Summer in the forest

Sculptures by François Stahly, Pierre Tual and Myriam Mihindou + Jean Prouvé


For the fifth consecutive summer season, the 1er From July to August 31, 2020, Eric and Elliot Touchaleaume offer visitors the remains of the remarkable industrial heritage of the Friche de l'Escalette, located on the edge of the Parc National des Calanques de Marseille. The setting of its romantic ruins welcomes this year the works of three artists covering sixty years of creation, from 1960 to the present day. Sculptures and installations, selected for their relational sensitivity to architecture, nature or the site, are put into situation each summer on the wasteland. Eventually, a real permanent sculpture route will inhabit the wasteland and thus put modern and contemporary sculpture into situation.

It is slowly but surely that the Friche de l'Escalette is part of the Marseilles summer cultural landscape, allowing a wide public to discover a remarkable industrial heritage combined with the visit of exhibitions of light architecture and sculptures, such as the one of this summer 2020 where three works are presented on the theme of nature : Summer in the forest by François Stahly, a vast sculptural ensemble composed of about thirty carved wooden totems of various sizes, accompanied by other sculptures by Stahly enamelling the course ; ReliefsThe "crumpling" of Pierre Tual's Corten steel with an airy grace; and Rakus and Soaps, two poetic installations by Myriam Mihindou. Rakus and Savons will be presented inside Jean Prouvé's 6×9 Pavilion, alongside the Bungalow du Cameroun, two "nomadic" architectures by Nancy's genial "tortilleur de tôle", already present on the wasteland during the two previous seasons.

Kykuit Summer Forest, Rockefeller Estate, Tarrytown

The summer of the forest, by François Stahly (1911-2006)

It was in 1966 at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris that the sculptor François Stahly made himself known to the general public thanks to the retrospective devoted to his work. The ensemble Summer in the Forest is particularly noteworthy. Stahly confided in an interview: " This work gave me a whole new impulse, which in sculpture can be linked to the idea of the sacred."

Aware of the decorative role to which sculpture is assigned in a context of architectural commission, Stahly decided to free himself from it and create an autonomous monumental work.

It is in the haven of peace of the garden of his workshops in Meudon, that he slowly elaborates from 1960, Summer in the Forest, not meeting any order, budget or schedule constraints. Inspired by memories of the high Swiss forests of her childhood and the vast forests discovered during her extended stays in the USA, Stahly gives the work "that authentic breath" that will make it one of the major pieces of her work.
It emanates from this "sacred wood", an assembly of oak beams, gouged out of piles of truncated cones, circling around a symbolic threshold made up of two monumental beams opening out against each other, a feeling of unspeakable but nevertheless benevolent mystery.

 (...) Now, as the threat of pollution becomes stronger and stronger, we begin to feel solidarity with the clouds, the waters, the foliage, the land, so perhaps we can see in François Stahly the first modern environmental sculptor, the first to reconceive sculpture as a place where it would be possible to be together. »
Pierre Descargues. "François Stahly", Editions La Connaissance, Brussels, 1975.

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The skyward thrust of the work reflects the artist's deep desire to communicate with the cosmic world, "the desire to get out of oneself, the desire to communicate with all living things". Echoing the question asked in an interview, what is sculpture: a poetry, a mysticism? Without hesitation Stahly answers: " Yes, a mystic ".

Summer in the ForestThe Rockefeller Family Estate, previewed on the Friche de l'Escalette, was first and last seen by the public in 1966 at the Museum of Decorative Arts before its long eclipse in Kykuit Park, the fabulous Rockefeller family estate for four generations, located in the Hudson Valley in Tarrytown, north of New York City. Nelson Rockefeller, a fervent admirer of Stahly's work, acquired it for his property. His estate sale in January 2019 allowed the work to return to France.

Reliefsby Pierre Tual (1941)

Pierre Tual plays with metal, preferably Corten steel, as others play with paper. About ten of his Reliefs are presented as pinned against a Cyclopean wall of the ruins of l'Escalette, accentuating the weightlessness effect of these "ragged" sheets of steel. At their feet, a few slender arches are delicately bent against the wall. In Jean Prouvé's bungalow in Cameroon, two harmonious piles of metal sheets act as coffee tables.

Pierre Tual is naturally jovial but discreet, he lives with his wife, the artist Françoise Paressant, in the middle of the wilderness in their estate in Perche. He works alone with unspoiled passion and energy, deploying great ingenuity to bend his large sheets, even going so far as to use a venerable tractor.

He has won numerous competitions and several of his very large-format sculptures occupy public space, such as the large water-green lacquered steel arch, well known to Parisians, which has stood since 1989 in the middle of the small pedestrian street of La Jussienne at the corner of Rue Etienne Marcel, in the Les Halles district. Among his outstanding achievements are the Cascade des Longchamps in steel Corten in Rennes (1984) or the Terrasses de l'Agora in Evry (1987).

