Avec Motifs Apparents

February 7, 2010By Claudia BarbieriArchive

Girl-Power Army
Invades Cultural Center

Paris Update 104  terracotta daughters 1

“Terracotta Daughters” (2013), by Prune Nourry. Photo © ParisUpdate.com

A Chinese army in terracotta stands guard in serried ranks, ready for inspection, at the 104 Cultural Center in Paris’s 19th arrondissement, a long way from the Great Wall of China. These are warriors with a difference, however: they are young girls, not men, who are fighting for the right to a good life, not guarding a dead emperor.

The figures are part of a collective exhibition at 104 called “Avec Motifs Apparents.” To make this spectacular and haunting work, “Terracotta Daughters,” the young French multimedia artist Prune Nourry photographed eight orphan girls, unwanted rejects of China’s one-child policy, and had them made into 108 terracotta figures. The modeling of the statues, done by Chinese craftsmen using traditional methods, mimics the first Chinese emperor’s spectacular army of funerary guards at Xi’an, made in the third century BCE.

Under Nourry’s guidance, the artisans modified the features of the eight original models to create 108 individually distinct figures (as are the Xi’an warriors), an act of differentiation, says Nourry, that came as a revelation in a society habitually unaware of women as individuals. Don’t miss the touching film on the making of the girl warriors, being shown in a side room near the installation.

Nourry’s terracotta army is one of a half-dozen installations now on show at 104 – all of them worth seeing. Others include a life-sized labyrinth constructed out of brown corrugated kraft paper by the Italian Arte Povera artist Michelangelo Pistoletto and a giant revolving disco ball covered in gaily papered packages, “Empty Gift,” by the Cameroonian artist Pascale Marthine Tayou. The Chinese installation artist Chen Zhen, a survivor of the Cultural Revolution who died in Paris in 2000, is represented by his “Purification Room,” a silent living space filled with furniture slathered in thick mud, which calls to mind the death agonies of Pompeii under the ashes of Vesuvius.

Opened in 2008 in a fine 19th-century industrial warehouse complex that once housed the central depot of the Paris municipal undertaking service, the cultural center was created by the city council to house a mix of artist’s studios, performance areas and local youth-club activities.

Part of a broad rehabilitation program for what was then one of the city’s seedier areas – a zone of high unemployment, poor schools and dilapidated housing projects – 104 had a rocky start, but you wouldn’t know that now. On a recent visit, the open spaces were a hive of activity with real buzz and energy. Groups of local kids were spontaneously practicing break dance and hip-hop routines, acrobatics, juggling and theater acts, as much fun to watch as the formal artworks. Concerts and performances are held in the center’s auditorium.

The complex also houses a thrift shop, an organic food market on Saturdays, a small organic food shop, an arts bookshop and several eating areas. Toddlers have their own supervised space.

One of the most interesting aspects of 104 is the way it has blended local focus with a wide-angle vision. A large upstairs room, with a Pistoletto mirror installation on one wall, is now the Paris pad of Galleria Continua, an Italian contemporary art gallery with its base in San Gimignano, Tuscany, a branch in Beijing and an artists’ list featuring the likes of Ai Weiwei, Daniel Buren, and Ilya and Emilia Kabokov.

Across town, in the Grand Palais, the Kabokovs have just opened their “Monumenta” show, “The Strange City,” featuring an anthropologico-historico-sci-fi fantasy metropolis whose populace seeks to capture cosmic energies and communicate with angels in the noosphere, where all past intellectual activity is stored.

Reader, you can save yourself the entry lines to Monumenta. If it’s cosmic energy and communication that you’re looking for, 104 offers a good dose, on a human scale.

Claudia Barbieri

104: 5, rue Curial, 75019 Paris. Métro: Riquet. Tel.: 01 53 35 50 00. Open Tuesday-Friday, noon-7pm. Saturday-Sunday, 11am-7pm. Closed Monday. Admission: free. Exhibition “Avec Motifs Apparents”: through August 10.

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