Dunkerque on the shoulders of giants

In the Hauts-de-France region, based in Dunkirk, “Gigantisme – Art&Industrie” presents its outsized triennial art festival edition.

On May 4, “Gigantisme – Art&Industrie” introduced the creation of a new art and design collective triennial in Europe: sculptures, paintings, films and performances in situ embodied encounters and amalgamations between artists and engineers, designers and architects. Covering over 4,000 square meters, and presenting over 200 works from public and
private collections, galleries, estates and artist’s studios, this first opus comprises five chapters. The huge, extensive exhibition encompasses five separate thematic sections: Mental Landscapes; À l’américaine; Space is a House; Parallel Screens and High Points, Low Points.

Occupying a variety of exhibition spaces artistic exploration investing the Dunkirk landscape, straddling living heritage and contemporary creation, to reconsider the history of European modernity, from 1947 to the present day. This first, pivotal edition of this new triennial is structured around a research project exploring a new reading of art history from 1947 to 1989, spotlighting French creation that has up until now been largely isolated and side-lined by a decidedly US-centric approach to this period. “Gigantisme – Art&Industrie” is trying to reposition French creation at the centre of these global tremors, emphasizing the myriad connections between French and foreign art scenes, between French creators and the period’s artistic and economic transformations.

Whole of the city is involved and extensively tripartite. Gigantisme – Art&Industrie is subdivided in three exhibition areas, starting from three emblematic sites of the Dunkirk Contemporary Art Hub: the Halle AP2 industrial wasteland, the FRAC Grand Large — Hauts-de-France regional collection of contemporary art and the LAAC contemporary art museum, with events and activities. Moreover, it’s possible to visit the nearby public spaces, as: the parvis, in front of the footbridge, in and around the LAAC sculpture garden, along the outlet canal and the dike, the Malo-les-Bains beach, and extending all the way to the marinas and breakwaters. And, last but not least, in resonance, parallel spaces both in town and around the region, including Halle aux Sucres Learning Centre, Dunkirk Port Museum, Plate-Forme in Dunkirk and WAOO in Lille.

The Mental Landscapes section occupies several sites of the Dunkirk Contemporary Art Hub, with artworks well suited to their chosen exhibition spaces and the area’s industrial, port and seaside landscapes that the public is invited to re-discover. In this chapter, the artists’ work with new materials, experiment with new techniques and expertise, escaping the established confines of painting and sculpture. They free themselves of traditional frameworks and settings by collaborating with engineers and companies. They produced works in series, create large or even gigantic works, and occasionally directly invest the landscape. Halle AP2 provides an exceptional setting for presenting outsized creations.

By their size, weight, materials or occupation of space, the works by Angela Bulloch, Carlos Bunga, Anita Molinero, Alexandre Perigot, Delphine Reist, Tatiana Trouvé and Bernar Venet have been produced for the occasion or reinstalled in situ, revealing both the structure and its uses. In resonance with the immediate surroundings, the guest artists’ installations dialogue with the architecture of this veritable industrial cathedral, resurrected to host art and highlighted by its twin FRAC edifice designed by the architects Lacaton & Vassal.

Tatiana Trouvé, Desire Lines, 2015, Paysage mental, Halle AP2, Dunkerque, France  © Courtesy : Gagosian Gallery, König Gallerys. Foto Frac Grand Large — Hauts-de-France
Tatiana Trouvé, Desire Lines, 2015, Paysage mental, Halle AP2, Dunkerque, France © Courtesy : Gagosian Gallery, König Gallerys. Photo Frac Grand Large — Hauts-de-France

The FRAC’s 5th-floor, in connection to industry, presents works evoking seriality, dispersion and dissemination, with an emphasis on their own engineering, works by Robert Breer, Charlotte Posenenske and Takis. At LAAC’s former shipyards site, breakwaters, sea canal and marinas encompass outdoor exhibitions, comprising less tangible works, specifically based upon orality (Céline Ahond, Dector & Dupuy, Mark Geffriaud, Dominique Gilliot, Ludovic Linard and Flora Moscovici), playing upon forms of storytelling, performance and transmission. The public is invited to pass through and observe each landscape, to feel, test and reconsider it, whether it be an industrial, naval or beach setting.

The sculptural ensemble by Tatiana Trouvé presents racks of spooled cords, which can be seen as so many Ariadne's threads to be physically and mentally unwound during one’s strolls about Dunkirk’s labyrinthine urban and port areas – and then wound back up like so many spools of stored memory.

Steve Abraham et Nicolas Messager, Ce qu’il reste, des champs de ruine naitront des champs de coquelicots , 2019, Jardin du LAAC, Dunquerke, © Steve Abraham
Steve Abraham and Nicolas Messager, Ce qu’il reste, des champs de ruine naitront des champs de coquelicots , 2019, Jardin du LAAC, Dunquerke, © Steve Abraham

The section titled À l’américaine is inspired by a one-of-a-kind and very human story, when favouring the production of new works, the collector Delaine brought to Dunkerque artists who imagined projects whose dimensions defied comprehension. To pay tribute to this living heritage (comprising the LAAC collection and the oral stories and experiences surrounding the museum), Gérard Deschamps, François Morellet, Christo, but also Piotr Kowalski and Arman, among the others, evoke the spirit of a frantic race for universal progress, paying attention on the risk of standardized desires and exchanges, the fear of roboticized emotions and movements. The third section Space is a House occupies three floors of the FRAC. Through the intimate, private prism of the home, the exhibition testifies to the great upheavals of the post-war era, during which the decorative and comfortable household destined for the privileged few became a spearhead of European modernity.

Here ornaments, repeated motifs, friezes and large formats all influence a long line of European and American artists, from the 1950s onwards: Daniel Buren, Robert Malaval, Simon Hantaï, Yves Klein, Arman, Claude Viallat, Louis Cane, Patrick Saytour, Bernard Pagès, Shirley Jaffe, Pierrette Bloch, Carla Accardi, Lili Dujourie, etc.

Parallel Screens, instead, introduces a semi-permanent cinema at the LAAC, with a programme drawn up by Pascale Cassagnau, critic and curator, in collaboration with the artistic directors. Discovering and appreciating the Dunkirk’s port (covering over 17 km2 or 7,000 hectares and boasts nearly 50.4 million tons of merchandise, transported yearly) is surely essential to grasping the exhibition’s other chapters. To this end, titled High Points, Low Points, Gigantisme – Art&Industrie set itineraries touching upon three symbolic aspects of the Dunkirk area (namely, its land, sea and sky) have been created, to allow visitors to connect spaces, observe ensembles, discover scales and roam the various zones. From the roof of the Halle aux Sucres to the FRAC belvedere, this itinerary approaches industry from afar, producing the image of a fascinating, monstrous power that is yet mastered by perspective. This perspective will be enhanced by a floating workshop, involving artists such as: Céline Ahond, Dector & Dupuy, Mark Geffriaud, Dominique Gilliot, Ludovic Linard and Flora Moscovici.

Gigantisme – Art&Industrie
Opening dates:
From May 4, 2019 to 5 January 2020
Directed by:
Keren Detton, Géraldine Gourbe, Grégory Lang e Sophie Warlop
Main venue:
LAAC Lieu d'Art et Action Contemporaine
302 av. des Bordées 59140 Dunkerque
Second venue:
Frac Grand Large — Hauts-de-France
503 avenue des Bancs de Flandres, 59140 Dunkerque

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