Bruno Serralongue’s new solo exhibition at Air de Paris borrows its title from Henri Michaux’s collection of poems.
Through «Chemins cherchés, chemins perdus, transgressions» there will be question of struggle for land elsewhere, for migrants (Calais, 2006-2008, 2015-ongoing) or here for temporary inhabitant and residents of the Zone to Defend (ZAD) (Notre Dame des Landes, 2014-ongoing).
[…] Faced with the omnivorously scattershot mass media and their thirst for the novel and the spectacular, Bruno Serralongue urges leisureliness and detachment from the topical. Faced with information overload, he urges minimality. Faced with the speed that governs news, trade, money flow and transport, he urges slow persistence. Serralongue portrays people who resist, who are unyielding – minority figures who in spite of everything manage to get through to the public and appropriate a space in the media. His visual strategy ties in with their communication strategies: since the mid-90s, from Chiapas to Mumbai via Cuba, Washington and Geneva, he’s been tracking the rise and structuring of the altermondialist movement, looking to media pomp and ceremony for the filters and protocols that shape the making of his photographs. His experience with what goes on out of shot has set him straight about the scripting of reality that goes into the process of fabricating information. His store of images is not intended to illustrate current events or provide the media with an open archive; it exists, rather, to o er the counter-information Gilles Deleuze was referring to when he de ned art as an act of resistance. Information that resists. A different gearing of the production of images. Serralongue belongs to the self-media: he’s a transceiver functioning independently of the professional information sphere. The self-media artist processes, produces and diffuses information of an alternative, recoded kind, not contingent on the binary dictates of the mass media, their power games and their logic of instant gratification. He works on subjects he is committed to, in a reflexive time frame, in a different relationship to events, in a temporality free of obligatory, self-imposed spectacle. The counter-information provided by his investigations of media functioning combats the fragmentation of an experience he sees as constituting a whole. Like Karl Kraus, the pioneer media critic of the 1930s, he is telling us that there is no objectivity other than artistic objectivity. Going counter to the media’s falsified reality are the artist’s alter-images. Recent years have seen Serralongue’s practice evolve in line with his attention to situations having to do with the human, social and political scenes: the Florange steelworks issue, the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport project, the refugee camps at Calais and the first decade of a new nation, Kosovo. A long-term working relationship based on collaboration with his chosen territories and their inhabitants has given him a real understanding of the human and environmental issues involved. In the wake of «Campfires», his major retrospective at the Jeu de Paume in Paris in 2010, the more recent «The Earth is a Crocodile», at MAMCO in Geneva in 2015, was his chance to bring his areas of investigation together and help us reconsider the way our community of living systems inhabits today’s world; the point being that contemporary history can be recorded using the tools and visual thinking of photography. […]
Calais (2006-08 et 2015 – ongoing)
On 5 November 2002 the refugee camp at Sangatte, in France’s Pas-de-Calais département, was closed by Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of the Interior, with the French and British governments hailing the event as a great victory in the fight against illegal immigration and the crime it was said to be generating. First opened in September 1999 and run by the Red Cross, the centre – in what was originally a depot for the machines used to dig the Channel Tunnel – housed up to 1200 migrants at a time, mainly Afghans, Kosovars, Iraqis and Iranians in search of a passage to England. Neither the closure of the camp or the intensified police repression that followed did anything to stem the ow of migrants: Calais remains the French city nearest to England and its port’s capacity for trucks in transit is constantly being increased. Between 2008 and 2014 numbers in Sangatte remained stable. Local community associations estimated that there was a permanent population of 400–600 people living on vacant lots and in the woods around the city.
Police response remained stable too: there were regular incursions into the different camps, where the shelters were demolished and the migrants arrested, only to be released a few days later. The camps then reformed a little further out, always following the rule of small groupings – mostly according to nationality – scattered around the outskirts or in abandoned buildings. I stopped going to Calais to take photographs, but kept in touch with the situation. In 2015, however, the authorities came up with a fresh strategy aimed at emptying the city of its migrants and controlling them more effectively. Implemented by Bernard Cazeneuve, Minister for the Interior in the government headed by Manuel Valls, this strategy involved forcibly regrouping all migrants from in and around Calais near a day centre opened on 15 April. All the camps were then demolished and the migrants escorted by the police to what local community associations now call the State Shantytown or the State Ghetto.
