We are living through a second cycle of close attention to our natural surroundings in Burgundy as the vegetal world reawakens and unfurls around us.
Exactly a year ago the same close relationship –enforced by urgent circumstance- was marked by a sense of panic and doubt as the whole world entered a tunnel of ineffable length; it turns out that we are still in this tunnel; albeit –now- resigned, battle-hardened and more calm. A high point of last year was a raucous visit here by the inspirational Bruno Latour, Chantal Latour, Soheil Hajmirbaba, Alexandra Arènes, Mathieu Duperrex, Patrick Bouchain and Vinciane Despret, all important thinkers of our unique current predicament. In Bruno’s new book ‘Où Suis Je?,’ written during the lockdown, he proposes that this confinement has always existed in reality, but that we have been blissfully and wilfully ignorant of the limits and boundaries of our terrestrial existence. He’s right.
Our somewhat enforced migration to the countryside has given a new impetus to our thinking along these lines. We are able to live alongside systems of exploitation and extraction which are light and perhaps even beneficent. We can also sense here the hand of the distant metropolis (and of large-scale industry) as it scrapes away trees and crops for its own needs. Problems of pesticide pollution and erosion are imprinted in our lungs and on our feet. There’s no getting away; we’re isolated, but at the centre of things.
As we have long hoped, several projects which are entirely locally-initiated have now begun. These include housing for elderly neighbours (in two nearby villages), associated with living well -and lightly- with and from the land. In August we will co-convene the inspiring Studio in the Woods making-workshop in our home village of Blanot, which promises to bring an international energy to our locus –at the centre of the world nine hundred years ago, when we sequestered away some of the valuables of the nearby Cluny Abbey. It will be an occasion to reflect and make with and from the vegetal and the ultra-local, and is expected to generate a momentum of its own in this context.
With the arrival of a young collective in the former hotel which adjoins our studio, we have become active in seeking to improve the ground of civic life in the village, undoing 1970s tarmac-thinking which gave free reign to the motor vehicle (the inspiring studio where these words are being written was a former regional garage, with the price of petrol in the 1950s still etched in chalk on the walls). In collaboration with Patrick Bouchain we are spearheading actions to resituate cars as subservient to people in the civic structure, improving pedestrian and social space, and creating better-arranged parking at the same time.
Further afield we have begun work on a specific manifestation of a long-cherished project with the Company Déracinemoa, who inaugurated and enlivened our Hardelot Theatre five years ago. Premiering in Audun-le-Tiche on July 8th 2022, our co-conceived and designed incarnation of Laurent-Guillaume Dehilnger’s participative urban spectacle Totem will close the summer programme of the Esch-sur-Alzette/Luxembourg European Capital of Culture. It will then travel to Metz and other destinations. We are very busy with early studies of the urban scenic concept, working in partnership with carpenters CBS-CBT Lifteam.
Yet further afield, we have initiated a process of learning and exchange with the Nordic Construction Company’s Danish branch, with whom are beginning their very energetic internal process of discovery of wood construction. We have designed a bespoke curriculum and are meeting regularly with senior management in order to launch a process which will eventually generate its own momentum. It is a uniquely interesting opportunity to apply at the scale of a major industrial group the lessons of our nearly ten-year commitment to wood construction.