Patronage, heritage and contemporary art: the “Voisins de campagne” project
Bringing together heritage and contemporary creation: this is the aim of “Voisins de campagne” (“Country Neighbours”), a unique artistic adventure, supported by five owners of mansions in Seine-Maritime (North-West of France). What is it about? Artists from the Centre d'art contemporain de Normandie (Contemporary Art center of Normany, called the Shed) take up residency in these houses to produce original works that resonate with the place. Our expert Laurent Issaurat, Head of SGPB's Art Banking services, met Pauline de Laboulaye, owner of the Manoir du Quesnay, in Saint-Saëns, who is behind this beautiful project.
Pauline, what is Voisins de campagne?
Voisins de campagne is a collective artistic adventure. We are several owners of old houses in Seine-Maritime, who share the same constraints and aspirations. These houses that we live in and maintain are designed for another time, often unsuited to today's lifestyles; bringing them to life is therefore a real challenge. Each generation must reinvent their use, find a way to make them an object of pleasure rather than a burden, an opportunity to share rather than an ivory tower, a tool for thinking about the future in the light of the past. And who better than an artist to take a fresh and sensitive look at a place and help give it meaning again? Voisins de campagne is made of artistic residences of a new type. We, the owners, invite contemporary artists to take over our heritage sites. They are inspired by a building, a landscape, a history to experiment in complete freedom, far from the pressure of the market. For our part, as hosts, we agree to submit to the principle of uncertainty that is the hallmark of art and to share with the artist the risk of the research and creation. In this way, we are reviving the tradition of hospitality that characterized the patron princes of the past, open to adventure, leaving room for the unexpected and reciprocal generosity.
How did you come up with the idea of creating Voisins de campagne?
After extensive work on his property in Normandy, one of our neighbours was wondering how to turn it into a place of cultural and artistic influence. He brought together other owners in the area and asked me to think about it. First of all, we had to be able to rely on a local artistic structure capable of making proposals and implementing them. I went to see the region's cultural affairs directorate, the “DRAC” (“Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles”) which gave me some ideas. That's how we met the couple who had just founded the Shed, Centre d'art contemporain de Normandie, a storage, manufacturing and exhibition space created by a group of artists in a former candle wick factory in the industrial suburbs of Rouen. In discussion with its directors, the artist Jonathan Loppin and the curator Julie Faitot, we opted for residencies in which the host-patrons make their premises available to allow an artist to carry out a research project on site.
Who were the artists, places and projects of the first edition?
The Shed acted as curator. They suggested artists who they knew would be able to respond to the sometimes impressive size and sophistication of the space, so they tended to be established artists. Véronique Joumard worked on a basin and blurred mirrors in response to the winter mist rising from the Seine below Soquence; Christophe Cuzin painted the silhouettes of absent orange trees on the walls of the Galleville orangery; Krijn de Koning planted bright green parallelepipeds amidst the topiaries of the Grand Dauboeuf; Stéphanie Cherpin took over the ruin of Tonneville with proliferating sculptures; Cédric Eymenier filmed his winter wanderings inside the Quesnay and Perrine Lievens spent five months in Bois-Héroult watching nature live, leaving piles of blank newspapers colonized by dandelion flowers and piles of autumn leaves in terra cotta on tables. Three women, three men; young and old; a film, sculptures, installations and paintings; a journey conceived as an exhibition where each work is both singular and in harmony with the others.
Could you tell us about the hosts? What are their profiles? Are they necessarily passionate about contemporary art?
Few are really passionate about contemporary art, they are even sometimes a little suspicious. It must be said that when one chooses to live in an old house filled with period furniture, one is not necessarily inclined towards contemporary art. At the same time, they are all actors of their time, involved in business or politics, open and curious about their time, concerned with innovation and capable of taking risks. They are not heirs but creators, each in their own field.
On the financial aspect, beyond the free provision of a place, what are the costs and risks for the host-patrons?
In our case, the hosts finance the entire cost. They pay fees to the artist (project submission and exhibition rights), a fair remuneration being a sine qua non condition for bringing in artists who are already busy. They participate in the costs of the structure that accompanies them for its curatorial work, communication, catalogue, opening, mediation, etc. (part of which can be covered by the structure itself or by public subsidies). This preparatory phase can cost up to €10,000 the first year. The second year is devoted to production, the cost of which varies greatly depending on the type of project, ranging from €2,000 to €15,000, or even more if the patron and artist agree on a very ambitious project. All these costs are paid by the art center which, in exchange, receives donations from guests and issues tax receipts. As a disinterested patron, the host does not own the work. If the work is permanent and he wishes to keep it, he must buy it, unless the artist leaves it in deposit. To limit the risks, it is recommended to be accompanied by a professional structure that has enough experience to anticipate problems, especially by contractualizing the relationships between the different participants. Then, if the premises are clear, the management competent, the production costs well evaluated, the public channeled and the mediation well prepared, we limit many risks of tension and overflow. To avoid the many misunderstandings that can arise from a meeting between a banker, an artist, a craftsman, a gardener, a politician, a hunter... who have different, even opposing, rationales, there is no substitute for dialogue and a good mediator.
What are the benefits for the artists?
