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Past articles and extracts:

Marseille Ouverture…

Saturday morning, Marseille seems to be awakening as per normal. The market in the Place Jean Jaures is filled with the customary crowd, searching for a bargain among the repro knock-offs and secondhand clothes. In the café on Boulevard Chave there are a few well-dressed suspects gripping pinkish programmes – one reads L’Art-A-L’Endroit – but that event is happening elsewhere, over in Aix-en-Provence. The rest of the customers appear entirely laid back to the prospect of Marseille’s Capital of Culture opening today. Gone are the visions of the smoky pink crowd outside the opening of the Marseille OFF programme at last night’s ‘Platonic Banquet’, when the doors bent and arched with good-humoured patience. If the verdict of the public streaming out of the venue then, was one unrelieved commentary, of “nothing”, “nulle”, at least there was a crush of excitement. Waiting outside we still wanted to get in and see for ourselves. Maybe this was some double bluff, and there really was some visionary artistic event occurring just beyond our vision, inside. Nevertheless we had to resign ourselves to the platitude that anticipation is purer, and more exquisite a feeling, than consummation. After all, this event was billed as a Marseille rerun of a Socratic dialogue. It appeared we were being invited to be philosophical, if not downright stoical as we jostled to get past the security.

Samedi matin, Marseille semble se réveiller comme a l’habitude. Le marché de la Place Jean Jaures fourmille, les clients se précipitent pour faire des affaires parmi les reproductions bon marché et les frippes. Dans le Café du Boulevard Chave on voit quleques individus bien sappés qui tiennent en main des programmes roses – on peut y lire L’Art-A-Endroit – mais l’évènement a lieu ailleurs, là bas à Aix-en-Provence. Le reste des badaux a l’air très décontracté a l’idée de l’ouverture du Festival Marseille Capitale de la Culture prévue ce jour là. Disparues les visions de la foule rose et fumante à la sortie du « Banquet de Platon » donné hier soir par l’Association Marseille OFF, la foule tordue et vouté mais, malgré tout, patiente et sympatique, faisant la queue aux portes. Si le verdict du public ne variait pas («rien», «nul») au moins il y avait de l’excitation dans l’air. Amassés devent ces portes, nous voulions quand même rentrer pour juger par nous-même. Peut-être était-ce un mensonge et peut-être s’y passait-il quelque évènement artistique visionnaire, là-bas, à l’interieur. Nous nous étions résignés à croire que le platitute de l’anticipation est finalement plus savoureuse que la consommation. Après tout, l’évènement nous était annoncé comme une rediffusion d’un dialogue de Socrate. On avait le sentiment d’avoir été invités à rester nous-même philosphes, voire même carrément stoïque, jouant des coudes devant le service de surveillance.

Later much of the OFF crowd, having drunk briefly of Plato’s wine hung outside the Café Palace Longchamps, where a jazz band made an unscheduled appearance. Their singer, who had been spotted earlier prowling the streets with a white face and blackened lips, swung his shoulders low, hunched and from his louche melancholic body drifted out a gravelly pitched voice, thin then growling from the depths, to entertain the nonchalant drinkers. The howling beauty of the songs, gave a haunted Baudelairian poignancy to their improvised performance. The whispering vibrations of the tramway wire, as it passed swiftly by our backs, mingles briefly with their thrumming double-bass, and their singing, in a strange soft English, ‘Love is a burning flame’ provided a memorable fragment of artistic beauty, snatched from the evenings disappointments. Read More.

Plus tard, la majorité de la foule du OFF ayant rapidemnet pris un verre de Platon, elle trainait encore devant le Café Palace Longchamps, où un orquestre de Jazz faisait une appartition surprise. On avait pu voir un peu plus tôt leur chanteur, teint blafard, lèvres noires, épaules basses, courbé, et bientôt, de ce corps louche et mélancolique, sortit une voix grave, légàre puis grognement venant des profondeurs, qui accompagnait la groupe de buveurs nonchalants. La beauté rondonnante des chansons donnait un air poignant, baudelairien, à cette représentation improvisée. Les vibrations murmurées des cables du tramway qui filaient dans le dos, s’entremèlaient un instant aux accord de la contrebasse, et leur chant, dans un anglais étrange et doux, ‘love is  a burning flame’, offrait un fragment inoubliable de beauté artistique, comme arraché aux déceptions de la soirée.

