The desire to look further
Mucem, fort Saint-Jean—
Galerie haute des Officiers
From Wednesday 16 June 2021 to Monday 27 September 2021
The Italian artist Ilaria Turba presents the fruit of her three-year residency at the ZEF—scène nationale de Marseille
The Italian artist Ilaria Turba presents the fruit of her three-year residency at the ZEF—scène nationale de Marseille: a “collection of wishes” similar to a collection of objects that she gathered during her immersion in the 14th and 15th “arrondissements” of Marseille, as well as in the imagination of its inhabitants.
Ilaria Turba is a visual artist and photographer. Her work is nourished by exchanges and collaborations that often take the form of workshops and participative creative processes around themes that are dear to her: the relationship between identity and collective imagination, as well as the relationship between the present and memory, with objects, photographs, stories and places as primary supports. In 2018, she became an associate artist at the ZEF—scène nationale de Marseille, which came about with the merger between the Merlan scène nationale and the Gare Franche artists’ centre. “The desire to look further” is one of the outcomes of this three-year residency.
For this project, Ilaria Turba worked with locals in neighbourhoods near the Merlan and the Gare Franche to collect their “wishes”. She led workshops to make ritual breads (”breads of desire”), thus giving a material form to the wishes that were collected. She also designed a “Route of Wishes”—a friendly and festive 12-kilometre course linking the Merlan theatre and the Gare Franche, which will be open to all on 12 June 2021. At the same time, in order to add to the rich collection of breads, she explored the Mucem’s collections to source a selection of lucky charms, which inspired her to create contemporary amulets that will be raffled off during the “Lottery of Wishes”—an event to precede the closing of the exhibition.
The exhibition takes place simultaneously at the Conservation and Resource Centre (CCR) and at the Fort Saint-Jean. The first part, at the CCR, is more specifically dedicated to the confrontation of the breads of desire with a selection of objects from the collection chosen by a group of workshop participants because of their formal or symbolic resonance. In the second part, at the Fort Saint-Jean, the public is invited to follow a visit route retracing the different stages of the project through installations, photographs, drawings, sound recordings, videos and posters, as well as meeting the artist to continue to create, with her, traces of these desires to look far away.
It is the object as a narrative, as a trace of the intimate, which is at the heart of Ilaria Turba’s approach, namely how to make immaterial wishes perceivable and visible.
As an extension of the exhibition presented at the Mucem, the Italian Cultural Institute of Marseille plans to present a reconstruction of Ilaria Turba’s work, and in particular the posters produced in the artist’s hut, recreated at the Fort Saint Jean.
This exhibition will be held at the Italian Cultural Institute from 9 November to 8 December 2021.
In partnership with the ZEF scène nationale de Marseille.
The exhibition is part of the Grand Arles Express under the umbrella of the Rencontres internationales de la photographie Arles 2021.
The Project is supported by the Italian Council (9th Edition 2020), a programme for the promotion of Italian contemporary art in the world by the Directorate General for Contemporary Creation of the Italian Ministry for Heritage, Cultural Activities and Tourism.
Interview with Ilaria Turba, artist, and Émilie Girard, curator of the exhibition
This exhibition at the Mucem is the culmination of a three-year residency by the artist Ilaria Turba at ZEF—scène nationale de Marseille. How did this collaboration come about?
Émilie Girard (E. G.)
In her work, Ilaria has a very direct relationship with people and objects, which she sees as vectors of memory. This is why, from the outset, the artist suggested that the ZEF link her with the Mucem, given that her way of working was very close to the way the objects in our collections are considered. She therefore spent a lot of time in the Mucem’s storerooms in parallel with the workshops she led at the ZEF. During these three years, she spent several immersion stays with locals of the surrounding areas, as well as others with the collections.
Ilaria Turba (I. T.)
When I arrived in Marseille for this residency, I wanted to acquire concrete experience of the working class “quartiers nord” in the north of the city by exploring them in order to immerse myself in this area. But I also had the idea of continuing my work on the collective imagination and the relationship with memory. I work a lot on the relationship with archives and so I naturally turned to the Mucem, which has an incredible collection. So I “travelled” through the collections of the Centre for Conservation and Resources in parallel with my physical journey in the region. The idea was to link these two exploring journeys and to weave them together at the heart of the same project, linking the past, the present and the future, through the wishes of locals of the “quartiers nord”.
Why did you choose to work on the theme “The desire to look further?
The theme emerged spontaneously. I had already been playing with this idea in my head for some time, but it came to me in a very concrete way again in Marseille. And then it took on another meaning with this health crisis – a period when it has become difficult to project oneself forward...
Etymologically, to desire i.e. to wish means “without a star”, namely to orientate oneself differently, to lose one’s bearings and to open oneself up to the possibility of finding new ones. For me, it also means “trying to project oneself, moving towards common horizons”. But this theme is more a feeling than a definition. It was very much open to interpretation by the project participants. This is what guided my work with the locals: quite straightforwardly, I proposed to them that they imagine their own wishes to look far away.
