Trappes, Ville Nouvelle

2001 – 2004

The sculptural installation »Trappes – ville nouvelle « consists of two cubes with horizontal and vertical drawers. They contain photographic views of a residen - tial district, portraits of people from different social classes and ethnicities, and flyers on which excerpts of conversations with residents and other involved persons of the city are printed. The photographs and conversations are the result of a process - oriented project in the Parisian satellite town of Trappes, which was founded in the 1970s as an urban conglomeration of public - sector housing projects.



Notes on the work

Trappes was a railway city, before becoming the foundations of the Ville Nouvelle (New City) of St Quentin en Yveline. It hosted its first « grands ensembles » (or large housing estates) in the 60's. Then, between the 70's and the beginning of the 90's, when the planning of the New City in itself started, it welcomed different types of « cité-jardins » (garden housing projects). These housings belong to many different social landlords. A new policy of rehabilitation of these « grands ensembles » and squares started 10 years ago.
The policy of attribution of this social housing (which carried the concentration of disadvantaged population in dormitory towns), added to serious mistakes concerning the urban coherence have created today a complex urban and social situation. The new quarters and the administrative area of Trappes are separated by a very busy national road; the new quarters were supposed to surround the administrative centre, which was finally relocated; some social housings are located many kilometres away from commercial areas or from the administrative center; the cultural centers are not very visible and often spread. Self-managed association projects are being replaced by professional State associations, which submit tenders to the City Council. City policies react to security demands but are unable to consider a long term planning. The city seems neglected because of a lack of courage and motivation from politicians as well as from most of the social workers. This is accompanied by an inhabitants' general lost of interest about their housings.
There is a so-called « social mixture » policy in Trappes which consists on the creation of individual housing developments through tenders. It also consists on the "residentialisation", on the equal distribution of social housings and on the access to private property. These seem to be the main tools of a city policy which is pragmatic, lacking of imagination and having a hard time to resist to a "ghettoization" phenomena and facing the lack of solidarity from the rich surrounding districts.

In these housing estates, there are often 2nd or 3rd generations of unemployed people. Paradoxically, the residents relate to their neighbourhood in a very strong affective way but at the same time they wish to go to live somewhere else, this "going away" being somehow an alternative to a depreciative and stigmatised vision of their neighbourhood. There seems to be an additional difficulty to give some value or sense to their housing experiences. The neighbourhoods are a temporary place, and simultaneously, they are a receptacle. They are marked by the memories of colonial history, by an immigration history being both shared and shattered. These neighbourhoods are also a present's sensor (a 'seismograph') of a fragmented reality -the one from flashnews reports.
Trappes' residents are stigmatized by the image of the "cité". From the beginning of the 90's Trappes has been occasionally at the media's headlines, which are eager of burning news concerning the suburbs.
Trappes carries such media stigmatisation more heavily than other suburbs. Protocols, forms and knowledge are missing in order to produce information.
Locally, authorities keep on talking in schizophrenic manners about reinsertion through sports or work, about ghetto re-flowering.
After media and city politics, what is left of the reappropriation by the inhabitants of their self-representation? What about rethinking practices of everyday life? There is a need for a new articulation on collective living will, in order to rediscover autonomy and self-organization tools. How can art practices be defined in such a context?

Trappes, ville nouvelle

The municipal gallery from Trappes invited me to develop a work concerning the city. Such project began as a double commission: a commission from the gallery, and a commission towards myself. City politics often convey discourses of 'social bonds' and 'social diversity' in a positive and enthusiastic way. These discourses hide behind them the tensions and the political aspects of underlying conflicts. By applying these discourses' iconography in a blind manner you can hardly escape from a propagandistic pitfall. My work "Trappes, A New City" tries to play with the limits of this political utopia of the 'social bonds'. In order to extract and work with this iconography I needed to insufflate a burlesque dimension, to find some specific recording protocols and an exhibition form. The subject-matter of the city of Trappes becomes a microcosm. Burlesque causes tensions inside this reconstructed unity. These are both aesthetic and political tensions.

Interviews and images

I did a serie of interviews with residents such as a freshly arrived new resident, immigrant "pioneers" of the New City, old inhabitants who grew up at the time Trappes was still a railway city, city workers (social workers, City Council technicians, the historian of the city, the director of the City Museum of St-Quentin-en-Yveline) and in various local associations.
The photographic work consisted of portraits and still lifes, as well as one archive photograph. This photographic work came after the interviews. Some of these pictures show this "forced" closeness I decided to establish among inhabitants and city actors. Photographs showing a cart in a social centre, election billboards in a hangar, a hairdresser's vitrine, or a streetlight, stand besides the archive photograph of a wagon's framework hanging from an electric post after the 1944 bombing of a train depot. The choice of images came out of a corpusproduced over six months of work and out of the city archives.

The ballot boxes

The resulting is a body size, double, overlaid box of laminated wood. It is something between an archiving piece of furniture and an architectural element. The boxes contain a series of 26 front and back photographs and coloured boards set over horizontal and vertical runners, which can be manipulated by visitors. The double box is fixed over wheels enabling it to move easily over the space.

The ballot papers

Near at hand, printed colour papers evoking the colours of the boards containing collected interview excerpts going from a single word to a whole paragraph. These printings associate words and historical, mythological or autobiographical narratives, collective discussions and political discourses. The colored"ballot" papers suggest visitors to choose this word rather than another one, a word rather than a speech, a name rather than an anonymous text, and to link a photograph or a coloured board to it. Every person is invited to display the texts and to take them away.

[The ballot boxes]

[The ballot papers]