Plus en anglais (traduction a.c. le deunff, 12/01/2013)

The official programme rises from the dead (30/11/2013):

It started as a whopping 250 pages, divided into 3 discrete chapters with a confusion of overlapping events spread across the whole Marseille-Provence region. Then it reappeared, slimmed down radically – reedited to around 100 pages  – to accommodate the cultural tourist, the curious and enthusiastic without seeming overpowering. That appeared reasonable, but then the light was turned off for a moment. Marseille-Provence 2013 website effectively disappeared. It was obvious some last minute tinkering was required. And then there it was in all its complexity and ambition, a staggering door-stopping 362 pages. More like a dissertation on the aspirations of the regions contemporary culture than a festival programme, where ease of navigation is surely paramount. No doubt there will be some need for translating this vast tome into digestible chunks.


And of course it is still only available in French, this last minute reedit erasing all the patient work of the original English translators. A call has gone out for some rapid translation ‘before the end of the world’. But is that possible before the 22 December 2012 descends? Or are the organizers being even more pessimistic, regarding “COMING SOON”, as anytime before the year’s death or the MP2013 final ceremony.

The City of the Mediterranean: Recapturing the coastline (extracts form Euromediterranee regeneration project)

The Cité de la Méditerranée Project represents one of Euroméditerranée’s most ambitious efforts. Located between the Old Port and Arenc, this district covers a 60-hectar area. The project involves reuniting the city with its waterfront, port and sea, and redeveloping the area between the city and the port. It recaptures the coastline, restores beauty to the waterfront, and endows Marseille with public and private cultural, scientific, recreational and service facilities of international scope.

This transformation of the city’s skyline marks the revival of the city and the rediscovery of its economic dynamism… Read more

A waterfront panorama

Created by leading international architects such as Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Massimiliano Fuksas and Rudy Ricciotti, these structures promote the transformation and attractiveness of the Euroméditerranée hub, while their sustainable designs complement Notre Dame de la Garde and the Cathedral de la Major.” Read more

(, 02/01/2013)

A Cultural (Re)view to the future past – 2013

A New Year beginning, a time of reckoning, reviewing the recent past and near future we might be forgiven for confessing a welcome sense of relief; that we passed safely the end of the world, that life persists much as per usual, and art and culture continue to flourish. However, we could also be usefully reminded, at the launch of Marseille’s big cultural year, that Governments across Europe are busily freezing and cutting the funds for the arts, in education and in culture. Just last July the new president of France, François Hollande made an unscheduled announcement from the International Theatre Festival at Avignon, stating that culture was the most important element of the European experiment, it made Europe what it was, and was something that Europe could still give to the world. Underneath the hyperbole and the drama of the press conference it seemed a genuine pitch. But you wonder what arts funding will look like, here in France, by 2014, especially after surveying what is happening in the rest of Europe: over 25% cuts in the Netherlands, 30% cuts in the United Kingdom (this on top of reallocations of funds due to the Olympic extravaganza), cuts in Hungary, Poland, Belgium, devastating cuts in Greece, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. The full effects of these policies will only be registered in the coming decade, after the closures of arts centre and the institutional reorganizations have been laid to rest. But we should be clear – these readjustments in government budget’s are driven by ideology and political maneuvering, just as much as the markets are driven by sentiment and greed.

Fortunately, at the moment France remains firm in its commitment to patrimony and a proactive cultural policy, despite freezing all future cultural building projects. Across Europe other less enlightened, reactionary forces and governments are taking their opportunity to accomplish what they love to do best, shoring up privilege, destroying opportunity and retrenching reactionary cultural policies. We should recall Margaret Thatcher’s claim that the only sign of a civilised city was its (Royal) Opera House. The dramatic implication – as long as you have some jewels you can forget all the workers and small-scale workshops that make up a flourishing culture. Damn any one else presumptuous enough to challenge the pillars of an ancien regime or of the cultural elite.

