Emma Double investigates the unusually named Friche Belle de Mai, one of Marseille’s most modern and exciting contemporary arts complexes, which currently has a jam-packed schedule as part of Marseille-Provence 2013 EU Capital of Culture. This includes its current major exhibition, Ici, Ailleurs (Here, Elsewhere,) a major contemporary art exhibition exploring modern artistic and Mediterranean identity.

La Friche Belle de Mai2‘Friche means a wasteland’ my Marseillais friend tells me ‘Maybe it was this way before Marseille developed over it?’ La Friche Belle de Mai stands away from the touristic charms of Marseille’s famous Vieux Port– it is found a bus ride away in the more cosmopolitan North side of the city, which gives it a down-to-earth feel. However, for an arts complex it is also unusually large and varied, hosting exhibition spaces, a Tour-Panorama balcony, a new bookshop, theatres, a restaurant, a skatepark, a crèche, studios for frequent artistic residencies and space left empty for creativity, with plenty more to come.

Like many contemporary art venues, this ex-industrial space was deliberately turned into a living breathing cultural and artistic space from the 1990s. The main building of slightly reminded me of the old Victorian warehouses peppered along the Thames (it used to be a major French tobacco factory until the 1960s), but the wall of graffiti, blue modernist buildings and contemporary theatre next to it pointed to the creativity within.

…It explores the abstract concepts of contemporary identity…

Ici, Ailleurs is its vast four-floor exhibition, comprising twenty-nine commissioned project works by thirty-nine contemporary Mediterranean artists. It explores the abstract concepts of contemporary identity, with four room themes.

It includes challenging works by some big names in contemporary art. Mona Hartoum’s installation Cellules, features glassy red blobs bulging uncomfortably inside iron cages, while Annette Messager’s installation La Mer échevelée undulates in the wind- quite literally a sea of hair.

…simple, pretty, colourful drawings…

La Friche Belle de Mai1The exhibition also keeps itself accessible to everyday visitors. Enlightening works such as Joana Hadjithomas’ and Khalil Joreige’s multimedia installation A Carpet: The Lebanese Rocket Society: Elements for a Monument 2012 reference abstract and very human ideas, while Etel Adnan’s works provide an easy route into the exhibition through her simple, pretty, colourful drawings, such as Mots (her works comprise Arabic script, but this was unfortunately not translated).

The recognisable presence of Marseille in the photographs of Youssef Nabil, such as his colourful, traditionally hand-coloured self-portrait Ile D’ If, and in Mournir Fatmi’s  slightly bizarre, ethereal video Voyages de Claude Lévi-Strauss will have wide-ranging appeal to tourists and locals alike.  

…local youngsters have given youthful interpretations…

It’s also exciting to see that La Friche have pioneered a youth engagement scheme called Jeunes Médiateurs, where thirty-five local youngsters have given youthful interpretations of the Ici, Ailleurs, producing audio commentaries and an engaging little pamphlet full of their thoughts on key works.

The multifaceted appeal of Ici, Ailleurs shows that La Friche looks to inspire both the varied local community and the tourists who will be flocking to Marseille this year as part of the Capital of Culture celebrations. Wasteland this certainly is not.

La Friche has a vast schedule of events for 2013, including further exhibitions, theatre, cabaret and musical performances, studio days and performance art. For further information, see here.

For more on the Marseille-Provence 2013 EU Capital of Culture, see here.

About The Author

Art historian, arts writer, presenter and illustrator. Communications officer for the Corps et Âme Gallery, Nîmes, France. @EmmaNDouble. For arts film reports, see here: http://www.youtube.com/user/emmandouble

2 Responses

  1. The Author

    Many thanks, I’m really glad you both enjoy the blog. Just to clarify, are you referring to Mouth London Magazine, or my blog, World_Spinning_Me? If the latter, do send me an example of your writing to the email address above. All the Best.

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