“Them” and “Us”: What Brings Us Together, What Divides Us
Clémence de Montgolfier
With the Relais Assistantes Maternelles of Cheptainville, the kindergarten Eugénie Cotton of Brétigny-sur-Orge, the Accueil de loisirs Mik’Ados of Brétigny-sur-Orge, the Collège Blaise Pascal of Villemoisson-sur-Orge and the High School Léonard de Vinci of Saint-Michel-sur-Orge.
Artistics collaborators: Sacha Béraud and François Dézafit
Free Paris-Brétigny shuttle is available by request at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pick-up at 2:30 pm at 104 avenue de France, 75013 Paris (the Bibliothèque François Mitterrand metro stop).
This event will be accompanied by book launch of Co-Creation and the presentation of the on-site artworks of Géraldine Longueville and Sean Raspet.
In October 2018, I began meeting with groups and individuals interested in participating in “Eux” et “nous” (“Them” and “Us”), a project devised for various audiences in the Cœur d’Essonne Agglomération region around CAC Brétigny. The project was part of a desire to reiterate the question of “what speaking means”1 that originally took shape within The Big Conversation Space2 collective, at a time when both emancipating and hate speech are proliferating. For each person the title touched on specific daily concerns, i.e., for a maternal assistance group, interactions between adults and children; for a first- and second-year class in preschool, learning about life with others; for children between nine and thirteen, discrimination, harassment, and their place in a family that is sometimes reconstituted or fragmented; for high school students in their last year before obtaining their diploma, how to find their place in a complex world. Conceived in two phases and based on conversation as an artistic process, the project took shape first as discussion groups fueled by question cards co-written with teachers and participants within each structure. The great question of the feeling of belonging and separation, of what constitutes “us” in contrast with “them,” was divided between six non-exhaustive themes, six domains of life in which that question makes itself felt. These consisted of family, relations with others and emotions, masculinity and femininity, geographies and territories, social life and finally political life. As in group therapy, each person can speak up without being interrupted or judged and “say what they want” about subjects that can sometimes be divisive or sensitive. It is important to take care and allow participants to speak, but also to respect their silences. As in the principle of psychoanalysis, listening means allowing Other the chance to hear themselves formulating their ideas and say them aloud, like a performative action3. This discursive mode gradually made it possible to enter another type of relationship between students and teachers, young people and activity leaders, the artist and collaborating audiences. It is less vertical and occasionally allows those taking part to step out of their usual role for a time. There is no correct or incorrect response here, and participants aren’t looking to convince Other, but rather to understand their point of view, namely “where they are speaking from”.
At the end of these discussion groups, the participants turned to imagining – each in keeping with their age and the context of the workshop – a collaborative media of their choosing that would be representative of the group. A video, for instance, in which flags displaying assertions and other phrases are read aloud; an internet-based radio where the experiences of of each participant are told; a blog in which questions and words are put into images; a newspaper documenting creative activities done in groups. At the same time, working closely with the graphic designer François Dézafit and the programmer Sacha Béraud led to the design of an online platform, like a global collective media, bringing together, comparing, and archiving all the projects. The creation of a media became the site for thinking about self-representation and the representation of the group. A lived experiment and process are transmitted by the group to other audiences. The media, as “that which creates a link between us and the world,”4 can now become sites for thinking oneself and others as being equally complex and multiple.
The recreation of this collective creation project now on view at CAC Brétigny shows within the exhibition venue the different media that were produced with the participants (like a launch heralding their publication and being made available to the public), including a newspaper, videos, sound pieces, and a blog. The propagation of these materials that are adressed to others outside the group has let each participant to wonder what one wants to transmit about oneself in a collective space, and what after all in individual experience partakes of what is in common. The objects, documents, and props that served as mediators in the proposed art experiment (question cards, a children's book, flags produced by pupils) bear witness to the process while at the same time inviting visitors to take them up in turn and reactivate them. The postcards, flyers, and posters from the media which were produced and are made available to visitors, who are invited to help themselves, are part of the effort to spread a collective reflection.
The political context keenly resonated with the exchanges throughout this project, between 2018 and 2019, showing a feeling of urgency to raise anew the possibility of forming, even temporarily, an inclusive “us.” The questions from the start of the project launched discussions on the personal lives of one and all, and on the more structural problems of society. They demonstrated that “the personal is political,” as a number of feminist activists5 chanted around 1970. Which reminds me of something Edward Said wrote about alterity, “The greatest goal is in fact to become someone else. To transform from a unitarian identity to an identity that includes the other without suppressing the difference.”6 The very artistic process of the project attempted to put this principle into practice, i.e., work together, make decisions collectively, accept letting others act, incorporate everyone’s ideas, participate according to one’s own capacities. Work with some people we have never met, for some of whom speaking or communicating is not easy, for some of whom French is not a given but rather a language acquired with will power and hard work, and some of whom preferred to express themselves in other languages. Far from claiming to have resolved the question of what brings us together and what keeps us apart, a question that vigorously and sometimes even violently drives our societies, in this project group experiments and attempts were undertaken in order to leave it some space in our midst.
Clémence de Montgolfier (The Big Conversation Space)
 Pierre Bourdieu, Ce que parler veut dire : L’économie des échanges linguistiques, Paris, Fayard, 1982.
 The Big Conversation Space is a Franco-American art collective that has been active since 2010. It is made up of Niki Korth and Clémence de Montgolfier.
 According to John Austin, a performative act is an act that is performed by speech. See John Austin, How to Do Things With Words (1955/1962).
 See Daniel Bougnoux, Sciences de l’information et de la communication, Paris, Larousse, 1993.
 The exact origin of the saying is not known, but it served as the title of a 1969 feminist essay by Carol Hanisch, The Personal Is Political.
 Edward Said on his book Orientalism (1978), in a televised interview from 1998.
“Them” and “us”: what brings us together, what divides us takes place within the residency mission of CAC Brétigny. Cœur d’Essonne Agglomération is kicking off in 2017 a three-year partnership with the Regional Direction of Cultural Affairs of Île-de-France and the Academy of Versailles with the signing of a Local Arts Education Contract in partnership with the Department of the Essonne. This residency mission was conceived and developed for the region’s inhabitants, especially local young people, and starts from a network of school establishments, associations, and cultural, social, sociocultural, economic and educational entities in Cœur d’Essonne Agglomération.
Clémence de Montgolfier (b. 1987) lives and works in Paris. After graduating with an MFA from the Fine Arts School of Angers, France, she becomes a Doctor of Philosophy in media studies at the Sorbonne-Nouvelle University (Paris III) in 2017. Her research investigates the representation of the worlds of contemporary art on television. Now an artist, researcher and teacher, she was a member of the performance group Speech and What Archives between 2009 and 2013, initiated by artists A Constructed World. Since 2010, she co-created the project The Big Conversation Space with Niki Korth (b.1987, lives and works in San Francisco), where together they interrogate the circulation of discourse within the frame of its contemporary technologies of production and reproduction, and its uncertain future. They create conversations, performances, publications, games, documents and video broadcasts or media platforms that seek to create and question relations between individuals, artists and audiences alike. She has published articles in scientific journals and books and participated in a number of lectures, residencies and exhibitions in France and internationaly, including most recently in 2018 a residency at Triangle France, Marseille, and exhibitions TALK SHOW Festival, La Panacée, Montpellier; le Salon de Montrouge, Paris; Beloved Equation, Ateljé Matts Liederman, Stockholm.
- “Them” and “Us”: What Brings Us Together, What Divides Us Clémence de Montgolfier (Residency)