These changed circumstances prompted me to go back to Calais and re-embark on my series for an indefinite period. My first photographs were taken in April, when the Jules Ferry day centre opened. Since then most of the associations concerned have drawn attention to the dangers of this kind of regrouping, and in particular the violence it gives rise to. As pointed out on the «Passeurs d’Hospitalités» blog, previously «groups formed and dispersed according to rules which, it has to be admitted, we don’t really understand. It was wrong of the authorities to put them all together in the same place, just as it was arrogant of some association members to try to turn the shantytown into a village by imposing a simplistic vision – interpreting things in terms of nationality, for example – that didn’t match the complex social realities.» In September 2015 the associations calculated that between three and four thousand people were being forced to live in the new camp. The shantytown was at saturation point and violence an almost daily a air. The police did not intervene inside the camp. Local residents told mayor Natacha Bouchart about the problems they were having on a daily basis and joined central Calais retailers, who claimed that the migrants were undermining the city’s tourist image, in repeated demonstrations in Calais and Paris; ultimately this forced the government to decide to dismantle the shantytown it had created. Between 24–28 October 2016 the camp was emptied of its occupants as the world’s media – 800 accredited journalists – recorded the event. Once the evacuation had been completed, the camp was razed. Today small groups of migrants are returning from the centres they had been allotted to elsewhere in France; there are currently some 400 of them, surviving solely with help from volunteers, and their number is growing steadily.
-Bruno Serralongue, 2017
Notre Dame-des-Landes (2014 – ongoing)
The campaign against the plan to create an airport on farmland in the municipality of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, some thirty kilometres from Nantes, was first spotlighted by the French media in 2012 and has hardly left the headlines since. In October of that year «Opération César» saw the police enter the ZAD (Zone à Défendre/Zone to be Defended) in order to demolish illegal buildings and remove the occupants, some of whom had been there for over five years. The aim was to clear the site so that work on the airport could begin. This was when France as a whole discovered a project going back forty years, instigated by the national and regional authorities but fiercely opposed from the outset by local residents and farmers. The blitzkrieg envisaged by the authorities turned into a weeks-long guerrilla struggle, with the occupants backed up by supporters coming from all over Europe and the police unable to dislodge them. The freeze on works announced by the French government in late November 2012 was a victory for the protesters, and the occupation has since gone from strength to strength. Some 200 people are now living on the ZAD site in farmhouses, caravans and cabins. With farmers in the area offering help in the form of advice and loans of machinery, the Zadistas are now growing crops and raising livestock. As in the case of the 1970s struggle to save the Larzac plateau in southwestern France from conversion into an army camp, the Zadistas are not simply an opposition group: they are experimenting with a new form of community in which mutual aid and a collective approach have replaced individualism and private property. It could even be said that opposition to the airport has now become almost secondary to the defence by the ZAD residents of their territory and the form of communal living they have developed there. The same could be said for the state: the main issue is no longer so much the airport as the re-establishment of order and the reclamation of a territory on which its hold is steadily weakening.
-Bruno Serralongue, May 2016
Notre Dame-des-Landes (2014 – ongoing)
Naturalists strike back
If the airport planned for Notre-Dame-des-Landes ever goes ahead it will cover 1,426 hectares of miraculously preserved bocage and wetlands and entail the destruction of numerous protected animal and plant species.
The project’s developers are well aware of the site’s ecological interest, having hired the Biotope agency to carry out an inventory. The agency’s final report demonstrated the site’s value in terms of batrachians (frogs and toads) and birdlife, and listed the presence of 74 species protected under French law. The developers’ argument in response was that they would be able to compensate for the enormous loss of biodiversity resulting from the project; environmental protection bodies, on the other hand, contend that there is no possible way of making up for this loss. Given the implicit danger, a group of professional and amateur naturalists decided to join forces as «Naturalistes en Lutte» (Naturalists Strike Back), providing a second expert evaluation in the form of a systematic inventory of the site’s habitats, ora and fauna, and making the results available for legal purposes to the environmental protection bodies concerned. The findings of their three-year investigation (2013–2015] are unchallengeable: over 2,000 species were inventoried, of which 130 (and not 74) are protected, 5 were hitherto unknown in France, and dozens more unknown in the surrounding Loire Atlantique département.
In addition to the statistics confirming the site’s ecological importance, the group’s method deserves attention. The expeditions organised on the second Sunday of every month were open to all comers – to anyone ready to bring their knowledge and skills along and share them. Those attending were there to learn as well as to take part in the struggle against the airport, and it is the collective input of these volunteer naturalists that is currently holding the project in abeyance. This approach made it easy for me to join the group by offering my personal skills; I went our on five expeditions and the photos I took are there for the naturalists to use as they please.
-Bruno Serralongue, March 2017