Crosstalk dialogue – Olivier Grossetête and Zimmerfrei | JASMINE LEBERT, QUENTIN GUISGAND & ARIANE BIEOU (LIEUX PUBLICS)

August 19, 2014


ZimmerFrei is a collective of artists (Massimo Carozzi, Anna de Manincor, Anna Rispoli) whose complex practice is located on the crossways of cinema, theater, music and performance. Mixing formal languages, the group produces kaleidoscopic sonic and visual works that investigate real and imaginary urban environments, where the mental and the physical blend in a coherent narrative of human experience. Through the lens of a camera, ZimmerFrei observes the “temporary cities” which are shedding their skin and sometimes even their soul. Temporary Cities is a series of singular documentaries representing a veritable collection of urban portraits, in particular within the framework of the IN SITU network: Brussels, Copenhagen, Budapest and in 2013 Marseille for Lieux publics‘ event “Métamorphoses”. Using the tales collected from inhabitants or users, ZimmerFrei develops a fiction which is both personal and collective by revealing the invisible walls which criss-cross the city beyond the separation of public space and private land. The filming takes the form of a listening point for these citizens’ narratives where large-scale urban renovation serves as the scenery while the challenge of writing day-to-day history is played out in the alleyways. The people encountered become co-authors of the film thanks to the tales they tell. In Marseille, Temporary City has found its epicentre ah the heart of the Noailles district, where the documentary La beauté c’est ta tête has been screened among the inhabitants at the heart of Noailles, as an avant-première.

Olivier Grossetête is a visual artist who graduated in 1998 from the School of Fine Arts in Valence (France), where he examined the relationships between idea and action, a work and its context, volume and its material before exploring urban space with the aim of examining the architecture and its symbolism. In 2000, he created Un bateau ivre 1, a short film involving a full-scale paper boat in reference to famous scenes from the world of cinema. Simultaneously a performance, a film and an object, Un bateau ivre 1 formed the basis for the poetic approach of Olivier Grossetête, focusing on the transient nature of performance and the marks it leaves behind. In 2002, Olivier Grossetête began developing collective monumental constructions with the aim of their becoming autonomous in relation to the existing architecture, free-standing. The construction preparation workshops helped to federate the teams which consist of amateurs, inhabitants of the cities in which they were held. Very quickly, these preliminary workshops became an integral part of the works, such as in Marseille in the frame of the European Capitale of Culture in October 2013, with the construction of a real city at the scale, on the Townhall square, place Bargemon, with the help of thousands of inhabitants.

Since 2011, Olivier has been invited to showcase his transient constructions in numerous cities throughout France and Europe (Manchester, Glasgow, Košice among others), in particular with the IN SITU network, giving rise to a series of transient cities across Europe.

Jasmine Lebert: Why are you working on the theme of the city and why are contemporary cities a source of inspiration for you?

Anna Rispoli: I believe that cities define our condition as contemporary citizens. Not only because of demographic facts and realities which show that the urban condition is a new way of being human but also because the nature of towns and cities is constantly evolving and reshaping its definition. We are therefore compelled to invent a new means of relating to other people: indeed, how can we forge a relationship with other human beings who are not only from different ethnic, geographical and language backgrounds but who also constitute vectors of other ways of living, other conceivable cities which coexist? We constantly traverse and range across several towns, several urban dwelling conditions. Some are hidden whereas others are more visible. As far as we are concerned, we are interested in concealed, subterranean or more or less fleeting cities.

Olivier Grossetête: A town is the place where I live, where I have been born and raised. It engenders our behaviour patterns. It’s the environment which structures us, being pregnant with signs and semiotic symbols, with a whole organisational structure which is there. I want to explore and play with this semiotic construct. Initially, I started out with buildings and construction. My goal was to upset and rearrange the fixed images of the city and put forward another way of coexisting, symbiosis and living together. That’s why I became interested in architecture as a symbol or image of power. Working in public space means working in a specific relationship to others and therefore in power relations. One of my first artificial constructs consisted in juxtaposing two cardboard high-rise buildings (tower blocks) as adjuncts to a town hall. This clearly involved calling into question the symbol of power in order to subvert it with people’s help and a so-called “poor” (non-noble) material.

Anna de Manincor: When we arrive in a new town, the first thing we do is to walk around and contemplate visible things. Afterwards we penetrate and traverse the walls in our imagination. With a child’s imaginative power which consists in looking in at a window while believing it’s possible to see the whole of the flat. That’s how we come up with and invent stories. These turn into short subterranean films from which we can ascertain whether the pictorial representations which have welled up within us can crystallise out into reality or not. Our documentaries are not true documentaries. They do not explain, do not reveal, they are created constructs which are based on material data. The town is rather a material object which forces itself into our view.

