Since 1999, the orientations and actions of the Frac Alsace have been determined by a multi-year artistic and cultural management project. This is framed by a partnership agreement with the Région Grand Est and the Ministère de la Culture / DRAC Grand Est.
Natures (since 2018)
Since 2018, FRAC Alsace director Felizitas Diering’s artistic project has been developing the “Natures” theme.
“At the beginning of the 21st century, artists cultivate living beings(1), artificial stones(2), they conduct aesthetic experiments in scientific research stations(3), create lightning and clouds in virtual space, or paint the forest(4).
With climate change, the Anthropocene and virtual nature, the theme of nature is very much in the air, and the forms of artistic expression are almost infinite. In considering the theme of nature and art, it is interesting not to stop at the highly topical subject of “nature in art”, but to consider the “nature of art” and ask the question: What natures do works of art have?
Are they recalcitrant wild plants, undemanding alpine flowers, mimosas, useful lichens, resilient succulents, pretentious and noble plants with finished forms, or unpredictable varieties of invasives?
Some of the works want to be seen, to make their presence felt; others are just waking up, after hibernating; some have yet to mature; others are at rest.
Like a garden, a collection of works of art requires care and attention. It is a fragile ecosystem, a place to be protected, created for a specific purpose. But it is also a place in which the new finds its place, where well-known works are brought together, recent works are added, or older ones are rediscovered and explored.
The theme of “Natures”, as a generic term encompassing different concepts and ideas of nature (lat. natura: to come into the world, to be born), is intended to be the starting point for the artistic project, and to serve the preservation and expansion of the FRAC Alsace collection.
The Natures artistic project is linked to some of the main themes of the FRAC collection, such as landscape, and to past projects such as Espace et identité and Instants paysagers: approches artistiques contemporaines des territoires. It aims to broaden these through a biophilic approach, considering the artwork and art collection as a living, systemic object. In addition, the starting point is the place, the Alsatian territory, with its cultural and natural heritage, its agriculture and vineyards, but also the architecture of the FRAC as a showcase that is also reminiscent of a greenhouse, especially in summer.
The representation of nature has always played a role in history, from prehistoric cave drawings of wild animals, which probably had a cult function, to the symbolic charge of plants in Christian medieval painting (lilies, carnations), to the English garden in Romantic landscape painting, in which the human has always remained the reference dimension. Many contemporary artists work with living materials. Representatives of land art transformed geographical space into a work of art, and the co-founder of Arte Povera, Jannis Kounellis, exhibited live horses in a gallery in 1969. Joseph Beuys brought an anthroposophical dimension to art: he communicated with animals and also established social interaction through art.
Today, the theme of nature is used by artists to address political issues. Invasive species and neophytes, such as the Himalayan balsam, symbolically embody the theme of migration and the problems of globalization. At the same time, the theme of nature is closely linked to the reappraisal of culture and the idea of interdependence between the two.
In the Western world, the notions of nature and culture have long been separated. As the “creation” of the human being, culture, and with it art, was dissociated from the concept of nature, which represented something original, coming into the world (lat. natura: to come into the world).
Culture was perceived as progress, representing an improvement on nature, as evidenced by the terms “mise en culture” and “agriculture”. The concept of landscape, as nature shaped by humans, also shows how humans appropriated and shaped nature.
The duality between nature and culture was also reflected in the allocation of domains: that of culture, traditionally dominated by the stronger sex (hunting, the army, science), and the more difficult-to-control domain of nature, associated with the weaker sex and encompassing activities such as gathering, giving birth and healing.
Today, in Western culture, the idea that nature and culture are inseparable and interact is gradually gaining consensus (see Philippe Descola, Par-delà nature et culture, 2005). In many non-European communities, there has never been a separation between culture and nature, and even humans and animals had and still have a close relationship with each other.
These other points of view help to challenge our Western perception that separates these categories from each other, nature and culture, animal and human. They also shed light on the reasons for their existence, such as ensuring human supremacy in nature. Today, it is clear that the concept of the human as the “crowning achievement of creation” has been reversed, judging by environmental destruction and wars: the human is the problem.
