Poster by We Are The Painters (Nicolas Beaumelle & Aurélien Porte)
Seaside, chlorine and ethanol
The French Riviera is full of the picturesque: palm trees, seaside with its insolent colorimetry, aniseed drinks. Golden women, rosy women, beige and navy men. Bikinis barely have time to be worn before they are stripped off in the cheap Monoi’s heavy atmosphere. Let’s be honest, the French Riviera whets aquatic desires. The charming city of Nice houses, at the top of the steep avenue Marcel Pagnol, [sic] and the Villa Arson* where we met. September 2012: we are students in fifth and fourth year.
By its aspect, a bit ‘closed door’, the Villa Arson gave birth to a project that focused our views and daily concerns. Let’s explain: everybody needs freshness and maintenance. Everyday Rafaela went to the swimming pool, usually to cure a raging hangover. Georgia’s life was physically less sporty: she spent her time at the library, immersed in obsessive research about the life of Annette Kellerman, golden girl activist and feminist who invented the female swimsuit and synchronized swimming in the 1900s.
October 2012 smelled strongly of chlorine and rosé. It is in that context that the Sculpture Synchronisée project was born.
The idea: a happening designed as an aquatic competition of sculptures, moved in the water by synchronized swimmers; a non-fortuitous meeting between the sculpture and the movement in the water.
We knew about some legends and mythical experiences of the Villa Arson as the site for the swimming pool that Présence Panchounette had planned to build in the garden of the Villa. We had seen the film and as a group experience, it was completely sassy – one of its key scenes takes place in a swimming pool. Liam Gilick said about Atelier Paradise that they have ‘changed the order of representation, while introducing game elements, irresponsibility and fun. All this, however, was designed in a critical structure that was apparent rather than evasive, indicating the potential of a new model of exposure.”
After creating the rules of the game, it is arbitrarily decided to invite a number of twenty participants, half students, and half young artists. The call for proposals is launched. We turn into specialists of swimming pools and synchronized swimming. Rafaela discovers at the Villa Arson a handful of girls with a synchronized swimming past and at their head, Nieves Salzmann, Professor of Lithography, who teaches us the history and rules of the competitions and their evolution.
Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux* helps us to provide a historical repertoire of aquatic happenings, including the legendary Washes for Swimming Pool by Claes Oldenburg, presented in New York in 1965, in the pool of the Al Roon’s Health Club. The artist considers the happening as a canvas, a monumental live watercolor. The canvas is enriched by the actions produced by the swimmers and the performance’s residues accumulated in the water.
We get in touch with the sports department of the city. OK.
We invite musicians to compose the soundtrack for the ballet. OK.*
Ready, but we miss the main thing.
Chantal Moschetti replies to our email; she is interested in our project. She agrees to meet with us. We must come to her home, in a city with a brand-clothing name.
Chantal is the coach of the Olympic Nice Natation.
Chantal is a former swimmer and is very busy in life. She makes it clear that she is an important woman in the field.
At our first meeting, we spend a morning in her office. She explains how the synchronised clubs work and how she works with the girls. She tells us that for Sculpture Synchronisée, she will bring a lot of girls; she will bring some from Monaco and beyond, if necessary. She talks about her champion, about swimsuits that are very beautiful but very expensive, and that sometimes over the summer, she sews suits herself with the help of her mother and friends. Chantal shows us her stock of sequins and glitters, there are many varieties: flat, beaded, with flower shapes; she says that they are rare and that they come from a very special supplier.
Chantal will be our acolyte for the preparation of the happening until January 2014.
Chantal is a film. We let her take a look at everything. As a coach, she has a severe efficiency, which allows her to both make miracles and sometimes intimidate artists on the edges of the swimming pool.
Inside the Azur Cube
Chantal invites us to the gala season of the Olympic Nice Natation at the swimming pool Jean Médecin. We go there with some of the artists. The chlorine vapours mixed with the body heat of the show are unbearable. At the intermission, we rush outside to get some fresh air. Synchronized dance and dives succeed. And then, it is the final ballet, the highlight of the show, the Spoonbridge Cherry on the pool. The team is agitating and dancing around the pool to some quite bad pop music, a series of techno tubes from the 1990s and some hits by Beyonce. Everyone jumps in the water; clap end with an ola around the blue rectangle.
The gala will be one of our sources of inspiration for the development of the happening. We steal almost all of them: from the printed programmes, the final ballet to a weird musical medley, to the intermission, to the swimming pool snack where you can take in the fresh air and enjoy a glass of rosé and some pissaladière squares.
The production of the sculptures began in May 2013. It took a long, long time.
