February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Cultivating Art in the


From Pascal Bernier’s
From Pascal Bernier’s “Hunting Accident” series.

What’s the last thing you would expect to find deep in the heart of the French countryside on, of all places, the campus of an agricultural high school surrounded by pastures for its own herd of two hundred cows? If you said cutting-edge interactive contemporary art, you would be right.

This cache of art is indeed there, however, at Rurart, located at the Lycée Agricole Venours in Rouillé, near Poitiers. The current exhibition, “Hors Sol,” features two fascinating interactive works commissioned by Rurart from two artists. Hervé Jolly’s piece at first looks like nothing more than a white floor in a darkened room. When visitors walk on it, however, their shadows are gradually imprinted on the surface in the form of groups of colored pixels, which become denser the longer they stand still. Moving lines of contrasting colors eventually begin to run between individuals, indicating the lines of communication.

The work by Béatrice de Fay (a.k.a. B2Fays) starts out as a delicate black-and-white suspended image of the globe in 3D, revolving slowly and occasionally revealing a landmark, such as the Eiffel Tower. Visitors enter the room one at a time, equipped with a microphone, and are invited to move about and vocalize into the mike to create colorful images on the screen. The more movement and noise they make, the more creative the images (based on the artist’s paintings) become.

The show of these two ingenious works will be followed by an exhibition of French artist Pascal Bernier’s darkly whimsical animal sculptures, among them a mounted doe’s head (from the series “Hunting Tableaux”) wearing a wig and blue eye makeup and looking rather pretty in a creepy way; a spider whose web looks like a lace doily (“Spider Seduction”); a brown bear doing something naughty to a polar bear (“Bipolar Perversion,” 2001); and a bandaged life-sized blue elephant on the run (from the “Hunting Accidents” series). Rurart has also commissioned a new piece from Bernier, which will be unveiled at the show’s opening on April 1.

Rurart is not the only agricultural high school in France harboring iconoclastic contemporary art, but it is one of the more active representatives of a government-sponsored regional network for cultural activities in agricultural schools. It receives funding from the Ministry of Agriculture, Poitou-Charentes Regional Council and other regional bodies. It is also active in sponsoring other types of cultural events, including theater, a multimedia center, residencies for artists and innovative cultural exchanges.

Rurart helps promote African films, for example, by sending some of the region’s agricultural students to the Festival Panafricain de Cinéma de Ouagadougou (Fespaco) in Burkina Faso to sit on the jury and by helping to distribute some of the festival’s films in France. In 2006, Rurart organized two festivals of its own, Nemo, for digital images, and Courts à la Campagne, featuring short films with rural themes.

It is difficult to imagine efforts like this in the heart of Iowa, for example (does anyone know of any?), and we can only applaud the French government for funding such initiatives and the Rurart team, led by Director Arnaud Stinès, for its dedication to bringing sophisticated art worthy of any self-respecting Parisian gallery to the countryside.

In the past, Rurart’s three yearly exhibitions have featured works by big-name artists like Pierre Huyghe, Claude Lévêque, Andy Warhol, Kolkoz, James Turrell, Antony Gormley, Ousmane Sow and others. It also cooperates closely with and borrows works from the local Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain (better known as FRAC), a network of regional contemporary art centers set up by the French government in 1982 as part of the county’s decentralization efforts.

Thanks to Rurart and similar efforts, the locals no longer need to go to Paree to see good art, so there’s no problem keeping ’em down on the farm.

Heidi Ellison

Rurart: CRIPT Poitou-Charentes, Lycée agricole Xavier Bernard, EPLEA de Poitiers Venours, 86480 Rouillé. Tel.: 05 49 43 62 59. E-mail: Web:

© 2008 Paris Update

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