This problem of the human in nature, of the increasing artificialization of the natural environment and the renaturation of the artificial, preoccupies many artists, whose role has always been to observe reality and question its representations. In doing so, they extend the notion of nature to virtual and social space; they engage with societal and political themes and create participatory models.
From the point of view of exact observation, experimentation with the natural environment and renaturation of the artificial, artists’ way of working is comparable to that of scientists. But artists free themselves from this by their autonomy, by going beyond the rules, by being rebellious and open-minded in the face of results. Artists not only question reality, they also create their own worlds, into which we can enter and with whose help we can reach the essence of things, when we start from forms and matter.
In the 21st century, there are more and more artists. Men and women who are studying art, or who came to art late in life, or who have always made art. Some artists come from Western countries. Others come from regions where museums and the art market are currently lacking. The latter have a completely different idea of art and a different history of art, leading us to question our own conception of art. At the same time, there’s a permeability between the different arts: the visual arts include design, dance, music, architecture and computer science/hacking. There is no single art scene, but a multitude of artistic contexts. A global market sets art prices according to supply and demand, and is closely linked to public and private collections and art institutions. Some artists break out of the “art system”, refuse to follow it, or act as independent entrepreneurs in the marketplace.
The Natures project questions not only the works themselves, but also the artists and the complex ecosystem of art. It starts with works from the FRAC Alsace and takes a fresh look at the collection as a living being and ecosystem. What about biodiversity, interdependence, symbiosis, growth, maintenance, conservation and presentation? What role do we play as gardeners, rangers, biologists and tourists? And how do global artistic biodiversity and local and regional artistic ecosystems fit together?
Openness, mediation and personal encounters are essential: principles to which the FRAC has been committed for over 35 years, with its mission to educate, conserve and disseminate the collection and numerous projects inside and outside the walls.
Interdisciplinarity, practical artistic work in workshops, debates with artists, but also original proposals, such as hikes, must address a heterogeneous public and provide a space for discussion and exchange”.
Felizitas Diering, Director, Frac Alsace
(1) Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, Pierre Huyghe, Maria Thereza Alves
(2) Julian Charrière
(3) Pierre Huyghe, Agnes Meyer-Brandis
(4) Julius von Bismarck
Spaces and identities (2011-2014)
Starting in 2011, FRAC Alsace developed an artistic project entitled Espaces et identités (Spaces and identities), following on from the previous project, which explored the question of the subject in contemporary society. Space is the materiality of the work, the formal and expressive choices on which it is based, the space of reality and the body. In this way, links have been forged between the visual arts, performance art and contemporary dance. But space is also geographical, social and political, all territories that the work of art questions. The private sphere and public space structure these different strata of identity, from the singular to the collective. Founded on a belief in the emancipatory power of culture, this FRAC Alsace art project was intended as a political reading of the world, without literalness or illustration, using the critical yet cross-disciplinary approach that is the richness of everyday art.
Private / Public (2008-2010)
This project tackled the question of identity by considering the individual as a reference point for questioning contemporary society. Through a wide variety of languages, the artists invited by FRAC Alsace explored the possibilities of individual experience, in both the private and public spheres. The body, as a subjective vector of relationship to the world, is a primary focus, as are the attitudes through which the artist-individual addresses society (movement, fiction, detour, parody…). The Privé / Public project has developed as a tool for critical analysis of the human being in his or her own time, showing how creation portrays the individual as a polymorphic subject, characterized by physical and mental mobility in real space.
Artistic and cultural projects 1999-2007
From 1999 to 2004, under the direction of Pascal Neveux, the Frac Alsace developed an artistic and cultural project entitled “Instants paysagers: approches artistiques contemporaines des territoires”. In 2005-2007, the artistic project, “Lieux communs, figures singulières” (Common places, singular figures), continued the work already underway. It developed a decompartmentalization between plastic and visual arts, cinema and photography, sound installations and contemporary music.