The Calanques

Land of Science and Source of Inspiration

About the Program

In January 2018, the Calanques National Park, OSU Pythéas Institute (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, IRD) and the Camargo Foundation—together with landscape architect Gilles Clément—invited eight international artists to reflect upon the human/nature relationship within the context of the only urban national park in Europe. During five weeks, eight unique visions were inspired by exchanges with the territory and those that live and work within it: researchers, park officers, and the inhabitants of the area.

Each artist, through the help of local specialists, explored different topics, such as the universe of jellyfish (Shanta Rao); our relationship to plants and the knowledge that we have of them (Lisa Hirmer); underwater landscapes and how these can be revealed (Nicolas Floc’h); the multiple borders of the National Park (urban, maritime, roads and pathways…) (Franck Gérard); the way in which the cracks and marks within the rocks form a language (Katie Holten); how traces of our everyday existence can become an archaeology (João Modé); the use of scientific equipment to study the exchanges between a tree and its environment (Julien Clauss); receiving the public and how this can influence the integration of nature into an urban setting, and the possibilities of architectural creativity with creating a space that will evolve through multiple uses and biodiversity protection (Ryo Abe).

Following on from these first ideas, some have been continued such as with Ryo Abe and his project Approaches, Nicolas Floc'h with Invisible, and Franck Gérard with Aux Frontières.

  • The Background +

    By Gilles Clément

    The word « nature » came into being during the Ancient Greek period, to remove non-human beings and inert elements from a universe of superstition and polytheistic belief. This separation gave rise to natural science. Humanity thus found itself separated from a world it was previously immersed in, abandoning an exclusive situation in which the human and the natural were loosely, but nevertheless absolutely linked.

    This superiority conscience bloomed in the Enlightenment period, and gathered strength in the technologic advances of industrialized society, reaching a peak at the end of the Second World War. It expressed itself successfully, materially, and brutally. The agricultural world, for example, went, in only a few decades, from heroic peasantry to profitable industrialization of the land. It became a matter of mastering nature, not working with it. The Human-Nature link became no more than a vague subject of discussion for intellectuals running low on thesis projects…  

    At the beginning of the 20th century, the advent of ecology created a delayed shock which was only seriously analyzed some fifty years after its announcement by Haeckel. Everything had to be rethought. Humanity was not something outside of nature, but part of it, existing in the same finite space, just another living element of this world (Gaia «Mother Earth» as Lovelock would later term it). If we consider Humanity and Nature as one, the Human-Nature link has no more reason to exist because there is no more distance between one and the other. But humans will not resign themselves to such a status. They struggle to accept the idea of being part of something they spent centuries trying to let go. Nature doesn’t indulge in soul-searching. The climate is changing, lands are dying, diversity is collapsing, and it is humans who are suffering. They discover their responsibility, call this the Anthropocene period and stop in their tracks because they don’t know what to do next. This is where we find ourselves today.

    What is the way forward?  What research should we be doing? Should we give up the idea of controlling and look instead at what surrounds us as an ensemble, clothes us, allows us to live, makes claims on us, and sometimes wounds us? Can we talk to the trees as we talk to humans? What would be the language of the future if abandoning control (or the illusion of control) led us to dialogue and not war with the elements that surround us and which, strangely, we call the «environment»? (It’s a poor choice of word because it keeps us at a distance from something we want to get closer to).

  • The Park and its Partners +

    For the past few years, the Camargo Foundation, the Calanques National Park, and the Pythéas Research Institute have been bringing together artists and scholars to work on some of the questions raised by Gilles Clément. The three partners have decided to come together to share their experience.

    The Camargo Foundation is a residential center for artists, scholars, and thinkers. By the seaside of Cassis on the edge of the Calanques National Park, the Foundation organizes several residency programs with the purpose of providing time and space to research, experiment, and create. The Pythéas Research Institute is part of Aix-Marseille University. It supports researchers in the observational sciences including oceanology, geosciences, environmental sciences, and astrophysics.

    The Calanques National Park is the only European periurban park located in a large metropolitan area. It therefore has to face many issues around the protection of biodiversity and landscape, the evolution of the environment, tourism, past and present industrialization, urban pressure, migration, and globalization. 

  • The Areas of Inquiry +

    Among the large number of arenas that could be the subject of thoughts, research, and projects, the following three are especially evident in the Calanques.

    The first one is natural. The geological composition of the Park’s territory provides a unique environment in the Calanques. For example, the presence of islands, cliffs, and caves permits one quarter of known vegetable species from France to be present, here, on a few square meters.

    The second is cultural. Uses of the park space have changed over time. For centuries, inhabitants of the territory have been maintaining specific relations with the site, its uses evolving as societies have changed. Once used primarily for subsistence, the Park’s uses are now strongly linked to leisure. Ever closer urban space is threatening the exceptional nature protected within the Calanques National Park. At the same time, the protection of some species is resulting in a shift in uses of the environment, and traditional actors and inhabitants used to a liberty of use in these spaces are sometimes feeling excluded.

    The third one is ecological. There are numerous concerns that the Park is now a territory of relegation and «filtering» the town’s pollution. The marine world is facing urban and industrial waste, such as red sludge, that controversial object and subject of different polemics.

  • The Activities +

    Selected artists mainly focused on the research/work identified in the application. To do so, artists engaged in dialogue with researchers of the Pythéas Research Institute (Aix-Marseille University, CNRS, IRD), with officers of the Park, and with fellow Residents, with the help and direction of Gilles Clément.

    In addition, selected artists participated in several activities to discover the Park’s resources and share experiences, in particular:

    • One meeting with the researchers of the Pythéas Research Institute and the officers of the Park who are participating in the Program;
    • One workshop with children from a local school;
    • One or two meetings around questions raised during the development of the work with professionals or students;
    • One public presentation at the end of the residency;
    • An exhibition of sketches at the FRAC PACA;
    • The publication of a booklet that recounts the experience of the Residency.

The Program's Residents

Katie Holten, Artist, Ireland
Lisa Hirmer, Artist, Canada
Franck Gérard, Photographer, France
Ryo Abe, Architect, Japan
João Mode, Artist, Brazil
Nicolas Floc'h, Artist, France
Julien Clauss, Sound Artist, France
Shanta Rao, Artist, France

They were in residence at the Camargo Foundation from January 10 to February 14, 2018 in partnership with the Calanques National Park and Pythéas Institute.


Overview of the Exhibition at the FRAC PACA