The watershed isn’t a mirage. In the Regional Park of Monts d’Ardèche, it’s a very real ridgeline: the place where the waters are divided and singularly sculpt the landscape by flowing down either the Mediterranean or the Atlantic slope. But like any line, it stems from a mental representation obtained through abstraction. Here, the topographical design or rather, orographic (literally mountain writing) guides the ambitious goal of the artistic pathway directed by David Moinard, based on research by landscapist Gilles Clément. Inaugurated in 2017, the artistic pathway “Partage des eaux” (Watershed) supported by regional, national, and European funding, is deployed over approximately one hundred kilometres,1 spanning the length of this geological line invisible to the naked eye, expressed by six in situ contemporary artworks and by a collection of furniture made of chestnut wood – a native species. These creations are not the ad hoc elements of yet another sculpture park; nor are they interventions of the Land Art variety. The artistic productions by Gilles Clément, Gloria Friedmann, Kôichi Kurita, Olivier Leroi, Stéphane Thide, and Felice Varini are perennial commissions, even if they may evolve according to an entropic model (the inscriptions in gold leaf by Varini on the ruins of a seventh century abbey will be erased over time). Empathetically, all of the creations weave formal, materiological, semantic, narrative, or poetic relationships with each of the historic sites selected, all along the trail that also incorporates the GR7 route. “Ever since humans could talk and make signs, they have created and followed lines,”2 writes Tim Ingold. This history of lines echoes that which brought cave reliefs to life, some 36,000 years ago, in an Ardèche that was then more heavily frequented: the history of the Chauvet Cave.
The artistic creations of the trail, by revealing or occasionally reflecting the outline of the watershed, call on specular and optical devices: the intermingling of on-stage and behind-the-scenes (seen and unseen), disorientation of perception using inclined reflective surfaces in which we cannot see ourselves (Thidet’s installation), the abstraction of high-angle shots (the Loire filmed from the sky by Leroi), a 360° panorama syncopated into a reel of ‘windows’ with a kinetic effect (Le Phare, Friedmann), visual condensation and diffraction through anamorphosis (Varini)… The outdoor furniture also offers multiple perspectives for broaching the landscape. Playing on the plasticity of markers and situations, the artworks allow us to experience the variability of viewpoints and lead to spatial displacement – either side of the geological line – but also sensitive and metaphorical ones. In parallel, six “Mires”3 stations are dotted along the itinerary. Arranged in natural viewing platforms, elegant masts made of bevelled wood form indexes, raised to various heights. Thanks to a scale and viewing frame, we can adjust the level of our own horizon so as to project ourselves more easily within the landscape and mentally link up the colourful points. Above and beyond each span, a fragment of the ridgeline is thus surreptitiously outlined before our eyes, as though we were tracing it with our fingertip on a map. By following the trail, we are retracing this line and walking along a life-sized open-air cartography. La Tour à eaux devised by Gilles Clément replays the Mont Gerbier de Jonc in miniature. Finally, we walk around the superb sensitive map4 of the Loire created by Kôichi Kurita, a telluric network as precise as it is blind to any geographical indication.
The artistic pathway is thus full of exchanges maintained by the artworks and the other installations that compose it. These shared stories5 and interlacing trajectories bring the territory to life and bring its underlying history up to the surface.
- Plan for around a five-day hike to appreciate the full artistic trail, which is also entirely accessible by car.
- Tim Ingold, Une Brève histoire des lignes (Brussels, Zones sensibles, 2011), 10.
- Designed by Gilles Clément and the IL Y A collective.
- The contemporary expression “carte sensible” refers to cartographies liberated of the traditional codes of cartographic representation – as with Kurita’s map, made of a network of lines and soil samples, without any captions or key.
- The Toplamak collective devised a “geopoetic” GPS to accompany visitors between the artworks with occasional sounds to activate – little stories that talk about the landscape and further multiply our perspectives.