State funding has allowed art to flourish outside the ghetto of luxury and the art world, particularly when the money was used to support small scale, local initiatives that grew out of the cultural needs and aspirations of underrepresented communities. In these cases money is used primarily to support real activity, never to prop up the bureaucracy or infrastructure of institutions, with all their dead weight of redundant culture. These small-scale organisations are the ones that first disappear when the cuts bite. At the same time we should remember that any replacement DIY culture, or grass-roots artistic activity may appear exciting, even vibrant, but it rarely challenges the entrenched power of a cultural and/or political elite. Such cultural endeavour can never take the place of a properly funded fifth estate, or of state funded artistic activity that is an integral part of cultural and educational institutions. It should be clear, without the arts that create the thinking – the new ways of doing, being, expressing – Europe appears a very pallid and wizened spectre. A place where rules and rulers re-exert their stifling dominance: a Europe where hierarchy and stagnation return with hideous vengeance, bringing down a dark age of monoculturalism and mediocrity. (22/12/2012)

Acts of Sabotage? (14/11/2013)

What has happened to the official site of Marseille-Provence 2013? Has some guerilla art organization cloned the site and hidden it behind a cloak of anonymity? Do the recent changes to the programme and the apparent disappearance of the website provide some clue to the ‘behind the scene’ turmoil that has become de rigeur for the host City. Presumably some people are not happy who should be happy, and some people who should be happy, are still unhappy, and those yet more unhappy, cannot believe that all the rest are neither unhappy or happy. One can only wait and see, as the heart says it all…

In the build up to the project the programme had appeared from the official site to be supremely ambitious, taking in much of the PACA region. But at what considerable cost and political wrangling? Apparently after 2013 (perhaps even before the start of 2013), there will be no more money for artistic ‘culture’. The pot will have run dry and no genie will appear from the amphora to conjure up “the same again, oh master”. So why six weeks before the start of the year Marseille-Province 2013 there is only a holding page on the world wide web one can only surmise, but it either shows supreme confidence or a total implosion in the cohesion of purpose needed for such an ambitious project to function. But what could you hope for culturally, when so many large organisations have  concentrated their energies on building empires of concrete, glass and steel.

Here is one solution from «Algarade 2013», The Aixois group.

“If confusion is the sign of the times, I see at the root of this confusion a rupture between things and words, between things and the ideas and signs that are their representation… We must insist upon the idea of culture-in-action, of culture growing within us like a new organ, a sort of second breath; and on civilization as an applied culture controlling even our subtlest actions, a presence of mind; …we can begin to form an idea of culture, an idea which is first of all a protest. A protest against the senseless constraint imposed upon the idea of culture by reducing it to a sort of inconceivable Pantheon,…a protest against the idea of culture as distinct from life- as if there were culture on one side and life on the other, as if true culture were not a refined means of understanding and exercising life.” (Artaud: 7-10)

Cultural Wars, training grounds and ap/pacifism:

While Jean Giono, perhaps because of his highly successful fable ‘The man who planted trees’, takes his place within the official programme of MP2013, other important cultural figures have been quietly forgotten. It is somewhat perplexing that Henri Bosco, just as Artaud, remains exiled and uncelebrated within the cultural smogasbord of Marseille-Provence 2013. I am musing on this as I make the final gentle climb to the Chapel of Saint Jean, which sits isolated on a promontory above the steep gorge-like valley of the Font d’Agnieu. The view of the summit of Mont Ventoux is spectacular. It’s extended spine covered in snow. The Chapel was restored in 1939, by the Commune of Flassan as a place to pray for peace (and against the coming war). Ever since, on June 24th a pilgrimage is made to the small shrine with its half concrete slab, half stone clad roof. In the clearing around the chapel there is a fragment of stonewall with metal rings concreted into the surface. I imagine it as a place where horses and donkeys might be tethered? The space with its ghostly horses’ winnowing, and its recent history of restoration, immediately reminds me of Giono’s pacifism, a bitter clawing lesson driven into the writer’s young body by the slaughter of the First World War. Here in the foothills of a wintery Mont Ventoux, scattered with snow, in the silent sway of the pine forest, war and destruction seems far off, banished to another time and place. But even here there are urgent reminders of war and destruction. The garance plant collected in Provence and particularly from the slopes of Mont Ventoux was used to dye the red clothe of French Infantry through the 19thC (was worn by the French army at Sedan) and up to the First World War. Perhaps we have already unwittingly crushed some of these precious plants underfoot.

