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Translated by Anna Knight

Ten Years of La belle revue: Interview with the Directors

by Marina James-Appel

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While for the past ten years La belle revue has published non-stop, confronting and questioning the artistic practices of a territory whose affinities are international in scope, it is also the fruit of a combination of personalities and desires that have developed its editorial line while traversing more or less favourable material and political conditions. This interview gives these figures the floor, who, one after the other, took the helm of In extenso and the magazine published by the Clermont-based art space.


Marina James-Appel: Marc, as the current chair of In extenso, you belonged to the team who created the very first issue in 2009. In 2002, Sébastien Maloberti and yourself, both artists, founded the In extenso association together, which has organised exhibitions ever since, as well as publishing in various editorial formats. To kick things off, can you tell us about the conditions of emergence of La belle revue within In extenso: what were your motivations and needs? How did the project come into being?

Marc Geneix: The creation of La belle revue followed a series of attempts initiated by Clermont Communauté, which wanted to promote the winners of creative grants.

As for us, we had just come out of a stimulating collective editorial experience, Ici Même, during which Martial Déflacieux had joined In extenso. The idea of a magazine emerged at that point; we’d had a first attempt with a fanzine project called Dazibao, a collaboration with the association Le 13bis. So, when Clermont Communauté once again wanted to find a way of promoting the grant-winning artists, we suggested creating a mixed magazine in which there would be a space for them, as well as reviews of exhibitions around the Centre-France area… This marked the start of the adventure: we wanted to talk about a territory, its exhibitions, residencies, artists, and foster its overall activity through the compilation of each of these initiatives.

MJA: Martial, for the first issue, you did an interview with Gaël Charbau about the magazine Particules, which disappeared a bit later on. Implicit in your discussions were the challenges that are now those of La belle revue, including that of making it available free of charge. “Gratuity doesn’t pay” you said, before highlighting the fact that it implies at once structural fragility and editorial freedom. Why was this choice made for LBR? Today, what do you think are the implications of providing a complimentary magazine?

 Martial Déflacieux: “Freebies” are unfortunately how unpopular initiatives wind up. The main concern is distribution and pricing; public support that guarantees the existence of a diversified culture that’s accessible all across the country. Nowadays, the main thing in my opinion is not to let oneself get locked into a purely financial economic vision. Inventing models of exchange, support, and pooling resources becomes necessary. That means, for instance, for a magazine, thinking about its distribution in a collective mode to keep costs down and extend its audience. 

MJA: The 2010 editorial defines the magazine as “a cooperative tool”. We find portfolios, artist focuses, but also reproductions of works and exhibition reviews. The editorial leadership is often founded as the magazine progresses and even deliberately makes itself scarce, thanks in particular to cartes blanches and calls for contributions. From 2012 onwards, the In situ section appeared, which presents original artistic interventions. How did you come up with this connection between distribution and creation?

 MG: Firstly, we wanted to avoid the magazine becoming a compilation of artists’ portfolios: that wasn’t the goal. Several months earlier, the Ici Même project had afforded the opportunity to invite artists to produce works in book form. We reiterated this experience in La belle revue by asking the artists to pitch specific projects to us.

It was also important to us that the magazine be a platform in which the sections would be useful to one another; not limiting ourselves to the panorama of a local arts scene, but opening onto all the initiatives emanating from a territory to arouse interest at the national level and thus promote the territory as a whole: the artists and organisations. We immediately chose to cross the administrative limits and think about things in terms of shared challenges and problematics, beyond mainstream media exposure of contemporary art. La belle revue was also designed as a network, and this dimension is affirmed today in the “Global terroir” section.

 MD: Yes, it’s worth mentioning too that our approach wasn’t entirely predetermined. We learned through editorial habits and made choices as we went along; choices that were also different from one management team to the next. 

 MJA: For the past ten years, bridges were sometimes built between the programming of the association’s physical premises (which from 2007 enjoyed a small space in downtown Clermont-Ferrand), the editorial space of LBR (print or digital), and the annual beyond-the-walls launches. How did some of the artists circulate between these different kinds of spaces?

