On 29 October 2020 Carbone 20 opened in Saint-Étienne, the second edition of this “biennale of collectives and artists’ spaces”. The visit began under the battered sign of a ready-to-wear boutique, “Miss Mode”, where the reception and bookshop were installed, before leading into the various vacant spaces of the former industrial complex destined for reconversion into a design capital. This choice makes this event unique and ensures its relevance: far from presenting itself as a social and economic benefactor from the outside world, the art project initiated by a local network (the project supported by Les Limbes, Saint-Étienne) consists of installing the art, temporarily, wherever there is an empty space. Space is well and truly what artists in cities lack, and what Saint-Étienne has to offer. Another particularity is that this biennale of artists’ spaces did not stem from a shared curatorship and therefore does not defend any discourse about art or about the state of the contemporary world. In light of the works presented, the organisations and workers who render contemporary creation possible are showcased – a reality that is too often eclipsed in recent biennials.1
Carbone brings together a widely diverse range of projects and organisations, artist-run spaces, workshops, residencies, magazines or radiophonic productions, situated in the region, but also, for this second edition, broadened to the national and international levels (Switzerland, Portugal, Morocco, and Russia). It is therefore a rare opportunity for the artists and stakeholders of the associative art world to get together. Spaces oriented towards young creation and established within a regional network, such as the Sumo studio in Lyon, rub shoulders with international project spaces exhibiting more established artists, such as Issmag in Moscow, historic places such as Circuit in Lausanne, and they share the pavement with brand new spaces like the Sissi Club in Marseille, founded in 2019 by art historians Elise Poitevin and Anne Vimeux.
Each organisation invited translates or transposes for Carbone its identity and its modes of operation, often relating to particular contexts or economies. Home alonE (Clermont-Ferrand), which organises exhibitions within a shared house, recreates a domestic space in an abandoned premises. Other organisations produce an inverted image of their activity, such as cONcErn, which hosts voluminous artworks on its site in Cosne-d’Allier that have not found a storage solution. In collaboration with La Société des Nouveaux Mondes (Chloé Devanne Langlais), this artistic infrastructure presents the RE-produce project: artworks in storage are replicated in miniature using a 3D printer, as though in an attempt to salvage them.
The independence of these spaces is also manifested by the critical freedom and political positions they maintain. L’appartement 22 in Rabat chose to present the Help project undertaken by curator Abdellah Karroum and artist Georgia Kotretsos in the Mediterranean Basin, whose archive takes the form of a series of photographs of calls for help, such as messages of shipwreck survivors, illustrated by rows of sun umbrellas on tourist beaches. Further along, the Moroccan art centre invites visitors to get together and take care of house plants, replaying a sequence of resistance and transition during which L’appartement 22 was structured as a cooperative to confront the crisis. The theme of community recurs among various parties and assumes the features of a secret organisation in the mobile radiophonic project S.C.A.L.A.R.I.S.A.T.I.O.N. whose soundwaves influence the images of Antoine Palmier-Reynaud. It is this kind of community that Olivier Marboeuf evokes, the founder of KHIASMA in the Lilas neighbourhood of Paris, who looks back on the history of the space, closed in 2018, evoking “something that results from a shared experience – of time spent burning the midnight oil together, with artists, people passing through, or residents from near and far – around artworks as they are taking shape.”
After an initial postponement from spring to autumn, Carbone 20 held a “quick opening before confinement”, unfortunately cancelling some of the exhibitions and performances, as well as a focus day on temporary and self-managed artistic communities.2 It will have existed intensely for a day, which was enough to demonstrate the dynamism of the volunteer team and the enthusiasm of the guest organisations, until the next edition.
- See Nathalie Quintane, “L’art en temps de panique”, Switch (on paper), 10 December 2020 and Aurélie Cavanna, “Manifesta 13, l’art à tout faire ?”, artpress n°483–484, December 2020–January 2021.
- This focus day entitled “Constellations: pratiques collégiales dans le champ de l’art” [Constellations: Collegial Practices in the Art Field] was organised by Idoine, the CIEREC, and Carbone 20. Following its cancellation, an edition inviting each organisation to make a proposal suitable for book form is pending publication.