There is something reassuringly naïve and wholesome in Giono’s pure Provencal tales, a tenor that finds a peculiar yet unsettling counterpoint in the disarming childlike writing of Bosco. Not surprising then that there was something of a low level war between the ‘true’ Provencal writer Giono, and his perceived ‘foreign’ rival Bosco. No one was as true to the soil as Giono was, he was its true defender. This sentiment reminds me of Walter Benjamin’s disparaging words concerning Giono’s writing. In the late 30’s Benjamin’s judgment was finely attuned to any sign of bourgeois weakness or to any latent fascist sympathy. Sitting briefly here, to eat a sandwich, you can re-cognise this intuitively seeing clearly what is both hopelessly touching and ridiculous in this restored shrine to peace; even more so when the sudden cawing roar of a warplane echoes over these mountains overhead. Up there exercising warplanes slice through the air with an unnerving regulatory.  This is how it must sound as the missiles and bombs come, tearing into the earth in Mali, and in Palestine, and in Afghanistan. The same menacing roar as the jets approach, its clinical yet penetrating whoosh, drilling across the silence, before the missiles vengeful release. And the disconcerting difference between what one can see and what one hears. Earlier in the car Anne-Catherine had mistaken what later appeared to be a miniature jet fighter, as a bird of prey – a large winged eagle circling the vineyards. But no it was a plane, or perhaps even a drone, in training. Inside the motoring car we just couldn’t hear its supersonic roar, recognise it for what it was, unattuned to the apparatus of War:

‘..the ability to master certain tasks in a state of distraction proves that their performance has become habitual. The sort of distraction that is provided by art represents a covert measure of the extent to which it has become possible to perform new tasks of apperception…Reception in distraction – the sort of reception which is increasingly noticeable in all areas of art and is a symptom of profound changes in apperception – finds in film its true training ground.’ (Benjamin, vol 4: 268-9)

NOTE: On the idea of “reception in distraction (entertainment)” see also Theatre and Radio (1932) , the Author as Producer (1934) and Theory of Distraction (1963). Rezeption in der Zerstreuung  – also means reception through entertainment.


Penson-le-matin next open discussion at La Friche Belle de Mai  October 2013

From report Saturday 26 January 2013, 9.30 to 12, Round table at la Friche Belle de Mai Penson-le-matin convened a round table discussion on Saturday 26 January 2013.

Penson-le-matin supports collective response to culture, cultural policy and initiative within Marseille. Everyone is invited to contribute, cultural workers, artists and members of the public; to discuss and reflect on the current situation and future environment for creativity within the city. This is not confined to the official institutions or to the so-called creative industries but to ‘la vie creatif’ in its expanded sense, to support and think about cultural and creative activity that already exists in the city and to work on the question of collectivity:
‘la vie creatif en bas oppose la vie creatif en haut’ – The creative life from below as opposed to from above.
There are 3 new events/initiatives planned: including another round table on 2 March, a meeting (16 March)  on urbanism, the future and exchange, organised with Turkish/German centre of Provence, in collaboration with the association Les Amis du Roi des Aulnes (Paris) and the Goethe-Institut (Paris/Nancy) “Villes à-venir”, un projet pluriannuel qui traverse quatre métropoles : Marseille-Hambourg-Istanbul-Tanger.

A new conference initiative to be organised for Autumn 2013 (25-26 Octobre) – AVEC ou POUR, WITH or FOR?


‘What is the value of all culture if it is divorced from experience?’ (Benjamin from Experience & Poverty 1933: 732)

There is nothing to call, nothing to report, nothing to write home about. The buildings are filled with glass panels and the dust from the construction sites choke the avenues of light and dark. We will not see the like again in all of Europe, buildings filled with nothing much but air conditioning, and a filtered, tinted sunlight: a dilapidated Barcelona in January 1930, Weimar a provincial city stripped of government, polished by statute of Schiller and of Goethe, or a town waiting to turn the tide on history, returned, in the great magnetic switch over, as the world realigns its final axes?

What is it? The buildings are fine enough, the views stunning, incomparable. The architectural details without parallel with all their precision engineering, and yet there remains a hollowness, a weighting for a culture that regurgitates endlessly the same old…   (15/11/2012)

Building, regeneration & ‘fore-life’.

The main objective of mp2013 appears the construction of a lasting infrastructure built on the shore foundations of Provençal, and specifically Marseille’s, cultural heritage. This would seem entirely reasonable, and achievable, especially with all the cultural resources flooding into the region: the building of new museums, alongside the complete renovation of existing institutions. However, it might be more constructive to concentrate on Walter Benjamin’s legacy, in particular his ideas on cultural experience and self-experimentation that sprung from his time in and around Marseille. Benjamin’s concept of ‘culture’ deliberately downgrades the values of traditional cultural heritage and the reification of cultural history. As he saw it, only a complete re-understanding of “the crucial importance of reception…enable us to correct the process of reification which takes place in a work of art” (SW 3, 267-9).