Artists are always looking for opportunities to invent. They need to confront new constraints, new materials, new contexts, new interlocutors. Above all, it is an opportunity to measure themselves against a different scale of space and time. Rare are those who can work outdoors and with enough time to mature their projects. Voisins de campagne gives them the opportunity to experiment with their ideas and to have the technical support of the Shed and also of the owners and their staff whose know-how can be invaluable. Among the fifteen projects purchased by the Centre national des arts plastiques (CNAP – French National Center of Plastic Arts) this year as part of the protocols to be reactivated, two were designed thanks to Voisins de campagne. They are now available to public authorities who can adapt them to their outdoor spaces. They would not have existed without us. This is no mean feat!
You were a patron yourself: can you tell us about the artist you hosted in your place and his achievements? What did you personally gain from this experience?
The first time, we welcomed the photographer and video artist Cédric Eymenier. We exchanged a lot, chatted. He made two stay of one week each and then edited the film in his studio. His film is a poetic stroll through the deserted house. It highlights objects illuminated by an unusual and moving winter light. It's exciting to rediscover a place through the eyes of another, to see them take an interest in objects and details that we neglected, to be enthusiastic about the charm of a slightly wild vegetable garden, a jumble of old clutter, a collection of old records to be disposed of, to see them marvel at weeds and landscapes that we no longer see. The gaze of a sensitive visitor, attentive to the beauty and poetry of the place, changes the perspective, and sometimes even the way of living there.
More generally, what are the benefits of the project for the hosts?
Apart from this meeting with an artist, which requires time and availability, I believe that we are all proud to contribute to the creation of an original work and to see visitors marvel at the places we cherish. And then the collective adventure creates bonds. We have experienced something new and risky together. It can be a source of tension but, if it doesn't break, it welds us together.
From a practical point of view, have you created an association to host the initiative? Could you tell us about the interest of articulating a project such as Voisins de campagne around an art centre such as the Shed?
We decided not to create an association because it was useless. We are well supported by the Shed and now also by the Galerie Duchamp, the contemporary art centre of the town of Yvetot (Seine-Maritime, Normandy). Without them, the project would not be feasible, not only for the choice of artists and the coherence of the itinerary, the setting up of contracts, the technical follow-up, sometimes very complex, the relationship with the local authorities... but also because they guarantee the disinterested and professional nature of the patronage with regard to the tax authorities.
Has your initiative been emulated in other regions of France? What advice would you give to those who would consider launching an initiative inspired by Voisins de Campagne?
Voisins de campagne is a label. After Voisins de campagne in Normandy, we could indeed have Voisins de campagne in Burgundy, in Alsace etc. The most important thing is to find the right partners and to agree on the objective and the cost. The DRAC can provide names of art centers, museums or other professional structures on which to rely. They must be solid and competent and then trust them. One can do things alone in one's corner but not with several people. Then you need motivated neighbours who are well placed on a course. For the purpose, it is important to agree on the definition of patronage. It is not an individual order for one's garden but a collective and totally disinterested approach, open to the uncertainty of a research residence. Tax exemption implies the absence of any counterpart and access to the public. Finally, one must be aware of the cost.
A few words about the 2021 edition?
We were supposed to open in June 2020 with the “Normandie Impressionniste” Festival. But Covid has changed the deal. The artists were chosen by Julie Faitot who entitled this second edition "Matter of fact", playing on the double meaning of this expression that she declines through different modes of interaction with matter: building, implanting, playing, digging... She is the Director of the Galerie Duchamp, where she organizes exciting exhibitions and she is in charge of the curatorial work, the catalogue and the numerous mediation activities in collaboration with the DRAC. In parallel to the tour, the Galerie Duchamp will show an exhibition that will allow us to see other aspects of the artists' work. Le Shed is in charge of the management and communication. Some pieces are already in place, like Sophie Dubosc's giant playground in Yville (play) or Gabriela Albergaria's trunk set in stone in Soquence (build). In Tonneville, Cécile Beau has prepared the branches that will redraw the root system of a bunch of purple beech trees at the end of their life (implant). Elina Brotherus came at Bois-Héroult in April, in collaboration with the FRAC Normandie Rouen, and Jonathan Loppin is preparing an installation in our barn at Le Quesnay where he is digging a mysterious tunnel (dig). We lost two guests from 2017. For 2021, we have gained Yville and added the exhibition stage in Yvetot. You can only do so much in one day. The opening is scheduled for June 19 and the venue should be open two weekends a month until September.
A few words about your other personal, ongoing projects in the arts?
With the association Portes ouvertes sur l'art (https://www.portesouvertessurlart.com), which we founded with former and current members of the Maison Rouge and Syrian female art professionals, we invite curators to meet artists in exile, from Syria or elsewhere, and to design an exhibition. This year, we are showing the exhibition Répare, reprise (“Fixing Resume”) conceived by Nora Philippe, in partnership with the Cité internationale des arts. Open until July 10th in the large gallery of the Marais branch of the Cité, the exhibition brings together some fifteen artists from the Middle East, North Africa and Africa to reflect on how artists invent ways of repairing the fractures and violence of history. The exhibition is accompanied by videos and online meetings with the artists: https://www.portesouvertessurlart.com/exposition-6
Find all information about the 2021 edition of Voisins de campagne by clicking on the following link: https://www.voisins-de-campagne.org
Main picture: Véronique Joumard, Miroirs, 2017. Château de Soquence, “Voisins de Campagne #1", 2017. © Cédrick Eymenier / Le SHED.
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