Itinerary: Paris – Moulins-sur-Allier by train (2 hrs 25), then forty minutes by car to reach Cosne d’Allier. The coordinates (46° 28′ 34″ north, 2° 49′ 56″ east) don’t lie: we are more or less in the middle of France. A centre whose distinguishing feature is also that of being a periphery. It was here, in 2013, that artists Cécile Colle and Ralf Nuhn bought an old abandoned factory to establish cONcErn.1
Owing to strike action, the visit of the premises was cancelled and instead the two instigators told the tale (an essential element of this art project) over the phone. With these questions in mind: what do artworks become once they are removed from the visitor’s gaze? Do they continue to “exist” outside of this privileged moment of appearance that the exhibition represents? Does their “standby” status generate new situations of display and reception?
The originality of cONcErn is that of taking control of the logistical side of art, in a way that is at once pragmatic and sensitive. “Everything started from our own practice,” confide Cécile Colle and Ralf Nuhn, “from the difficulties encountered at the end of an exhibition concerning storage and transport. So we came up with the idea of asking other artists to host their artworks when their future was becoming uncertain or when they were threatened with destruction.” The accommodation policy of cONcErn is based on a logic of elective affinities and needs (akin to survival) and not on aesthetic criteria. “We are not trying to constitute a collection, it’s more like collating.”
By depositing their artworks under the roof of this former wasteland, the artists thus find a solution for conserving their integrity, despite formats that are sometimes monumental or the profusion of their constitutive elements. This site enables them to take the time to think about the fate of their work. The fragility and poetry of the building, where vegetation creeps back in here and there, repeats on the structural scale the limbo and precariousness in which its new residents find themselves. Presenting themselves as an “artistic infrastructure”, cONcErn mobilises a terminology that refers as much to the amenities supporting an ensemble as to a register of underlying and imperceptible visibility.
It also suggests the means and tools that enable the emergence of a community – that of the artworks contemplated as well as the one that is constituted around them. Different events combining performance, floor management, and mediation rhythm this new life at cONcErn. The integration of each piece is marked by a “reception” in the presence of the artist and the audience in which its history is evoked, from its production to its exhibition and the reasons for its arrival in Cosne d’Allier. Once deposited, it remains accessible to the visitors, à vue (visible) as they say in museum conservation. “Something very special emanates from cONcErn. The access to the stored artworks gives visitors’ the impression of discovering the backstage of a theatre.”
Another highlight, the “orchestrated destructions”, requested by artists when they are ready to part with their artwork, produce new artistic acts. Laurent Faulon, for instance, removed the layer of mud that coated the many everyday objects in his exhibition Mon ciel [My Sky] at the Transpalette in Bourges in 2014, as though to extract its artistic aura and restore their initial status. As for the choregraphed dismantling of Wesley Meuris’ imposing Musée du futur (2016),2 it was accompanied by a band. The question of transport is also invested. Cécile Paris is thus organising the repatriation in a caravan of her work Eléor (2015), from the Passerelle art centre in Brest to cONcErn. Each phase of the journey becomes a chance for an encounter relating to its restoration.
By describing their initiative as an “artwork-milieu” and by favouring a policy of attention and care that could resonate with other contemporary situations of urgency, Cécile Colle and Ralf Nuhn provide a concrete consideration of the conditions of existence of the artwork as well as the interactions that define art as a unique ecosystem.
- cONcErn has been supported since 2016 by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication – DRAC Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and since 2020 by the Allier County Council.
- Installation produced for the Salle des Pas Perdus of the Palais de Justice de Poitiers within the framework of Confort Moderne’s touring programme. Curator: Jill Gasparina