Rakus and Soapsby Myriam Mihindou (1964)

With the installation Transmissions, Enamelled ceramic poles suspended from the branches of a venerable pine tree bent by the Mistral wind, Myriam Mihindou caused a great deal of interest among visitors to the Friche de l'Escalette in 2019. She returns this year with two delicate installations, Rakus modelling enamelled earthenware and Soap modelling worn and cracked soaps with a hundred shades of old ivory.

These strange objects with erotic connotations are in the lineage of certain creations by Merret Openheim or Marcel Duchamp, but where these two great elders treated the object individually, Mihindou accumulates them and thus creates a dreamlike universe in which the spectator is immersed.
These two distinct sets are suspended from cords on the ceiling of Jean Prouvé's Pavillon 6×9, whose faded appearance, worn down by weather and use, is in perfect osmosis with these works evocative of the passage of time.

The life and work of Myriam Mihindou are inseparable. A nomadic artist, born in Gabon of an African father and a French mother, her work tells mixed-race stories and reflects multiple identities. Myriam Mihindou questions the status of women, questions exile, borders, awakens memory, both collective and personal.

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Whatever the mediums used, Myriam Mihindu summons and invokes the body. The artist has participated in many events, including the Venice Biennale in 2017, with a landmark performance entitled La Curée.

The works of Myriam Mihindou are presented at the Friche de l'Escalette with the friendly collaboration of the Galerie Maä Muller, representing the artist in France.

Pavilion 6X9, Jean Prouvé (1901-1984) and Bungalow of Cameroon

Present on the Friche de l'Escalette for two seasons, these small, light and nomadic architectures, one designed for the north, the other for the south, embody the constructive genius of Jean Prouvé, pioneer of prefabricated construction. They lend themselves perfectly to the presentation of historical design pieces and works of modern and contemporary art.

In addition to the work carried out on site, the small team at the Friche de l'Escalette runs a restoration workshop on site all year round to restore the usefulness of these collection architectures, which are generally neglected after their exhibition. To this end, the interior of the Bungalow du Cameroun - initially intended for the housing of teachers in the bush - is currently being converted into a leisure accommodation according to current comfort criteria and using renewable energy. Modules housing sanitary facilities, kitchen and storage are arranged at the four corners of the bungalow, using sliding door fronts of "Brazza cupboards" by Charlotte Perriand and Jean Prouvé from the Air France Housing Unit in Brazzaville (Congo).

This site is distinguished by its topographical specificity, its architecture, its age, its state of conservation and its location in the South of France, traditionally less industrialized than the North and East. The wasteland of the l'Escalette plumbing factory is a double testimony, still legible, on the one hand of this type of metallurgical industry, and on the other hand of the intense industrial activity that colonized the southern coast of Marseille in the 19th century, between the Madrague de Montredon and Callelongue.

The builders - anonymous to this day - of this factory, took remarkable advantage of the topography of the site to adapt the different phases of the activity, resulting in unique, tailor-made layouts. These buildings are perfectly adapted to the relief, and today, with no roofs and in a state of ruin, they blend in even better with the rocky landscape.

These colonnades, basins and cyclopean walls, these buildings pierced with arcades and oculus evoking the neoclassical architecture of Ledoux (Salines d'Arc et Senans), these ovens, tunnels and creeping chimneys, built in stone and brick, constitute an architectural ensemble of great quality and impressive scale. This factory was in operation between 1851 and 1925 and was extended in successive phases while preserving the existing building. Very few industrial sites founded in the mid-19th century have not been completely transformed several times. Despite the ruined state of the facilities, the process of the factory's operation is quite understandable, even to a neophyte public.

This redevelopment project, which takes place on a highly protected and heavily constrained site, an integral part of the Marseille Calanques National Park, is a private initiative, which, although ambitious, is intended to be exemplary humility, forbidding any brutal intervention. Following a genuine archaeological procedure, the ruins located in the upper part of the site will be fully preserved, consolidated and perpetuated in their current state. In the lower part of the site, the vast spaces of the former workshops, which are well preserved but whose metal roof structures were dismantled during the Occupation, will be rehabilitated into exhibition and public reception rooms, artist residences, creative and restoration workshops, allowing the creation of works specially designed for the site. A carpentry and metalwork workshop for the restoration of the historical works exhibited on the site has been in permanent operation since 2011.

The feeling of walking through these romantic and mysterious ruins must be absolutely preserved. To this end, in spite of the constraints that this imposes, and contrary to any use in terms of masonry and architecture, the vegetation colonizing the walls will be preserved to the maximum, at least the remarkable subjects. Buttresses made of lime-masoned stone and metal anchors, carried out according to the rules of the art, will come to reinforce the works weakened by the push of the roots.

The fascinating process of colonization of the built environment by vegetation can therefore be observed, as on some of the temples of Angkor Wat.


Exhibition L'été de la forêt - Friche de l'Escalette, Route des Goudes, impasse de l'Escalette - 13008 Marseille (Opposite the small port of l'Escalette - Wooden gate at the end of the impasse / Bus stop n° 20) - From 1st July to 31st August 2020

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