Quentin Guisgand: Anna, you referred to “subterranean cities” in your work. What might constitute their “invisible dividing walls”?

Anna Rispoli: I didn’t take part in the two documentaries of Copenhagen and Budapest. Therefore I can visualise them both in an internal and external way. But these invisible separating walls are also those of ones self-representation faced with the others. These documentaries impinge on the tangible limit between private and public spaces: self-representation and individual identity in relation to the community and the boundaries delimiting and defining this community. The great freedom of our documentaries lies in the possibility of imagining oneself elsewhere, in another place within a shared urban space. It’s by evoking and conjuring up these desires and these projections that we can reappropriate for ourselves and regain possession of these shared spaces.

Olivier Grossetête: In a city, what makes me as an individual suffer, is the fact of being in the midst of such a multitude of people and, nonetheless, simultaneously feeling alone and isolated. The bigger the city, the greater ones loneliness and solitude, the harder it is to make real contact with others. It’s precisely there that our invisible walls tower and rear up which gives rise to personal suffering. For my projects I get to visit different towns and each and every time I experience the same feeling of solitude. My procedural way of working doesn’t change from one town to another. It’s the relationship to space and shapes which changes. In order to break down these invisible walls I set up workshops which enable me to create and forge interpersonal links by working. Doing things collectively is a way to meet up with others. That’s my strategy and game plan. First of all, it’s “please hand me the roll of cellotape”, then, after a certain length of time has elapsed, a dialogue ensues.

Quentin Guisgand: Is fiction a way to demolish these walls or to point them out, perhaps?

Olivier Grossetête: Yes, in order to try to create something else. However, I create other walls to bring down these virtual walls or, at least, for a while. We create links which surprise so as to propose something else and not necessarily to combat this. Art is there to put forward propositions which are different and stand out somewhat, to enable us to take a detached view and stand back from the city and reassess our daily relationship with it.

Anna Rispoli: We as artists are all full of good intentions. However, the most insidious invisible wall is perhaps the swampy territory of artistic reappropriation, reclaiming and reinterpreting reality. We speak of city planning issues, urban development, of gentrification. The work that artists are called upon to do deals with wider issues and much more uncontrollable ones. We are aware of the fabulous idea, of the stroke of genius behind the huge boom of the past few years in favour of art in public spaces, of this challenging appeal to artists to assume the mission of revitalising and upgrading social links in public spaces. This amazing concept offers enormous scope to break down some walls. But it also harbours concealed within it things that we can’t manage to control, especially as the economics of performing arts doesn’t enable us to manage the consequences of our actions in the long term. What does “temporary intervention” mean? What is the ethical and political responsibility of this type of action?

Olivier Grossetête: Of course, there is “what comes after, ensuing subsequent events” but as an artist, myself, I believe that if this type of action creates desire, then it is already good. Art is desire and desire is life. Saying to someone, “I need you” already entails offering that person something and that can create desire.

Quentin Guisgand: There is movement in your work. How do you populate your “fleeting cities”, make them inhabited and liveable?

Anna Rispoli: We create within a city a viewing point which is also a listening point. This is a position from which we endeavour to establish a possibility of something real, in which there is an unbelievable degree of chaos. So, how does this chaos traverse what is real? How does what is invisible become visible? We allow ourselves to be surprised by the gaze of strangers. In Copenhagen you chose a hill where you waited for something to occur …

Anna de Manincor: Yes and it’s the people themselves who came up to us and approached us. I was there and I needed help because it was big. Nevertheless, I started by myself. I filmed nothingness; I framed within camera shot visions which could not be reduced to a sequence of storytelling, of dramatic narrative. It was precisely the opposite of an investigative film where you put questions to people, expecting answers that confirm and vindicate a hypothesis. When someone becomes interested in the invisible thing that you are in the process of doing, they approach you and come up with things to tell you without you having to ask them nothing whatsoever. Normally, people don’t appreciate being filmed unless they are already characters themselves. But we don’t film them directly. We frame a shot of a building and we speak with them about this image. We are on the same side of the camera and we look in the same direction. The camera no longer represents a barrier between us. We construct a temporary, displaced reality. Therefore we can discuss and exchange our points of view on what was there previously and what we can no longer visualise, on what is in the process of being built and what can’t yet be seen. It’s only after a long time has elapsed that I can begin to film the individual, his face and his body. However, this person then becomes the co-author of the film.

Quentin Guisgand: What about you, Olivier, what’s your take on this idea of inhabiting the town and the city in movement?