I also had the idea of working on rituals and celebrations, because in the “quartiers nord” I noticed that there were no common traditions among the different communities living there. I therefore wanted to explore the possibility of creating new forms of encounters by mixing creative work in the public space and festive spaces, and also by drawing on existing popular forms, such as the lottery.
In what way did this residency draw on the collections of the Mucem?
When she visited the Mucem’s reserves, Ilaria quickly became fascinated by its collection of ritual breads. In the past, these loaves were used for festive or religious events; they could be a symbol of fertility at a wedding, or serve as an ex-voto at votive festivals, with the bread offered to a saint to fulfil a wish. They could take various forms, such as a house, an animal, or even a car, to mark the attachment to the item it represented. These ritual breads inspired the artist and guided part of the workshops with the locals in the “Bread of Desire” workshop. Ilaria asked the participants to materialise their wishes in a loaf of bread that took the shape of their wishes. It was therefore a question of materialising the immaterial, progressing from the verb to the thing, by working with bread, as well as by creating graphic works, drawings and photographs during other workshops.
How will the exhibition reflect the participatory dimension of the project?
In several ways. The artist developed her project from a workshop in a small hut in the ZEF—Gare Franche (15th “arrondissement”), which will be returned to the exhibition at the Fort Saint-Jean. It will host mediators who will welcome visitors there and continue to collect their wishes, so that the participatory process will also continue in the exhibition.
Several events will be organised by the ZEF around the exhibition: on the weekend before the opening, the public will be invited to take part in an urban walk from Le Merlan to the Plan d’Aou to explore the area collectively. Ilaria will install some of her productions in the urban space.
Finally, in mid-September, before the exhibition closes, it will also organise “The Lottery of Wishes”. Last July in collaboration with Ettore Tripodi, lucky charms in the form of small metal plates decorated with motifs chosen by the participants were made in the public space after the first lockdown. During the lottery, they will be gathered in a large installation illuminated by small diodes, like a constellation of wishes. The public will have the opportunity to draw one of these plaques and leave with the lucky charm and the corresponding wish.
It is therefore a collective project at every level. Ilaria Turba is nourished by others. She shows the human behind the object. It’s not a question of looking at the object as such, but rather of immersing oneself in a discourse and listening to what it tells us and what it tells us about the person who shaped it. It is also a way of re-approaching the Mucem collection. This is how Ilaria has taken photos of certain objects in the collections – in a very simple way, by introducing a hand next to the object, as if to inject a part of humanity into these objects.
How did you come up with the idea of organising an urban stroll as part of this project?
When I did my first location scouting in the “quartiers nord”, I discovered an area of incredible complexity and richness ... a world where terrible and magnificent things are mixed together, hidden in a beautiful and wild Mediterranean nature. It is very powerful – and much more surprising than the stereotypes found in the media. And then, by collecting the wishes of the locals of these districts, I discovered an incredible human diversity and saw the richness of these areas and of those who live there. I therefore had the idea of revealing, exhibiting and sharing these wishes in the public space, along a route between the ZEF—Gare Franche (15th “arrondissement”) and the ZEF—Merlan (14th “arrondissement”).
The wishes will be made tangible in the form of posters, photos and drawings, inviting a new way of seeing and experiencing these places. With the stroll is the idea of taking one’s time; it is not a time of normal perception, but rather a “slow” time, a human time that allows for giving oneself over to the possibility of discovery. We will thus “go through” the area, as well as the wishes and imaginations of its inhabitants. Finally, the route is the fruit of all my encounters in these districts: NGOs, but also people who will open doors that are normally closed to us.
This exhibition will be presented in two parts – at the Centre for Conservation and Resources and at the Fort Saint-Jean.
The first part at the Centre for Conservation and Resources will focus on the breads of desire created by local people as part of workshops led by Ilaria at the ZEF. It will present sixteen loaves of bread in a relation with objects from the Mucem collections chosen with workshop participants. In the second part at the Fort Saint-Jean, the whole project will be presented: the Gare Franche hut, the urban stroll, the objects from the collections that inspired the workshops, as well as the objects created during these workshops (the breads and lucky charms), and a set of photographs accompanied by texts on Ilaria’s work.
These three years of residency have brought together nearly 500 people, including all the workshops and participatory activities. It’s a small community that I bring with me to the museum! It is true that it was not easy to integrate all this into the restricted space of the Fort Saint-Jean. We imagined devices that would allow us to “look far ahead” into the detail, into the small, into the perspectives that open up in the space.
I wanted the visitor to the exhibition to have an experience. Hence, for instance, the idea of reconstructing my hut, so as to invite the public to take part in the project. Visitors will also have the opportunity to create their own wish to look far away. It will be a moment of aliveness within the exhibition.
Finally, rather than a traditional “exhibition catalogue”, we have chosen to accompany the project by publishing surprise folders, each containing four or five graphic objects, and a surprise, which varies from one folder to another. These folders will allow us to keep the memory of this plural project and – who knows? – they may go on to be enriched by each owner who will thus continue to keep the project alive.