18 October 2014

Ou l’exercice de la commémoration

Text: Anja Neidhardt

Our visual image of the First World War today is formed largely from posters, maps, books and other printed materials created by anonymous or secret authors, propagandists or counter-propagandists. In order to research this image, the Haute École des Arts du Rhin (HEAR) in Strasbourg in co-operation with the university’s “Atelier de communication graphique“ initiated the Lignes de front 1914–2018 [front lines] platform. As part of this project, in 2012, Alain Willaume initiated a workshop lasting several years dealing with documenting commemorations for 11 November, the date of the end of the First World War in 1918. The first outcomes from this project will be exhibited in the Galerie La Chaufferie in Strasbourg. We talked to Alain Willaume about the exhibition.


In 2013, you proposed the idea of a workshop lasting several years – and it was accepted. What happened next?


We began the same year with my students and the Platform team in Strasbourg. Together, we decided to develop the concept at other significant theatres of war in France: Pont à Mousson, Hartmanswillerkopf and Le Linge. I also organised an eight-day stay in (and with the support of) the local authority of Mericout in northern France. Between 1914 and 1918, this town was at the centre of the battles to which many relics, ruins and war memorials continue to bear witness. My stay also included an excursion to Gentioux in the centre of France, a small town with an anti-war memorial and a special ceremony on 11 November (which is attended by war enemies, alternative groups, anarchists and “freethinkers”). We are planning to continue the project until 2018 - if it is financially viable. We think that it is very interesting to work long-term on a project like this. The exhibition that has just opened displays a selection of works that have been developed by approximately 40 students over these first two years.


What were the workshops like in which the students took part?


They worked during the commemorations. In 2012, a photography workshop took place and thanks to the co-operation of other lecturers (Oh Eun Lee, Loïc Horellou and Jérôme Thomas) in 2013, this was supplemented by video and multimedia workshops. Other collaborations have been developed with the Art School Kassel and the French multi-media company, Upian.

No special parameters were set for the photographic part except that students had to work on that particular day and particular place. They were free to document the situation as they saw fit. We, the leaders, were present merely to do the organisation. Throughout the rest of the year, we helped the students develop their own series and ensured that there was a group dynamic and that they continued to be interested and would concentrate on the whole process.


How does the exhibition present the works that emerged?


A selection of the works that the students created themselves is shown in the Galerie des Haute École des Arts du Rhin. Photographs have been printed in various sizes (from postcard format to wallpaper size) and using techniques by Picto (a professional photographic laboratory in Paris partnering us in this project).


What was your role as curator like?


I am a photographer myself (a member of the Tendance Floue collective) and am delighted to have been teaching at HEAR for eleven years. At the invitation of Philippe Delangle (head of the Communication Department and also by Franck Knoery and Loïc Horellou founders of Lignes de front), I edited all the material (more than 3000 photographs). Then I “staged” the exhibition with Antoine Lejolivet, who is in charge of organisation and installation of the exhibition.


What is the exhibition’s main message?


Our main concern is to show how the project is witness to absolute peace and to the “dim” distance as this chapter of our history is understood by the present generation - a transnational and historical commemorative process within an art school. The exhibition creates an interesting and unique mix of depth and seriousness, fun and presumption, beauty and disorder, true devotion and indifference reflecting a very present attitude.


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