Unfortunately the full implications of this radical revisioning of culture, as process and experience, will remain undigested while the bulk of European cultural producers continue to commodify, repackage and sell back Culture, without taking account of the after-life, or even acknowledging the fore-life of that living culture. The mayor of Marseille, knows only too well what the tag ‘European Capital of Culture’ can mean for the city and region[i]. That is in terms of any regeneration, or the hoped for spin offs, in the window display of a vibrant cool and thriving Marseille. The policy makers and cultural grandees have no real care or understanding of what a living culture is, in all its irritating antagonism and opposition. But those involved in the fore-life of this cultural extravaganza, in the daily struggle to make the target, or meet policy deadlines, already have a clearer and more compelling idea of what this culture is or could be. They can see how, for who, and why cultural objects and institutions are produced, what is valued and what celebrated. Ultimately those who produce it have a more intimate knowledge of how culture is being made here and now.

There is a real danger that local initiative and action exemplified by a structure such as Friche belle de mai, will be submerged by current cultural agendas that take no account of the fore-life of culture. Those individuals, organisations and groups tasked with fulfilling the political remit of mp2013 know full well that they are caught in a trap. A trap not necessarily of their making, yet one in which they are fully implicated. While on the one side of the looking-glass to show a vitrine display of dazzling confidence and polish, or on the other stepping through, to really expose what lies beyond the polished surface, and explore in depth local culture in all its diversity, dissensus and fragility.

How then are we as cultural consumers or producers to make the best of this situation? If Tartarin of Tarascon is remembered chiefly for his exaggerated self-importance and self-adventure, it could be argued that those selling mp2013 are playing a similar inflated game. But Tartarin is also a figure of great warmth, precisely because of his vulnerability – his own self-knowledge in the great play-act of the celebrated hunter. In a way he shows another kind of courage. Similarly, it could be a sign of misguided optimism or even a kind of reverse hubris to find local artists speaking chiefly of Marseille as a city of vandalism and filth. Yet from such deflated expectations and cynicism comes reasons to hope… Let us wish then that this inflated deflation does not lead to even greater levels of public skepticism. Hope that the city centre is not forcefully sanitized, or that regeneration for Marseille’s waterfront only creates a zone of empty glass, apartments and offices, laced with expensive shops, that speak solely of exclusion.

Benjamin, Walter (2006) Selected Writings, volume 3, 1934-1936. Ed Jennings, Eiland & Smith, Harvard University Press.

[i] “The opening weekend will be the shop window of a city dedicated to the valorisation of innumerable jewels” (Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, interview with Zibeline November 2012, trans.)


“Euroméditerranée has initiated a profound transformation of downtown, which also involves the development of the waterfront. Great names in architecture are contributing to the metamorphosis of the waterfront. The work of these internationally renowned designers is raising the City of Marseille’s international profile and creating a new skyline defined by ambitious, contemporary architecture.” (Quoted from official website)


Some unreasonable urgent demands:

To agitate for a space of free (art) education, as a model for European culture and a place for a contemporary avant-gardist art.

To create a space of art research, practice and experimentation outside the strictures of the contemporary academy, the laws and mores of contemporary art practice, literally without boundary. Is this possible? Is this desirable? Is this affordable?

What has art to offer, more than a living culture? To explore the distinction between art and culture, or at the very least to dissolve the artificial boundaries…

What is European Culture now and in the future past? Is it just different models/ different methodology but same structures of ‘art’ culture.

What are these cultural events producing? What is this culture for? A wish to rethink what art and culture is really capable of doing.

Pink Shifts is the opening, the polished surface of laundry waving mysteriously, buffeted by the Mediterranean sun. It is the crack into a forgotten world and into a future yet to be recalled. The colour of a flesh rotten and emblazoned with a spirit of hope, a puce brightness, that opens its ever hungry gorge onto yet another European Capital of Culture. Another round of reinforcement, to help shore up a culture that creaks and swaggers, that has forgotten its body and limbs.

Or is it a space and opening in which to dismantle, in a hazy miasma, the foundations of a culture not yet emptied of all meaning, all tragedy, a comic wreck waiting for the day of rebuilding – or at the very least rebranding. Pink shift, the sound of burning flesh, raw from the hotbrand of approval. Pink, how it shifts to a tortured blue in a nausea of anxiety, where everything is for sale, and nothing entirely free. And once, then, you could dream. Board a ship to Mexico under a halo of hashish and delight in an other world, full of a red-bloodied, living culture.

NewsView is a Journal made from articles, writing and commentary on Cultural Capital, Capitals of Culture and European Culture.


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