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<nettime> The Theatre of History
heiko hansen on Wed, 5 May 2004 01:17:49 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> The Theatre of History

The Theatre of History

Paris is planning a centre for electronic art and contemporary music, the
Gaîté Lyrique, which is scheduled to open its doors in 2006. The
comparison with other centres for digital art will be unavoidable: the
Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnology in Karlsruhe, Eyebeam in New York
or Ars Electronica in Linz amongst others. Aiming high Christophe Girard,
cultural policy advisor to the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, already
dreams about the Gaîté being "the head of the European media art network".

So, we know the future, of more interest is the past. Everything started
in 1759 in a fairground hut in Saint-Germain - a theatre for dancers and
"bungy jumpers". In the mid-nineteenth century, the theatre moved to
Boulevard du Temple, which was known as the Boulevard of Crime. This
street of spectacles, with ten thousands of people promenading at night,
was torn down by Haussmann in 1862; and the Gaîté was rebuilt in nearly
identical form in its current location by Alphonse Cusin and Jacques
Hittorff [img 01]. The latter provided Paris with one of its most defining
structures, the Gare du Nord. In the 19th century the Gaîté was home to
the famous operas of Offenbach and in the beginning of the 20th century to
ballets of Serge Diaghilev. The theatre faced troubled times again in the
60's, when it was left without artistic direction and the necessary
renovation work was on hold. A high point was the staging of Le Regard du
Sourd by Robert Wilson in 1971.

In 1987, with the support of the Ville de Paris, the interior architecture
of the Gaîté is demolished leaving two historical 19th century rooms. The
Planète Magique, a gigantic adventure park for children, is erected
following the plans of Jean Chalopin, the inventor of comic characters
like Inspector Gadget and Mystérieuses Cités d'Or. This vast utopian world
included a futuristic rollercoaster [img 03], time machines in form of
rotating elevators, bars in which robots should serve [img 05], full scale
stage settings from the space comics of Chalopin [img 02/04], a big pink
interactive Barbie piano flute, to name a few. Planète Magique was open to
the public for 14 days. Today, the precise reason for its closure remains
unclear, although the project was plagued by technical and financial

This amusement park was conserved in a snow-white sleep, a Disneyland
after dark, until last year when it was woken up by Anne Roquigny and
Pierre Bongiovanni (Centre International de Création Vidéo CICV) who where
appointed by the City of Paris to mount a programme of digital art events
within the remains of the Planète Magique. Roquigny and Bongiovanni
created an electric series of debates, festivals, temporary exhibitions
and improvised happenings. Their programme took place within a bizarre mix
of mid-19th century style (in itself an eclectic mix of the classical and
the baroque) and a dusty untouched 80's avant-garde theme park.

It has to go, all of it. Rollercoster, Barbie flute and the rest, all
apart from the two historical 19th century (eclectic) Haussmannian rooms.
Design, music and fashion have long time ago welcomed the 80’s style back
into the family circle of creative respectability. Does architecture still
struggle with it’s recent history? Or, are some people happy to see the
last traces of this gigantic flop to be cleaned away for ever? The mayor
of Paris at this time was Jacques Chirac current president of the

Manuelle Gautrand, who won the architectural competition to turn the Gaîté
into the French centre for digital art cannot be blamed for taking out
this truly authentic piece of 80's architectural hedonism. Her concept is
exciting and distances itself from her competitors; designed as a system
that can be oriented to the needs of artistic production whilst at the
same time integrating the visiting public. Next to the more traditional
performance spaces, Gautrand has proposed a system of modular blocks, the
Éclaireuses [img 06], which can be shifted around the building,
horizontally as well as vertically, using a lifts. These blocks have
different functions ranging from presentation rooms, spaces for residence
artists or outdoor structures to mediate between the inside and the
outside of the building. Underlying these ideas was Gautrand's objective
to "create a 'permissive' place that includes whatever is random and
unexpected, a place that defines itself without predefining everything".

At the same time the question remains: How can architecture support media
art? In the initial phase for the architecture of the ZKM, the proposal of
Rem Koolhaas had to be abandoned (because of budget constraints) and the
project was moved to the site of an old munitions factory. Perhaps
historical references help in creating the new, as Manuelle Gautrand puts
it: "Contemporary art has an element of recycling". The ephemeral
activities within the Gaîté over 2003-4 were set out clearly: "Retrouver
la mémoire du lieu": to restore the memory of a place. Pierre Bongiovanni
and his team have collected hundreds of interviews with visitors,
historians and engineers, who discussed their memories of the Gaîté and
the Planète Magique. They have been assembled into a beautiful, ghostly
online interface. In some ways the Gaîté might already reboot itself from
its own history. Manuelle Gautrand says that it will be dedicated to
dance, theatre and media art. The disciplines are set, technology is not
been emancipated from the performing and visual arts: Technology is

So how will the competitors fair? In New York 2008, will all the new
inventions of media artists and designers settle into the brand new
Eybeam? Manuelle Gautrand praises the two-layered architecture of
Diller+Scofidio and she is less enamoured by the un-contemplative way she
experienced the Ars Electronica setup in Linz. Is all this just part of a
larger architectural discourse, in which a suspicion is arising against
what we might call the exterior shell? Empty shells everywhere: ingenious
algorithmic exterior constructions, but with no contextual relation to
their interior activity. Perhaps the most notorious icon is London's
Millennium Dome, the giant dome structure, which today remains empty
without function. It gives hope when Gautrand talks about contextualising
architecture to take in and invent new uses and therefore new content.

In the process of restoring the Gaîté, it has been discovered, that the
eclectic mid 19th century surfaces are not authentic. Older layers of
wall-painting and ceiling frescos have been found and will be restored
[img 07], which will take time and money. If there will be no further
complications, the Gaîté Lyrique will open it's 10000sqm surface to the
public in 2006. Estimated budget: 50 Million Euros, roughly the amount
"Planète Magique" cost in 1987.

text by Heiko Hansen for Cluster No.3: http://www.progettocluster.com

images under: http://hehe.org.free.fr/text/

This article has been written after interviewing Anne Roquigny, Manuelle
Gautrand and Mathieu Maguerin.

Anne Roquigny and Pierre Bongiovanni www.cicv.fr /

Manuelle Gautrand www.manuelle-gautrand.com

Mathieu Maguerin www.mainsdoeuvres.org

some History




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