The mutation of arbitrary lands

Created in situ, at the heart of the Pyramids district in Evry and as part of a residency at the Agora Theatre, the audiovisual installation Terres Arbitraires (Arbitrary Lands) by Nicolas Clauss continues to mutate, according to the enrichment of the content and the  geographic course of the play.

Synchronized Scenography

In most of his pieces, the visual artist Nicolas Clauss places the viewer's participation at the heart of the work, inducing triggers games and playful manipulations, such as in his famous Tableaux Intéractifs, (interactive paintings), still available online. With his Terres Arbitraires installation, this modus operandi goes even further in thinking about the other, stretching this participatory logic to the scale of its content. In a variable geometry system it features a targeted audience whose image is precisely often controversial: the  suburban youth.

A synchronised scenography of screens with a string of portraits of boys, silent and smiling, toying with stereotypes as if to hijack them; a stylised parade, cradled in a sound flux of connoted babbling media of the famous list of the 1200 districts in 751 Sensitive Urban Zones inventoried by the French State (Les Pyramides, Les Épinettes, Les Trois Ponts, Le Val-Fourré, L'Estaque,, etc.). Terres Arbitraires is a work carried out in a particular context, the result of a fieldwork initially conducted with young people from a local  district in Evry, in the Essonne department and as part of a residency at the Agora National Theatre, in Evry.

At the start of the project, there was a strong desire to spend time, lots of time in a poor neighbourhood, in a so-called stigmatised and sensitive area to inspire a sensitive work, Nicolas Clauss claims. There was an opportunity to do a residency at the Agora Theatre, a few steps away from the famous Pyramids area. After six months in residence, I created a first installation featuring sixty portraits of people from the neighbourhood with the help of two kids who took part in the entire project.

Portraits of accomplices

Thus, Nicolas Clauss somehow produced a creation as part of dual residence, immersed in the heart of a city whilst enjoying the logistic support of the Agora Theatre. At first I told these two kids who worked with me all along, I did not know at all where I was going and they would somehow be my accomplices or even more, my assistants during this long wandering. The ideas of the portraits came in the process. The theatre gave me a framework, some equipment, some listening and above all enough time to complete the project.

The work, which was difficult because trust relationships to be established with the local youth, led to the creation of a strong audiovisual work consisting of some thirty screens including four projections, and an impacting work in terms of octophony sound diffusion. But its main feature was its modularity, as you can always add technological matter to it - monitors, sound environments – and, more importantly, you can add content.

After Evry, I said to myself that the work would be stronger if it was more on a huge scale and no longer confined to a single neighbourhood portraits but images shot all around the country, Nicolas Clauss carries on. The work is not focused on a particular area but on a certain type of territory and more specifically on social and media representations generated by these areas. So I went to Val Fourré in Mantes-la-Jolie, the city where I was living, in order to make new portraits and meet new people in an informal way, one contact bringing another, or sometimes simply canvassing people in the street.

Nicolas Clauss also had to do a lot of canvassing in order to find the funding and resources needed to further his piece. To carry out my project, I had to find partners and funding. I asked La Condition Publique in Roubaix to be one of these partners because I wanted to work on portraits in this city such as in its geographical counterpart in the north of Marseille. I found a local partner, Le Zinc, at  the  alternative art centre Friche Belle de Mai in Marseille and finally the Maison Pop in Montreuil provided me with about fifteen machines and a production space for several weeks where I worked with Christian Delecluse who programmed the device with Max Msp. In fact, the entire project - and we had to buy all the equipment that now belongs to the work - was financed by a bank loan (so I am the main producer), but also, therefore by Condition Publique in Roubaix, the DICREAM, ARCADI, Le Zinc and the Drac PACA. And initially by the Agora Theatre, of course...

A provisional final version

Before touring across various partner locations, the project it was first presented at the Centre Culturel du Chaplin in Mantes-la-Jolie, in its provisional final version. Indeed the artist is still thinking of adding new portraits to the 300 existing today (with images from the East - Strasbourg? - and the West - Nantes? - so as to scan the map). Its very shape is therefore likely to change, such as the ever sinuous spirit of its itinerary now leading to the stage.

The work will be shown at the Palais de l'Archevêché, in Arles, as part of the Artcourtvideo festivaln Nicolas Clauss points out. Then, it will travel to Clermont-Ferrand for Vidéoformes. It was also exhibited for a month at the Cartoucherie Theatre in Vincennes, finding itself integrated to an original play by Ahmed Madani, where it generated a great response.

Laurent Catala