The Nice Council provided us with a detailed specification of the allowed materials in the swimming pool. We do not put everything in the public swimming pool. Moreover, we do not put much in at all. Some mishaps require us to be creative and to train ‘dry’, which means on the ground and preferably around the pool. The result is rather absurd. In the end, the happening takes place on Sunday afternoon on the 12th January 2014. The jury prepared his notes; the bleachers were full.
Student at the Villa Arson, Baptiste Masson, defines himself as an ‘artist-craftsman purist.’ His project Rhabillez vos sirènes (Get dressed your sirens) is to make a life belt net-dress decorated with corks: he wants to make himself all the elements from the raw materials. The life belt is moulded in silicone and the corks are made from the clandestine capping of some trees in the arrière pays niçois; a technique learned through Internet tutorials.
Lucie Hénault offers the unique ornamental work: some swim caps worn by swimmers during the two hours of presentation. This is the series, Bonnets de Bain, Les Coloquintes de ta Grand-Mère (Swim caps, the gourds of your grandmother), something between reptile and Versaille hairdo.
Mister Universe, the work by Laurie Charles, a foam black menhir with an embedded window, containing a photograph of the shooting of a film about a community of esoteric bodybuilders, was universally taken as a turd. It never stopped absorbing water and began reaching the weight of Obelix’s stones, forcing us to dock the thing rather than extract it from the pool.
Estrid Lutz & Emile Mold’s Space Junk was an actual shit: a faecal-like structure which “danced” with the other radio-controlled sculptures, like a rump on jet-ski, a petroleum stain and a submarine toilet brush. The motors for these radios arrive from China a few days before the happening; they are assembled around the pool the day before the show.
Sandra Lorenzi produces Swimming Tool, somewhere between a roundabout and a carousel. It is named winner of the competition.
Jeanne Roche makes the sculpture Autour des Pull Boys (Around the Pull Boys) at a workshop specializing in foams. The work represents the industrial cutting pullboys used in aqua-aerobics.
Another interpretation of kickboards is proposed by Giuliana Zefferi with Les os d’Horus (Bones of Horus). They evoke the works by Hans Harp.
Meanwhile, Gabriel Méo is searching for inflatable crocodiles in winter for his work J’accoste les Paillettes. We find some in the bazaar shop in the rue Bonaparte, which sells artificial Christmas trees in summer, and therefore, floating crocodiles in the winter. Gabriel Méo develops a narrative of teenage naiads becoming infatuated with reptiles inspired by Martin Barré. Girls are then decapitating the crocodiles by using dive knives attached to their shapely legs. (All of that on the pop-spliff music by 16/9). It smells of Frenchie California.
Viva la French Riviera!
We will conclude with something that closed the aquatic adventure.
After the post-happening cocktail at the swimming pool snack-bar, by a mutual unspoken agreement, all the players of Sculpture Synchronisée gathered around the unattended pool for an ultimate performance. We will not tell you which one.
Review originally written for Code Magazine 2.0 #9 and translated for Felt Acts
- Villa Arson: National school of Fine Art and National Art Centre, Nice, France.
- Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux: artist and tutor at the Villa Arson, he created, with Patrice Blouin (writer and tutor) the workshop Des Corps Compétents of which Sculpture Synchronisée is part of.
- Bétonneuse-chloreuse, music compilation for swimming pool, produced for the happening Sculpture Synchronisée – https://soundcloud.com/betonneuse-chloreuse
- Spoonbridge and Cherry, sculpture by Claes Oldenburg, 1985–1988, Minneapolis, US
Poster by We Are The Painters (Nicolas Beaumelle & Aurélien Porte)
Photos: Sidney Guillemin
Other participant artists: Lucilde Diacono – Timothée Dufresne – Camille Dumond – Raphael Emine & Omar Rodriguez – France Gayraud – Amandine Guruceaga – Mathilde Lehmann – Grégoire Motte – Nelly Toussaint – Raphaelle Serre – Quentin Spohn – Agathe Wiesner & Arnaud Biais
For more information about the project: http://sculpture-synchronisee.villa-arson.org
Rafaela Lopez (b. 1988) lives and works in London and Paris. Rafaela Lopez studied both at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Paris (ENSAD) and at the Villa Arson (Nice). She is currently studying at the Sculpture Department of the Royal College of Art (London). Her work has been shown at Flat Time House, Le Centquatre, Salon de Montrouge, Centre National d’Art Contemporain de la Villa Arson, Paul Smith, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and in 2012, she initiated the cycle of exhibitions Eté Indien in Paris.
Georgia René-Worms (b. 1988) lives and works in Paris. René-Worms’s practice is varied, ranging from object making to curating exhibitions and writing. René-Worms explores singular characters, specifically women who had major roles but who escaped recognition or history. The artist takes on a feminist but non-activist attitude. In her various works and collaborations she develops the gaze of a critical investigator