“The USO contrada”
Curator: Valentina Ulisse
In many mediaeval Italian towns, the word “contrada” refers to a neighbourhood that has its own emblem and flag. “The contrada USO” is the headquarters of a fictitious futuristic fanfare band. This collective of messengers wears extraterrestrial costumes and their coat of arms is inspired by the starry skies. More than just trumpets and drums, their USOs (Unidentified Sonic Objects) produce sounds that can be heard as far away as Pluto, and their aerials pick up sound from light years away, defying the laws of space and matter.
In Autumn 2023, Jérôme Girard will lead a co-creation residency with a group of children receiving extra school help through the social centre in Égly. They will become the heralds and noisemakers of the fanfare they dream up together. In their land, folklore meets science and traditional arts go hand in hand with avant-garde experiments. Exploration of various heritage sites will serve as inspiration for the artist, the young people and their families in this collective experience of research and creation. A visit to the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois keep, with its medieval dovecote tower, will help forge an imaginary universe around the band’s outfits: an aesthetic that is both neo-medieval and retro-futuristic (a future imagined in the past, now obsolete).
In creating the instruments for these amateur musicians, Jérôme Girard draws on his reading about the “instruments of darkness” studied by the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss in his writing about myths (Mythologiques, 1964–1971). Part of French folklore—but also present in other traditions, notably South American—these sound objects are used in religious and pagan rituals relating to the earth’s power or meteorology. Considered “anti-instruments”, the sounds they make aren’t harmonious but droning. Throughout history, “making noise” has been a way of challenging the established order. Some dark devices are everyday objects, such as pots or clogs: we can also find them today in the “banging of saucepans”. The artist will invite the band to a “noise workshop” in which they will learn together how noises are an important form of sound. Reusing and diverting everyday objects and materials, the participants will invent unusual musical instruments with which to seek new timbres. This research will be coupled with a visit to the Structures Sonores Baschet in Saint-Michel-sur-Orge. This visit to the Instrumentarium—a collection of sculptures produced from the 1970s by the brothers and artists François and Bernard Baschet—will help the group familiarise themselves with unusual sound creations.
The “USO contrada” band will also be equipped with complex devices that will enable them to listen to the hubbub of other galaxies. You can’t hear the sounds of the universe through the Camille Flammarion Observatory’s telescope in Juvisy-sur-Orge—the last stop on this journey through the region. However, Jérôme Girard will show the group how to make ears to listen to the cosmos, inspired by radio telescopes—capable of picking up the radio waves emitted by stars—as well as the aerials and satellite dishes that populate our everyday environment. Equipped in this way, the band will be ready to march into space.
After studying art history at the university La Sapienza in Rome and Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Valentina Ulisse completed a professional Master’s 2 degree in “Contemporary art and its exhibition” at Sorbonne Université and co-founded the curatorial collective espace projectif. Alongside her studies, she trained in the exhibition profession through internships at the Centre Pompidou, CAC Brétigny and Council, among others. Today, Valentina Ulisse continues her work through her various activities within the organisation of art projects, writing and cultural mediation. She assists gallery owner Aline Vidal with whom she organises “De(s)rives”, a curatorial project that experiments with exhibition formats outside of traditional artistic contexts. Valentina Ulisse is interested in art economies, in alternative systems of production and dissemination and in co-creative artistic practices related to pedagogy and popular knowledge.
Jérôme Girard (born 1993) lives and works in Paris. A graduate from the École nationale supérieure des arts décoratifs de Paris, his work mixes sound creation, live performance and installation. Often using salvaged materials, he draws inspiration from and then diverts traditional forms and gestures. He won the student prize COAL and the Prix de la Casa de Velásquez - EnsAD in 2021. His work has been exhibited at several art centres, including CAC Brétigny, Bétonsalon in Paris in 2021 and the Vincent Van Gogh foundation in Arles in 2022.
The residency “The USO contrada” by Jérôme Girard benefits from the support of the Direction régionale des Affaires culturelles d'Île-de-France—Ministère de la Culture.