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PQ 11

'Discovery' Curatorial Project

Prague, Czech Republic

June 2011

In June 2011 we represented France in the Architecture Section of the Prague Quadrennial of Theatre Design and Space. Our exhibition, entitled DISCOVERY, had the following aims and content:

Europe’s population and industry are in decline, its environmental and financial resources are constrained. The boom times of new-build palaces of culture are over; in future spaces for theatre will be made increasingly within rediscovered spaces.

France already posesses a strong tradition of adapted spaces, including those discovered, inhabited and continually modified by Peter Brook and Ariane Mnouchkine over the last 40 years (the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord and the Theatre du Soleil). These are exemplary spaces from every standpoint, and we present them centrally in this exhibition at a particular point in time (December 18th 2010), still in evolution, still being renewed and reinvented. Peter Brook’s departure as director of the Bouffes on December 31st 2010 raises the question of the extent to which such spaces are driven by an individual artistic vision: how will this unique auditorium evolve now? Looking backwards or forwards?

These spaces –and others- have thrived without recourse to the services of an architect. Why have architects failed to engage with theatre creators? Why are they so obsessed with creating something in their own image when this is not what the delicate, responsive, fast-evolving field of performance requires? Why do client bodies insist on applying rules and practices which result in fixed, categorised spaces, when creators yearn for mess, ambiguity and possibilities for cross-fertilisation between disciplines?

France offers healthy, contradictory approaches to these problems, as in the exexmplary practice of architect Patrick Bouchain, who has bent the rules of architecture and urbanism to obtain freedom and vitality in ’found‘ spaces such as the Condition Publique in Roubaix, the Theatre du Radeau in le Mans, and the Lieu Unique in Nantes. Municipalities such as Saint Nazaire have also explored the value of indeterminacy and growth in launching incomplete, evolving projects such as Le Life in the former German submarine base, transformed by the German architects LIN. We present Le Life and the Lieu Unique in this exhibition as architect-transformed found-space counterpoints to the ‘self-buit‘ Bouffes du Nord and Theatre du Soleil.

Fate connects these four buildings in an intriguing way: the Bouffes, Soleil and Lieu Unique are originally contemporary (1874-80), built using emerging industrial techniques of cast iron and steel construction. The Soleil and Saint Nazaire submarine base were built for destructive ends, and were damaged by bombardment (as was the Lieu Unique) during 1943; this was responsible for their obsolesence and therefore availability for later use as spaces for culture. The Bouffes du Nord was damaged by fire and water in the period 1954-1974.

Our exhibition is presented as an object needing to be discovered and explored, inviting interaction, unfolding, collaboration between viewers. We hope that it will stimulate a reflection on the changes needed in architectural practice, government and society in order to allow the flourishing of cultural activites in a ’discovered‘ context which is inherently civic –because regenerative and continuous- and ecological.

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