 MD: Frankly, we didn’t really plan for links between the gallery and the magazine initially. At the time, I think, we were operating one project at a time, step by step, and not necessarily with any overall coherency. We were progressing based on experiences and, it must be stressed, based on the opportunities opened up by certain specific grants, particularly that of the city council. La belle revue was created because the city wanted this kind of instrument and could guarantee its funding…

 Benoît Lamy de La Chapelle: Touring launches gradually became the means of expanding the magazine’s reach to the national level. The magazine soon became interested in what was happening around Clermont-Ferrand, in the Limousin region, in Saint-Étienne, Pougues-les-Eaux, or Bourges… And while many artists based in Auvergne were visible in its pages, it was important to distribute the magazine beyond that perimeter, to present it in Paris, in the Limousin region first of all, then in Lyon afterwards. Clearly, through the exhibition reviews, thematic dossiers, or in situ creations, gradually many artists found themselves supported by the magazine, and the launches offered many of them the chance to get together, generating encounters and discussions. They were also a way of programming the upcoming launches, either because these places were interested in our approach and invited us back, or because it was meaningful to do so in terms of editorial choices. They also regularly provided the opportunity of organising events with performances or exhibitions (at the MAC VAL, DOC!, La Salle de bains, and so on): another way of showcasing the work of the artists presented in the magazine.

Pietro Della Giustina: Yes, that was the case particularly for the launch of the ninth issue in collaboration with DUUU radio. We organised a “sound design” of the issue, asking all the contributors to suggest songs, sound works, musical tracks, recordings, or readings to broadcast during the radio show and live during the launch. Beyond the animation of the evening, our goal was to show people’s personalities, hidden behind a text or an artistic proposal. By enabling them to leave the pages of the magazine, the idea was to show not just the content of the issue (accessible online or in the print version), but also the ecosystem of the people who’d participated in its creation. 

Almost all of them accepted our proposal with interest, and we collected six hours of sound material broadcast during the show, notably thanks to Marion Guillet’s DJ set inspired by the thematic dossier “With or without political commitment”.

MJA: Annabel, you handled the editorial direction of LBR from 2013 to 2014. At that time the magazine was questioning the relationships that the territory covered by LBR was maintaining in major city centres for art, in terms of the problems raised in those cities – that is, for starters, that of the non-recognition of women artists. Can you tell us about the reasons for this choice?

Annabel Rioux: Based on a conception of art as irretrievably connected to its contexts of production, it struck me as essential to bring up certain problematics, such as the role of women artists and centre-periphery relations. The stakeholders of art, like all social agents, are doomed to reproduce the dominant trends if they don’t actively fight within their own practices and modes of thought. The 2013–2014 period thus marked a turning point in which we decided to encourage improved visibility for women artists, both within La belle revue and in the In extenso programming, while embarking on a long-term examination of our relatively marginal position within the art world. 

To do this, I thought it was crucial to open up the leadership of the magazine to outside personalities, via an editorial committee that brought together Franck Balland, Marie Bechetoille, Caroline Engel, and Julie Portier, in order to avoid a stifling solipsism and instead set out to explore other territories with the creation of the “Global terroir” section in the new version.

MJA: It was also under your leadership that La belle revue changed form and deployed – from the fifth issue – a new graphic identity, designed by the duo Syndicat. Why and how was this defined?

AR: A magazine endowed with a single annual paper issue owed it to itself to be a singular object in its own right and not just a printed version of the website accessible year-round. Syndicat’s approach seemed to me to be worthy of this challenge, while being armed with an offbeat tone that is rare in an artistic milieu that tends to take itself a bit too seriously. So the choice of integrating views of our rural landscapes within the graphic identity of the magazine allowed us to light-heartedly affirm our distance from the urban centres.

MJA: How was this overhaul perceived?

 AR: First of all, this overhaul couldn’t have taken place without the financial support received via a crowd-funding campaign undertaken to this end. The success of this collection showed that enough readers were sensitive to the issues confronted by La belle revue and wanted to see its development continue. The new version was very well received, even though its rather dense and opaque side was sometimes criticised.

 MJA: Benoît, you took on the dual role as director of In extenso and La belle revue from 2016 to 2018. Your arrival was concomitant with the evolution of cultural policies that impacted the dissemination of contemporary creation: reorganisation of the regions and the shadow cast by the closure of several French art spaces that had been subject to an incremental reduction in subsidies. As you highlight in the editorial of #6, the magazine nevertheless celebrates “the dexterity and aptitude of organisations to reinvent themselves from one difficulty to the next”. How did this context traverse your experience and the editorial content of La belle revue?

