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Capitals of culture: contemporary art just around the corner

Every year since 1985, one or more European cities have been chosen as European capitals of culture. The project was conceived by the Ministries of Culture belonging to the former European Community. This year two cities have been selected, one in the north of Europe (Lille, France) and one in the south (Genoa, Italy). Both cities share an industrial past, now experiencing a deep crisis, and a rich historical and cultural heritage. Lille, capital of the French Flanders, has put all its efforts into promoting young artists. They don't just come from the region or from Europe but also from countries as far away as China. Genoa, a harbour on the Mediterranean, focused instead on digging up its forgotten jewels. However, the organisers of both cities also decided to work on common projects, turning two potential rivals into effective partners.

Family X 2001. Paper, polyvinyl foam and adhesive, white Sellotape. Collection Fond Régional d'Art Contemporain Nord-Pas de Calais

An example that everybody should take note of is at the Museum for Contemporary Art Villa Croce in Genoa, where a selection of artworks from the Fond Régional d'Art Contemporain (also known as Frac) of Dunkerque, one of the participants in Lille 2004, is being exhibited and co-ordinated by the centre for French culture of Genoa. The exhibition Aménager la maison, Habiter le musée (meaning, furnishing the house, living the museum) will take place until June 6, 2004. Its aim is to bring the villa, which dates back to the end of the 19th century, back to life by turning it into a fictitious artist's house. From the cellar to the attic, from the kitchen to the artist's studio, the present installation offers an innovative programme exhibiting 80 artworks by internationally known artists such as Olivier Blanckart who, thanks to his sculpture of paper and sticky tape, blows the absent breath of life back into the above-mentioned scenario. The Italian residence, now turned into a museum to be lived in by artists, has all the features needed to make it an original experience, especially if compared to traditional exhibitions, often laid out as successions of artworks on white walls. Through playful voyeurism, the museum gives the visitor a chance to get closer to contemporary creations in an empirical and interactive way. Here, the duality of public/private space is up for debate.

Kurt Hentschläger
Jaquemart Nature 04
photo © Emmanuel Valette

The centre for French culture in Genoa has itself opened its premises for an exhibition, a photographic reportage by Matteo Fontana on Lille 2004. It gives a chance to the visitors from Genoa to find out how the young people of Lille are interpreting culture. Around fifty pictures and a thirty-minute long video portray how several artists got hold of the public urban space of Lille to transform it. The most representative metamorphosis, among the many attempts to transfigure the urban space temporarily, is indeed the installation Jaquemart Nature 04 by the Viennese artist Kurt Hentschläger, member of the Granular Synthesis group. The installation gets hold of the Lille-Europe skyscraper (1995), in suspension on the modern crystal and concrete terminal of the London-Brussels route. Every night and for the entire year, the 110 meter high building is lighted up with 1880 green neon tubes showing every quarter of the hour through light pulses. Indeed, the neon lights turned the block of offices into a 'jaquemart', namely an automaton in the public clocks to tell the time.
This itinerary and ephemeral event aimed once at contribute towards the cultural development of the chosen capitals and the realisation of the European culture in all its diversity. The cultural institutions generally back projects reaching out for the broader public and aim at increasing the cultural development in the designated region. Even though this attitude might lead to think that any cultural or art event is included into the schedule to make it profitable in touristy terms, it must be said that such projects managed to get contemporary art out of museums and galleries and in less traditional places, mainly in the public space where the visitors bump into art without having really intended it. All this means, the original concept has been developing and today the main goal is turning contemporary art into something almost anyone can have access to.
The next culture capitals have been already selected. The hope is that, very soon, one may have the chance of appreciating something coming from the ten countries which have entered the European Union on May 1st, of this year. Their infinite artistic heritage has all the potentialities to have an impact on the international contemporary art scene.

Text: Mathieu Ducollet
Translation: M. Cecchinato
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