Praise of impertinence
In Nantes, we walk on the head – and even on the moon, in the Park Construction sites. We jump there in weightlessness, its craters invite you to take a nap. There is a house silted up in the Loire, happy giant snowmen popping out of the pages of magazines to invade a park, a basketball hoop tree… We go about it for Puss in Boots (if he had two left feet, like the boots in size 2000 by Lilian Bourgeat), one sometimes has the impression of being at the heart of a Jules Verne adventure, city kid.
Detroit architects and Bruno Peinado, We are going to walk on the moon, Chantiers park, Le Voyage à Nantes © Franck Tomps / LVAN
The Voyage à Nantes formula, an event that is both summer and persistent, is unique in France: dozens of renowned artists, architects and designers are invited to reinterpret the local heritage to restore its visibility and give it a second wind. If the “VAN” now attracts hundreds of thousands of curious people every year, the bet of transforming Nantes into a popular tourist destination certainly did not seem won in advance.
“We had to start from the following observation: Nantes is not a city of heritage“, remember John Blaise, director of Voyage à Nantes. “So you had to try to show your energy, your creativity.The NPV, he summarizes, is therefore the highlighting of “the evolution of the city» through the public space. “It’s the hardest space to work in, for the good and simple reason that when you go to public space, you go to people’s homes. And you’re still bothering someone.»
“Overturn the City”
Some, despite the success of the VAN (perhaps the only major French cultural event to have been held during the pandemic), are still reluctant to make choices that are sometimes considered radical. “When in 2020 we installed Fountain by Elsa Sahal, the merchants of the Place Royale were not very happy. They wanted something pretty. And there, our proposal was not suitable; because we are not suitable.»
Each edition is accompanied by strong reactions. “We must never forget that when it is true, art is always rejected. Because he’s here to shake things up. Art must therefore shake up, overthrow a city.The VAN was not designed to feed Instagram, but to surprise, to discover. “What we asked the artists to do was not to come and look pretty, but to show the city, to interpret it. It is not easy to discover Nantes. Some way had to be found to guide visitors in order to offer them interesting visions, perspectives.”
The Journey to Nantes © Amel & Gregg – Yodel
More than 22 kilometers of green line
Hence the birth of the green line which marks the route and has continued to branch out, to reach more than 22 kilometres. You have to follow it to better get lost. Anyway, let it be said: here, art is in the street, not between the white and intimidating walls of a gallery or a museum. It is not fixed, invites interaction and reflection.
Each year, works inaugurated for the VAN become embedded in the urban landscape for good. There are those which tell the forgotten history of the city, those which dust off the treasure gone unnoticed, those which make discover the intrinsic beauty of a recent building considered “ugly” and change our view of the architectural heritage.
Visual of the 2022 edition of Voyage à Nantes © Hélène Delprat
2022 edition: a jubilant journey…
The 2022 edition will begin on July 2 with the Nuit du VAN and the Nuit des Tables de Nantes (concerts all over the city, evenings in museums and more than 70 restaurants in the streets for a gourmet and festive stroll) and will end on September 11th. To play the game to the end, artists’ rooms offer sleeping in a tiny house as if suspended, in a castle middle of insects that talk to alienswhich also hosts a chamber-work ofUgo Rondinone and of John Giorno, formerly of Andy Warhol’s Factory. You can also stay with your family at heart of Jules Verne’s universefrom the Earth to the moon.
For this new meeting, we will discover the large Place Graslin reinvented by Hélène Delprat. Its hemicycle shape and the neoclassical pediment of its theater offer the artist an ideal playground, at the crossroads of the sacred monsters of French literature and the history of the city: the “Theater of operations is a black star-island with a wingspan of 20 meters whose points tend towards rue Racine, rue Voltaire, rue Molière… A sculpture hides a loudspeaker in its open mouth. Not far from this creature, neither quite human nor completely bestial, stands an angel, arms and wings outstretched, which one could almost hear singing the clamors of the city.
… and spooky
Thrill seekers will continue the experience with a walk in the Miséricorde cemetery (the name alone is promising) where Pascal Convert’s glass cervids give the impression of emerging from between two graves to follow you with their gaze. These mysterious creatures-mirrors of time have definitely taken up residence in the old part of the cemetery. Here, nature has reasserted itself since the city management decided to no longer treat the soil. In this atmosphere which seems to borrow as much from Edgard Allan Poe as from a happy fairy tale, Convert invokes “the passage of time, light and the lingering effects of the past.»
Sketch, Alexandre Benjamin Navet, The Trip to Nantes 2022
Still haunted by these encounters of another type, we will head towards the Place du Commerce to let ourselves be caught up in the colorful and multidimensional universe of Alexandre Benjamin Navet. His “Chromatic facades redraw both the history of the port and merchant city, while bringing new relief to its architecture, drawing attention to the renewed breath of the recently renovated square. Brightly colored flat areas or underlined volumes make the signs and terraces vibrate, transformed into a real cinema set into the heart of which visitors rejoice at being propelled.
Be surprised, learn and have fun!
The only concern is spoiled for choice proposed by Voyage à Nantes, between novelties and permanent works. One may be tempted to experience an exhilarating vertigo at Hermitage Belvedere of Tadashi Kawamata, to venture into the woods to admire the brand new cardboard trees by Eva Jospinor even visit the prototype of a gas station of the future imagined by design legend Jean Prouvé for Total in the 1960s.
The Brutalists, Martine Feipel & Jean Bechameil, The Journey to Nantes © Martin Argyroglo / LVAN
We will be surprised by the “Brutalists”, homage to the architecture of Le Corbusier which hides in their heart an oven used by the students of the Vatel culinary institute. Or visit Absence, “habitable” structure that defies the laws of classical architecture, typical of the organic design that has made Atelier Van Lieshout famous.
We will walk, nose to the wind (sniff carefully: the VAN has its own scentlaunched last year, and you can buy it), quite simply, reveling in the many surprises scattered around the city.
There are two that concentrate in themselves the spirit of the Voyage to Nantes. Two sculptures by the elusive Philippe Ramette, including this Praise of transgression: is it a little girl ready to kill herself or an ambitious young woman who hastens to climb on her marble base to go down in history? The plate left blank does not say so, your interpretation will be the correct one.
Philippe Ramette, “Eloge de la transgression” – Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Xippas – The Trip to Nantes 2018 © Marc Domage / LVAN, ADAGP 2018
And, above all, to have fun.
Photo illustration: The Rings, Daniel Buren and Patrick Bouchain, Quai des Antilles, city atmosphere © Martin Argyroglo / LVAN