on the popular home-shopping format of La Rédoute. Using real people of every shape and size, age and race, the link being that they all spring from the same neighbourhood in Toulouse, it illustrates the incredible spectrum of difference in one small area, also showing up the preoccupation with cloned-style fictional beauty in mainstream culture, advertising and fashion in particular.
Here, Simarik proposes to gather together a million keys with each willing participant donating or lending their old or current keys to be copied in exchange for one that opens a box to ‘something unusual’ once a month. Mystery like that doesn’t come along every day!
Upstairs in Atelier 11, Philippe Stark has taken a team of young designers under his celebrated wing, who will be punctiliously put through their paces for a BBC2 documentary filmed on site (due to be aired in January 2009), tracking their endeavours in concocting the must-have design objects for the 21st century.
Graphic artist Viravong has a more modest scheme in Atelier 13 to aid a dozen 11 to 15 year olds in the creation of their own comic strips, alongside giving an open lecture series in November 2008 on the history of the comic book or extremely popular bande-dessinée in French, focusing on famed milestones like Manga, Tintin and Flash Gordon.
There are also writers, photographers (notably young Spanish artist Cova Macías), architectural designers and landscapists in this radical indoor art precinct to be freely explored with a consistent programme of events and numerous opportunities to participate.
104 also volunteers an online magazine in both French and English calling for submissions, dialogue and collaboration in all the artistic disciplines, from architecture to performance art, audio, video, and whatever one’s creative mind might hazard to come up with.
Visitor treats like bookshops, a restaurant and café, and several design boutiques are due to open in early 2009 to ensure a thriving trade in this once long-dead funeral empire. Hopefully they won’t lose sight of the bottom line and will succeed in a decent inner city development project for a change, combining a much needed cultural community centre in this depleted area, with a serious shot in the arm for the ailing contemporary arts scene here in Paris.
Zoe Clayton is an avid reader and a dilettante of many disciplines including writing, photographing, filmmaking, music and pochoiring from Manchester, currently residing in Paris. Zoe writes reviews for gogoparis.com, has hosted independent expos in the UK, shown films in Berlin, Leeds, and Sydney and is the lyricist/stylophone-glockenspiel-banjo player in a musical collective.
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