Travelling to the South of France last summer in the vicinity of Avignon we took some time and made a stopover at L’Isle sur La Sorgue. In addition to the legendary charm of the “Provence” region, an extra feature we explored was the exhibition at the Fondation Villa Datris: re-cyclage sur-cyclage which ran from the 20th of June to the 1ST of November 2020. Despite the Covid restrictions, it was a huge success. It welcomed 37,000 visitors.

Some of us shy away from contemporary art on the grounds that it’s perplexing. However much we try to crack the meaning or mystery of the oeuvre, we are sometimes left with a feeling of unease. Yet, this exhibition was visitor friendly and flowed smoothly. It was free and we were welcomed by a team of smiling hostesses ready to guide us through what turned out to be more of a pilgrimage into the archaeology of our affluent culture than a recreational  event. 

Through the visual of the publicity poster, which showed the upper half of a feminine silhouette encumbered with a junk yard too heavy to carry, we reached a place of total honesty. In viewing the endless array of those all-too-familiar objects that have become an integral part of our lives, we had no difficulty in admitting that what we saw is who we are. Yes, we do overconsume, overindulge and engage in wasteful behaviour. At this stage however there was no point in overdoing the mea culpas; we had to move on, lest we should have missed the point of this adventure.

Along with the ingenuity of the artists’ bestowing new meanings on useless objects and materials, there was an emphasis on the circular economy, which means quite simply that whatever is produced and becomes obsolete must be upcycled or recycled in order to achieve a zero waste economy. In the natural ecosystem the waste materials of one organism is a treasure and a resource to another organism: there is a perfect equilibrium where the word “waste” is irrelevant. In nature it’s all about collaboration, not competition.  In a similar manner, we are encouraged to switch from the automatic mode of reckless consumerism to a more discerning common sense mode.

The Covid-19 confinement has given many of us a taste for minimalism. In the process of killing time by emptying out those cupboards overflowing with stuff, much of which had brought us only a short-lived satisfaction, we have also killed the craving for superfluous things. Did we stay home to save lives, or to save our authentic aspirations? We have certainly made space for genuine connections and for a more meaningful life and a healthier environment. By making minimalism one of its objectives, this exhibition also led us to clear out our minds, and it was in this inner movement where we found the pearl.

To be truly creative, artists see the material they use as a resource not as junk. As such the works exhibited invited us to get beyond the labels, the brands and the narratives around the object and to contemplate the material for its own sake. We need to drop our judgements, our ideas, likes and dislikes by adopting a stance of innocence in order to apprehend the shapes, the lines, the colours and the textures without the interference of our discursive mind. 

In conclusion, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the actors at the Foundation Villa Datris who have made this exhibition possible by opening up this much-awaited space where the core issues of our times can addressed.

Andie Grande

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