Marseille, France

Roots to Routes: Manifesta 13


29 August - 26 September 2020

Review by Rebecca Larkin

‘Roots to Routes’ is a collaboration between artists, curators and non-profit organisations from the city of Marseille and the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania). The project invites strangers to encounter the unfamiliar within the urban environment, while exploring concepts of ‘home’, ‘belonging’ and ‘identity’.

Distinguishing itself among the 85 projects of ‘Les Parallèles du Sud’- ‘Roots to Routes’ acts like a second festival nestled within ‘Manifesta’. The programme can be seen as two branches - one concerned with the life of the senses, the other, inherited experience. These are united by ‘Same door different street’, a duo exhibition by Evita Vasiljeva (LV) and Antoine Nessi (FR) - and the first part of the programme to open.

On a tour of the show, after exiting a somewhat artificial, newly gentrified section of Rue de la Republique in Marseille, we entered a vaguely dystopian city-scape. Nessi’s cast iron sculptures - uncanny gothic doubles of the city’s bollards (2019-20) made at a Provence foundry - took root in concrete, while Vasiljeva’s series of strikingly colourful street lamps, titled ‘Seven reasons why you should make time for the sunsets I-IV’ (2020), made out of soap in honour of Marseille’s famous export, floated above. Carefully crafted eyes fused to the bollards paid homage to those lost brutally by protesters, implying a more benevolent, rebellious form of surveillance, while flies imported from Latvia are preserved for the time being, as if in Baltic amber, by a structure made to slowly melt and collapse.

Two highlights from the second branch were Anne-Sophie Turion’s ‘Grandeur Nature’ (2020), something between a guided walk and a performance of La Barasse park, and Ingel Vaikla’s film ‘Double Exposure’ (2019) (part of a screening programme by the same name).

La Barasse seemed a strange place for a guided tour because, at least on the surface, there is nothing particularly remarkable about it. Yet as we walked through the streets and into the park, with Turion speaking into our audio headsets like a dubbed voice-over for a live film, the stories she told began to make the place come alive with whispers of mystery, pathos and joy, surrounding the lives of the people who we encountered on our way. Though we witnessed such intimacy in real-time, I found myself too shy to talk to the residents after the walk was over. Not that I needed to - I had found out more about this group of strangers than members of my own family. The difficult personal and social histories Turion covered seamlessly intertwined with and balanced out the levity of these people crossing our path. While seemingly placed by deft choreography, the presence of these figures lies somewhere between performance and the unrehearsed activities of daily life.

‘Double Exposure’ was screened in partnership with Kolektiv 318 at Le Corbusier’s Cité Radieuse. This celebrated site was the blueprint for those ubiquitous apartment blocks built throughout the Soviet Union. It is still a remarkable building, popular with visitors to Marseille, and offers spectacular views of the sea and the hills from its roof terrace. Slavutych, the setting for Vaikla’s film, is exactly the same type of non-destination as La Barasse. The last pre-planned city built in the Soviet Union, constructed for the purpose of relocating evacuated Chernobyl workers, it is inextricably tied to something so large, no human could fight it.

After the screening, Vaikla spoke of the heavy responsibility of working with city and personal archives, selections of which she successfully combined with footage of a group of boys born ten years after the fall of the Soviet Union, whom she met and followed around the city. We see them hanging out and practicing gymnastics, performing elegance and strength that’s almost balletic in nature. Within the context, it is tempting as a viewer to project all manner of ideas onto these protagonists. The boys make their own use of this space, and showing that in her film is enough for Vaikla, it seems.

All of these works find a way of engaging with a particular locality and history, without quite veering into the territory of socially-engaged art. The artists would have naturally had preconceptions about the areas they were going into, but have left the gates wide open for growth and nuance. This delicate feat balances the tensions of memorialisation and reinterpretation - we are using the same door, but we are on a different street.

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