 BLdLC: The fusion of the Auvergne and Rhône-Alpes regions obviously gave rise to a debate within the editorial committee. Should we take into account the political merger and add this to the map of La belle revue, or should we uphold the principle whereby the magazine was not mapping onto a political territory but onto an artistic territory with flexible and porous borders? Some, like Franck Balland, thought that the magazine shouldn’t follow the political territory, which I could understand. But my thinking was that bypassing the Rhône-Alpes territory – given that it now formed a whole with Auvergne – wasn’t a good solution. After taking the temperature of its various stakeholders, I felt that the desire to have a magazine covering their news and activities was palpable, particularly since 04 had folded several years earlier. Also, this territory had lots of art spaces, including many small associations that suit the identity of In extenso. So we were very eager to contribute to giving them a critical apparatus. It’s true that the elimination of subsidised employment shortly thereafter was disastrous for this ecosystem of small organisations. There, we saw another reason to support the activities of our peers. In hindsight, I think that it did take hold and that our Rhônalpin colleagues appreciated appearing in the magazine’s pages. We may note in this respect the partnership with Galeries nomades led by the Adéra and the Institut d’art contemporain de Villeurbanne, who asked us if they could feature their latest edition in our pages: a “focus” was devoted to them and attests to the confidence the Rhônalpine organisations have in the magazine.

MJA: As you emphasise, the territory that LBR covers at first spanned two regions and three departments, before extending to the Rhône-Alpes region in 2017. This “Centre-East-West Network”, sometimes also called in the magazine “Centre-France Territory” or “Grand-Centre-France”, is rather reminiscent of the Territoire Mimétique de la République Géniale [Mimetic Territory of the Genial Republic] that Robert Filliou placed above the floor, following a subjective cartography. Which affinities unite or divide LBR in the places found on this shifting territory? How are the borders defined and what have their evolutions over ten years been?

 MG: Without it really being a shifting territory, we focused in the beginning on what united the cultural initiatives of territories with shared specificities. In terms of funding, it wasn’t necessarily easy because we were straddling several departments, but it worked. We started with the analysis of our own territory in Clermont-Ferrand and expanded the circle until we felt that the reality of the territories differed, without concerning ourselves with administrative borders. We drew a map that, basically, interconnected the territories around the cities of Limoges, Nevers, Bourges, Clermont-Ferrand, and Saint-Étienne. We then refined it over the years, particularly in terms of the participating organisations. But I can say that this initiative was immediately met with enthusiasm both from the public authorities and stakeholders in the territories.

BLdLC: Yes, despite the fact the magazine did eventually integrate the Rhône-Alpes region, it remained faithful to its basic principle: thinking and developing outside of an administrative territory and representative of local scenes. Visiting artists (in residence or exhibiting) could be presented/mentioned, and the aim of the “Global terroir” section is to insist on opening up the magazine by thinking beyond the concept of borders (geographic, but also gender, various categories, etc.). We also wanted to show the extent to which decentred territories can be thoroughfares, sites of exchanges, and artistic and intellectual life. I’d say that over this decade, La belle revue learned to get to know artists, authors, and other colleagues from the territory and worked increasingly to imagine partnerships and exchanges, making many outsiders want to come to see what was happening and even sometimes come to live here!

 MJA: Pietro, that was precisely your case. You came from an international background, with study and work in Milan, Copenhagen, New York, and Paris, before arriving in Clermont-Ferrand in 2018. Why did you choose to leave the capital and how did you experience this move?

By leaving Paris, I discovered France and the artistic effervescence of its periphery. Hyper-centralisation and its arts scene – sometimes hectic and bulimic – can restrict or even prevent many people from focusing on what’s happening beyond the capital and which is no less interesting.

I feel a particular commitment in directing a regional gallery and magazine: a special commitment towards our visitors, the students of the ESCAM, the neighbouring residents of In extenso, and the art spaces in our region that often deplore a lack of interest in emerging venues on the part of the specialised national press.

One of the projects that gave me the greatest satisfaction this year was the neighbourhood Fête de la Musique [Music Day concert program] jointly organised by In extenso and local retailers. Meeting friends from the art world, Marie and Tom, around a table, with Pierrick and Guillaume from the bike shop, hairdressers Nabin and Ahmed, Maryloo from the vintage shop, and Akim from the hardware store, to discuss logistics and which bands to invite, shows how contemporary art and its stakeholders represent a tool for connecting people from different cultures and walks of life. 

 MJA: Pietro, what are the projects for the future of LBR?

 PDG: There are projects for the future… and ambitions! I’m very happy because this year, for the first time, we’ve put in place a partnership with the French embassy in Albania, the focus country of the “Global terroir” rubric. This allowed a research trip to be organised for the editorial committee, to meet the authors who contributed to this year’s issue, as well as some of the artists from the Albanian scene. This year, we’ll also launch the magazine in Tirana and the section will be translated into Albanian. 

The development of the “Global terroir” section is very important to me because we’re allowing our readers to familiarise themselves with little-known, peripheral art scenes in France, such as those of Cape Town, Malmö, or Bangkok, by giving a voice to authors talking about their own contexts. 

I’m already working on a new partnership for next year and crossing my fingers that it works out!

