Living Pictures

People of Calais

Video installation, 1997 / 30 min / Screen 325 x 250 cm Room with wallpaper on the outside / Le Channel, Galerie de l’Ancienne Poste, Calais.

I filmed Gens de Calais [People of Calais] with 49 inhabitants from Calais and one dog. When I was invited to the Channel art centre, I had immediately thought of Rodin and that amazing story of the pedestal for The Burghers of Calais. In my personal dictionary, this is where I had always put the beginning of the avant-garde. Rodin did not want there to be any pedestal for his sculpture and the burghers were to stand directly on the ground. His smallish figures would thus have been life-size. But the mayor of the city and History were not yet ready to deny the royal and divine stature of equestrian statues.
In 2002, the work is still on a pedestal which, furthermore, is on a grassy plot of ground! I immediately decided to do Gens de Calais.

Marie-Thérèse Champesme and myself managed to persuade the editor of the Nord Littoral newspaper to offer page three of the paper for the advertisement of the shoot. The condition was that people had to come in pairs. The filming lasted more than 30 hours in a huge hall under construction in the Beau- Marais neighbourhood. 25 pairs turned up, from the wealthiest man in the city to somebody just out of prison. On the day before the opening I asked for the panels blocking the art centre’s windows to be removed to open it up to the city.

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