Spotlight on the end of the French presidency of the Council of the European Union

Article published on Jan. 10, 2009
Article published on Jan. 10, 2009

In July, the French presidency began with a popular event : fireworks celebration on a blue-sparkling Eiffel Tower. As this active presidency draws to a close, Paris invites people to an exhibition in the Nave of The Grand Palais  when night falls in December. This festival is dedicated to contemporary artistic creation – photography, film, video or digital media… . If we can say the presidency was undoubtedly  efficient on a diplomatic point of view, did the French Cultural Exception leave a mark during these six months?

‘Images in the night…’

Just in the middle of attractive ad effervescent Christmas markets, The Grand Palais invites pepole to take part freely to a night kaleidoscope from 17pm to 1am until December the 31st, the last day of the French presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Before entering the tropical greenhouse, the visitor can admire the Manifesto specially designed for this occasion by Charles Sandison. The artist projects the words of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of The European Union against the façade. Culture as a political matter?

Then, the core of the kaleidoscope. In the huge tropical greenhouse, the visitors stroll from photos to videos, from sounds to screens in a vast forest of images. It can seem puzzling because there is no real order. You can see image on the ground, on the walls, everywhere and your attention is systematically attracted from one point to another… Direction can be puzzling, meaning can be as well. For example, the Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda, with its Data.tron, shows intoxicating series of numbers corresponding to the exalt calculations required for each pixel. With digital creation, characters on the walls interact with visitors when they move or make faces for example, etc.

The XXIst century will definitely be digital

Other type of productions, films. For example, Fabien Giraud, in The Straight Edge, shows a collective trance in tribute to a Califorian tribe of the Seventies. In this digital century, the exhibition puzzles, fascinates. Some visitors also felt displeased or unconcerned  by this universe, very far from the traditional exhibitions presented by the museum. 

Although those new forms of art can puzzle, the issues are still universal: body and machine, time, society and its fears or crises, nature and technology…We could almost be in a sort of cabinet de curiosités - a room with a collection of rarities or strange objects - very popular in the old days in Europe and we can also compare this festival to what the original vocation of the place in 1900, the World’s Fair was.

‘Forget-me-not’, keyword of the French presidency?

Among the different priorities of these six months:  Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), immigration policy, Sustainable Development, European defence…  A successful presidency in the sense that Europe succeeded in speaking with one voice.  Proud of this new role for him, French president, Nicolas Sarkozy doesn’t want to quite the leadership he has acquired on the global scale yet.

Laurent Grasso, Eclipse

What about the French “cultural exception” in its presidency ?

Culture wasn’t one of the main priorities. Yet, the so-named country of « cultural exception » coulnd’t avoid the cultural issue. 

Indeed, France organized a rich european cultural season. Not only French but also european culture were celebrated. This can explain why the “Images in the night” event highlighted artists from all horizons, working in the Studio National des Arts Contemporains in Tourcoing. Its artistic director, Alain Fleischer, rejoiced that « due to the popular attraction of The Grand Palais and the free entrance, these creations will be accessible not only by some happy few but  the widest possible audience.” 

France thus invited its 26 EU partners to showcase the best of their heritage and creative talent: 27 books, 27 films, 27 shows, 27 concerts, 27 exhibitions and 27 history lessons etc. Among all these projects, let’s quote  the Comédie Française Tour in 10 countries, the French-Italian cinematographic tandem: “Rome-Paris in three minutes” , etc. Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, in charge of the cultural issue of the French presidency of the Council of the EU underlines  the project aimed at « uniting the Europeans, not to separate them from the rest of the world »  and at focusing the diversity of the creation in the EU. 

If some visitors were puzzled by the visionnary dimension of the event, they could always admire the stars that, like in the European flag, were sparkling in  the night.  A symbol easily understandable by all.

Anne-Laure Aucher