As for our ambitions, they’re not too utopian I hope! It just so happens that for several years now the various directors have sought to improve the structure of the association, to find more funding to create a coordinator’s role, so as to lighten the management’s workload – sometimes frightening – and pay the contributors better. The private sector may represent a source of additional funds.

 MJA: Over the past ten years, the magazine was a platform around which many artists, contributors, and readers met. What were the encounters, frictions, or anecdotes that have marked this first decade in your opinion?

 MD: You’re asking me something that’s a bit hard for me! I’m not really used to looking back (tomorrow already seems so far away)… I do have a little anecdote about the name of the magazine. The council put us onto the track of an editorial project and, initially, it was talking a lot about labelling. To be honest, I never really understood what that was about and the idea progressively faded. In any case, at the time, this term wouldn’t stop popping back into my mind “label, label, label”. Then one day, I thought: “La belle” and since we were in the process of creating a magazine, it became LBR. I still really like this title; I think it’s held up to the test of time quite well.

 BLdLC: For me, it would be the huge divide between the outside image of In extenso and La belle revue, almost impeccable in the way in which it is conveyed via the internet or the paper version, and the extreme precarity in which the association has always found itself. It’s obviously the same observation among all small associations working in the contemporary art world, but it must be recalled that all the work that comes out of these activities demands an enormous amount of energy from those it employs, in order to achieve such great results. I’ll never forget the dose of stress and adrenaline that the annual Parisian distribution of the magazine could generate at the various venues. Between the traffic jams, horns blaring, fights because we weren’t parked in the right place, the refusal of certain galleries to take the magazines, the limited time and kilometres of the hired van not to overshoot, all while being sure to arrive on time at the site of the launch to get everything ready before the arrival of the public, I think I can say that I gained a few white hairs there!

 AR: I have a very good memory of the launch of La belle revue 2013 at the MAC VAL, which was a rather unique chance to truly deploy the potential of the magazine within the space, thanks to the in situ contributions of the numerous participants in this issue. I would also like to acknowledge the tenacity and commitment of the editorial committee and successive management teams that have really managed to maintain high standards in the content, despite growing economic fragility.

 MG: For ten years, we met and visited a lot of artists, residencies, associative or institutional exhibition venues, production venues, etc. We always received an enthusiastic welcome. While the territory commented on by the magazine is limited to Centre-France, its distribution is much broader, notably extending to the Parisian region. As Benoît points out, we handled the delivery of the copies and that gave rise to two- or three-day escapades by car, where we went from one delivery to the next. It was epic! Coming up with one anecdote or one encounter would mean forgetting all the others. 

 PDG: Beyond anecdotes, La belle revue crystallises for me a state of mind, a condensed form echoing shared intentions and passion for what we do. I took over the role very quickly without any real training but Marie Bechetoille, Julie Portier, Sophie Lapalu, and Benoît Lamy de La Chapelle, the wonderful members of the editorial committee, helped me a lot, kept an eye on me and supported me. After two weeks, anyone might’ve thought we’d been working together for years. We are very different but complementary people and that’s our strength! The motivation and commitment to the artists and to research brought us together and transcends the precarity of the association’s conditions!

 MJA: A birthday is also the time to formulate wishes! What wishes will you make when you blow out the candles on this issue?

 MG: I think that a paid position dedicated to the magazine would be a great relief for In extenso, as well as a real workspace and storage area for the magazines and documentation. It’s the only project that we haven’t yet been able to set up and it remains crucial to the future of the association and the magazine.

MD: Putting candles on the magazine is a very good idea, it could be something quite funny… well, we’d better not set everything on fire though! More seriously though, one of the particularities of the magazine is its playground: a Centre-France territory occupied by regions that were unfortunately able to turn their backs on one another after the territorial reform. If LBR could continue to enhance the connections between stakeholders that are rather close geographically, but unfortunately invited to devote themselves increasingly to their own regions, then that wouldn’t be a bad start! The cherry on the (birthday) cake: expanding into European space…

BLdLC: I hope it survives for another ten years! I think it’s already a miracle that a magazine like this, which enjoys such freedom, could have existed for as long as it has. I think our energy should be spent as much on the quality of the content as on the fact of convincing our political partners of its importance. We’re lucky enough to have been supported by Pierre Patureau-Mirand, Director of Culture at Clermont Auvergne Métropole, and his team. So long as these kinds of personalities will support us, La belle revue will have a long life ahead of it.

 AR: I’d like La belle revue to have the means to continue to renew and question itself while contributing to the major debates invigorating the art world.

 PDG: Shume urime revistes se re ! Meaning “happy birthday La belle revue!” in Albanian. I’d like In extenso and LBR to be heard by our political partners. Voluntary work cannot be a sustainable model!

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