Olivier Grossetête: Movement in my constructions stems primarily from the fact that we construct them. We are involved in making them as homo faber. That’s what creates the movement. From the outset, I wanted to manufacture my things alone, by myself in a corner and master everything. But by bringing in other people I was forced to relinquish this control and to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn’t control and master everything which makes room for life. In my creative process, I arrive by myself in a town and try to meet people, to motivate them, to single out those who are the most capable, to leave them a little more responsibility. I am alone and I suffer from this state of affairs. But this is also a strength. I’m pretty much attached to my solitude. That’s what enables me to approach others. When there are two of us we form a tougher, less permeable entity. The fact of being alone makes you available for others. This isn’t an obvious stance but I quite like this position.

Ariane Bieou: But the movement in your towns is also physical, as the buildings move…

Olivier Grossetête: I’m interested in the game of moving the buildings around playfully. Until now I have never made more than one or two buildings simultaneously. At Chalon-sur-Saône, where the ground was sloping, we had to shift the building to put it at the right level. Therefore, it was rather a question of setting it up. But it was also beautiful. In Marseilless, for the first time I am gearing up to building an entire city. We plan on bringing into being an average of five constructions per day. On the first day of this endeavour we will perhaps try to make ten small ones which will grow in stature when there are more people around. The construction won’t remain static and inert. Improvisation will play a part. If the Mistral blows for three days we won’t be able to make very high buildings (laughter). We will be able to spread out and lay out the town and subsequently assemble it and reach for the sky. Unmasterable stories will emerge from this.

Jasmine Lebert: How do you cope with the clash between public and private spaces in the building of your fleeting city? Is everything comprised of public space or is there room for, space for the individual?

Olivier Grossetête: The space will be above all public since the act of building means gathering people together. Afterwards each individual will create his own story. The relationship to what is private lies rather in each person’s individual experience. Those who want to sleep in the constructions at night will be allowed to … (laughter) but the security and safety issues are not obvious. As soon as you enclose and close a space, far-reaching safety and security constraints arise. This involves supervising the place and allocating a budget for this purpose, negotiating with a security company in order to let the town come alive while also ensuring that there is no risk. We are in Marseilles and we can’t leave the town unsupervised. But, ideally, the town will fend for itself and I don’t want to put up barriers at night. It must be an object that is free to escape itself from my control.

Quentin Guisgand: Your work is accompanied by the IN SITU network which means that you are sometimes led to cross international borders and visit new cities. What vision of Europe has this nomadic wandering instilled in you?

Olivier Grossetête: I observe that every town has its very own collective energy. I will always be astonished by the way people behave. It’s at Annecy (in France) that I made one of my first constructions. At the end, after its destruction, we laid out all the cardboard and there was no adhesive tape left on the ground. If you do that in Marseilles it won’t be the same at all! Embarking on a construction site in Scotland was a laborious undertaking. Then the experiment caught on and came to life.

Anna Rispoli: I think that the only time when we really felt that we were Europeans is when we lived in New York in the United States. This notion of being European still defies definition. Establishing a link between European cities and tracing an identity from them … indeed, European identity is still a hazy thing for me. What is lacking in Europe is a history of the self, a shared personal narrative, akin to what exists in the United States of America. To achieve that, the Americans based their approach on a fictional identity, that of virgin land, of the New World …

Quentin Guisgand: And a European narrative comprising your City Portraits?

Anna de Manincor: Admittedly we embody and convey with us a gaze which generates links. We turn up in a town, replete with suggestions that the previous city has inspired in us. Then something like a transfer of these suggestions and desire takes place. Some came into being and arose in a town. They petered out giving way to more interesting pathways. Then they resurface in another town. For instance, we had left for Budapest to look for skeletons of buildings, whose structure can be perceived from the outside. During the initial exploration period we found none. The underground film then shifted to phantom buildings.

Anna Rispoli: But here, in Marseilles, we did indeed find skeletons of buildings. In the rue de la République for example …

Anne de Manincor: Yes and we’ll continue talking about Budapest now we are in Marseilles and we will speak about Marseilles when we will travel to The Netherlands or Austria … We drag from place to place, transpose and perpetuate within ourselves subjects which are undoubtedly time’shifted and anachronistic.


LIEUX PUBLICS is a creation center directed by an artist: Pierre Sauvageot, composer and inventor of site specific artworks. His latest productions are: Igor off the rails, a railway’s rite, Harmonic Fields, a symphonic march for wind instruments and a moving audience, oXc, an urban and mediterranean opera for a large public square and The Concert of Audience.
Lieux publics created the IN SITU European network for artistic creation in public space and the “META“ project (2011-2016): Side by Side, seminars for artistic reflection focusing on projects at the creation stage, European artist in residence programs, cross-programming, leading reflexion and action on a European scale.

Lieux publics, national center for creation and IN SITU, European network for artistic creation in public space, support new artistic developments in public spaces in Europe, accompanying artists creating new relationships between art, the city and its citizens.

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