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"Terres Arbitraires" Deconstructs The Image Of The French Suburbs

"Terres Arbitraires" Deconstructs The Image Of The French Suburbs

Terres Arbitraires is a work in progress, an ongoing gestation. Started in 2010 by the French artist Nicolas Clauss, whose work lies within the realms of Net Art, new media and video art, it will likely draw to a close at the end of 2012. Making use of video art, photography, and sound editing, Clauss created a volatile writing device that aesthetically, socially, and politically holds a mirror to the French suburbs. The installation is entitled “Terres Arbitraires” [Arbitrary Land], a nickname Clauss gives to the infamous suburbs of Paris, which were famously torn apart by three weeks of riots back in 2005. The name is inspired by French poet Aimé Césaire’s note, which declared that “We are always left with arbitrary lands.”

Thanks to two young residents, Clauss was informally introduced to a number of youths from the Pyramides neighborhood in Évry, a housing project in the southeast suburb of Paris, in early 2010. Every meeting and interaction they had was documented by Clauss, further feeding the discussion, and nourishing a vast collection of audio and visual material consisting of meetings, background recordings, and fly on the wall or directed video images. Over the course of six months of encounters and shared moments, it became obvious that Clauss needed to bring forward what was most essential about the project: portraits of the young people, the shadowy figures found on the stoops of of buildings, watching us.

Throughout this period, the artist collected snippets of sound recordings regarding questions about popular neighborhoods, their populations and the various issues associated with them, such as employment, national identity/immigration, social issues, welfare programs, penal treatment, etc…. These little snippets, rumors, and chatter (assembled from online videos, radio and television clips from political figureheads, opinion columnists, sociologists, and neighborhood residents) are confronted with the slowed down black and white footage of the continually stereotyped “violent and delinquent” youths, which forever feed the news reports. Amongst the images, a monitor randomly diffuses the names of over 1,000 popular neighborhoods making up the 751 inner city urban zones officially established by the French government in one of it’s “urban policies.”

An an excerpt of the video installation can be seen here.

So far, the installation debuted in autumn 2010 with an exhibition at the Théâtre de l’Agora, Evry’s state theatre, which drew together and organized all the voices. This exhibition is an intermediary step in the journey of this evolving work in progress. The project reminds us of another filmmaker who has taken the inhabitants of France’s turmoiled suburbs as his subject, Creator Ladj Ly, and Ly’s collaborator, anonymous street artist and photographer JR, who has done some gorgeous large-scale wheat paste portraits of the inhabitants from housing projects around Paris.

Photos courtesy of Nicolas Clauss.

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