In the current context in which the fragility of our social, economic and ecological systems is growing worse, the “nature” ideologies perpetuate a form of anthropocentrism while safeguarding our ties to natural world and the environment, generating, under the aegis of concepts like “progress,” hierarchies, categorizations, and moral judgements. Nature is thus put to work for the benefit of human activities and is not seen as a living, co-active partner with its own dynamics to which the possibility of playing a part might be left open. The concept of artifice as Clément Rosset developed it in his 1973 work L’Anti-Nature – the starting point of the cycle called “Esthetics of Use, Uses of Esthetics, First Movement: Artifice,” which the present residency is part of – makes it possible to question and contend against these moral and ideological orders for the multiple connections of mutual production and overlapping between the human and nonhuman worlds. Artificiality now seems like a tool to do away with that distance separating the concepts of nature and culture, and enable us to rethink in multidisciplinary, multidirectional way our connections with the vegetal world and conceive a collective project at the crossroads of art and agriculture. Within the framework of that project, the landscape will be our artifice.
The landscape as an accumulation of the strata, traces and activities of humans can thus teach us the history of a territory. As Gilles Clément stresses, “There is no landscape without human society. The landscape only exists through society.” It is indeed the landscape that makes it possible to imagine a reflection on what forms a place, on the way people inhabit it, and the activities they develop there, on the future realities they project and build there. Rejecting the contrast between esthetics and use, we hope here to deepen the ties between agriculture and the transformation of the landscape, two significant elements of the local history of the natural region of Hurepoix, where the project will play out. The archeological digs indeed bear witness to the agricultural importance of the site of Brétigny-sur-Orge and its surrounding region starting in the Neolithic and Gallo-Roman periods, and the example of the farm and fief of Maison Neuve from the Middle Ages to the 18th century and its transformation by Lucien Clause in the early 20th century demonstrate agriculture’s long presence locally. If the gradual urbanization of the 1960s and ‘80s with its construction of large housing blocks has transformed the landscape into a more or less dense, continuous suburban fabric, the agricultural history of the land remains present in the toponymy and through local activities, with new chapters being written through contemporary projects such as the Fermes d’Avenir (Farms of the Future) on the former site of the Flight Test Center.
This project comes down to juxtaposing the history of the local landscape, the activities it has seen over the years, with a project today in development, the support structure for the creation of a permaculture teaching farm on the site of Bois l’Abbé in Epinay-sur-Orge, a HUDA (Emergency Accommodation for Asylum-Seekers) EMMAÜS Solidarité. The idea is to imagine collectively ways of inhabiting the land. Permaculture aims to devise installations that are humane, harmonious, lasting, resilient, sparing in terms of work and energy use, like natural ecosystems. Its design concepts are founded on an essential principle, i.e., position each element as best as can be done so that it can positively interact with the others. Made up of a range of activities and gestures, permaculture looks like a way of life where the worlds of the living co-exist in harmony.
Led by the artist, a group of HUDA residents will set off to meet with different partners and interlocutors (farmers, researchers, ecologists, etc.) to draw from this dialogue material for the teaching farm project, and to weave around it a network of exchanges of knowledge and skills. This will enable the participants to work the project completely into the local fabric and become true actors themselves in it. All of this collective research will also make it possible to construct a multidisciplinary community art initiative mixing art, the plant world, customs, and agriculture.
The project is being realized in partnership with the Association Champ Récits and EMMAÜS Solidarité—Centre d'Hébergement d'Urgence (CHU) Bois L’Abbé in Epinay-sur-Orge. The residency enjoys the generous support of the Département de l’Essonne and the Service du Développement et de l'Action Territoriale of Drac Île-de-France.
Etienne de France (born in 1984, Paris) is a visual artist currently living and working in Paris, France. A graduate of Sorbonne Paris 1 (2002-2005) with a B.A. in art history, he went on to earn a bachelor’s in visual arts from the Academy of Fine Arts of Reykjavik, Iceland (2005-2008). Practicing art in a multidisciplinary, fragmentary way, de France explores the connections between the concepts of nature and landscape. Through the various fields of the sciences and architecture, he creates works using supports like video, writing, photography, sculpture, and drawing. Taking off from a questioning of the landscape as a space of the imagination and freedom, he elaborates fictional and narrative forms. His work has been featured in a number of solo exhibitions, including “From the Green Vessel” (Te Whare Hera Gallery, Wellington, New Zealand, 2016) and “The Vessels” (École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-La Villette, Paris, 2015); and at numerous institutions in France and internationally, including the Biennial of New Media (Santiago, Chile), LACE (Los Angeles, US), ArtBo (Bogotá, Colombia, the Mar Adentro Foundation (La Serena-Coquimbo, Chile), the Museum of Brazilian Art (São Paulo, Brazil), the International Centre for Art and Landscape Vassivière Island and the Domaine de Chamarande.