Art centres as frameworks: the experience of La Panacée
Formerly the Royal School of Medicine of Montpellier, La Panacée opened its doors in June 2013. Shaped by a long history of scientific experimentation, this new cultural institution was designed to respond to the transformations of artistic and cultural practices that do not easily fit into categories and often span different disciplines. These new communities of practice often stem from artistic research related to science and technology.
The artists at La Panacée come from different backgrounds, including photography, filmmaking, writing, architecture, music, performing arts and sculpture. What they have in common is that they are looking for new insights and perspectives on how technology and science are reshaping self and society. The institution serves as a meeting point and catalyst between artists from different disciplines. The idea is to offer the general public a multidisciplinary range of viewpoints that converge on an imagined future of the contemporary. That is why La Panacée describes itself as a Centre for Contemporary Culture.
Through ETAC, Javier Chozas, an architect currently working in the field of new media art, and Mireia c. Saladrigues, a visual artist who integrates various performing arts tools, were invited to take up a residency at La Panacée. These crossover art practices found their home at the centre, along with an audience interested in conferences, an open studio and workshops. To support an artist is to multiply the contexts in which the work can be grasped and debated by different types of audiences.
La Panacée was designed to support artists through its production and residency policies. When we think about residencies the first thing that comes to mind may be a studio, but practices are rapidly changing. Many of the artists we have produced came to La Panacée to work with the context of the city. The filmmaker Christine Bouteiller worked with linguistics scholars of Montpellier University on the language used in texting to create a participative work on memory and the use of telephones. The American locative media artist Teri Rueb gathered different types of data on Montpellier (botany, transportation, demographics, geography, etc.) and met with city experts on an array of scientific disciplines in order to create a distinctive, dynamic map of the city on which the movements of visitors to the exhibition space could be tracked..
The General Instin collective, encompassing writers, visual artists and street artists, chose to work on a former military camp in the city and recreated its architecture on a platform for written online communication designed by La Panacée. This residency combined different contexts of an ongoing project which started off as street art inside the military camp, continued as a text using the military camp as its architecture and was then turned into an installation for Conversations électriques, the opening exhibition of La Panacée. It finally became a performance piece for the “Conversation factory event. To support a project is to support a process. From a single project, General Instin looked for different temporalities, contexts and media within and without the walls of La Panacée, generating a process of renewal.
Anatomie de l’automate , the upcoming exhibition of La Panacée, curated in partnership with the MAMCO of Geneva, is focused on automata through the medical notion of the man-machine. La Panacée was a medical school at a time when this issue was fiercely debated and contested. The exhibition is being held in a location which long ago housed an anatomy theatre. The Mexican artist Eric Beltran, currently in residency, is working on the university’s medical archives, which will form the starting point of his work at La Panacée. Artists will create performances in the Conservatoire de Medicine with scientists offering their viewpoints on the exhibition. Layers and echoes create memory and meaning.
An institution is not shaped by bricks and mortar alone. Art centres can build doors and bridges in order to open fields of investigation, making them operate as artistic contexts. They create possibilities where the work happens. Art centres are frameworks which enable artistic investigation to focus on dialogue between spaces, concepts and contexts. Art centres are not merely spaces organised around the circulation of works of art but can be metaphors of their context, where art is in dialogue with its surroundings.