Le Centre Georges Pompidou / Cloud Island
Programme Notes by Carles Guerra
Chief curator, MACBA, Barcelona
Back in the 70’s Paris became the paradigm for a massive investment in new cultural policies. By 1973 Marco Ferreri’s film, Touche pas à la Femme Blanche, suggested that the city centre could be regarded as a perfect background for a Western scenario. Marcello Mastroianni played the role of General Custer in a masquerade that made Paris look like a battlefield. Ferreri took advantage of the big hole in the ground left by the demolitions that cleared the site in advance of the building of the future Forum des Halles. Out of that barren soil Ferreri created a Wild West landscape in the centre of Paris. In the film, the old city was to be conquered and its indigenous population expelled – creating such a fiction as the clearest expression of a calculated gentrification process.
In 1977 Le Centre Georges Pompidou completed the renovation of the Beaubourg area. This time it was Roberto Rossellini, the acclaimed Neorrealist Italian filmmaker, who undertook to depict the opening of the highest-impact cultural facility in decades. On 6 May, Rossellini wrapped up the editing of a 54-minute film that testified to the public’s response to the project. Rossellini’s involvement was championed by Jacques Grandclaude, of the Communauté de Cinéma, who proposed the director to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs to document and celebrate the opening of the building designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers. However, the result was a sceptical vision rather than a pure celebration: “A film without comments or music,” as Rossellini himself explained in the press. This may explain why Le Centre Georges Pompidou, which was to be Rossellini’s final film, was largely ignored.
In retrospect, we can now see the film as a lucid and ironic exercise in cultural critique. Rossellini used the classic apparatus of film production to describe a brand new institution being stormed by a mass of visitors. The first sequences reveal the Pompidou as a factory embedded in the city fabric, as if the museum had assumed the function of the old factories that were being dissassembled elsewhere. As the camera gets closer, the viewer bears witness to the remains of the neighbouring derelict bohemian apartments, just about to be torn down. Culture is right from the start a force of change. Or to put it differently, a political tool to spur a new form of governmentality.
Néstor Almendros, the director of photography, described the effect of the film as being akin to “Rossellini himself leading viewers by the hand and showing them the building”. However, Rossellini chose to be faithful to the dialectics at stake. He compiled some thirteen hours of conversations recorded amongst visitors inside the museum together with the ambient noise generated by the macro-institution – both inside and outside its walls. The lively dialogue between visitors discussing the artworks can be seen as a manifesto for demotic, popular language; in Rossellini’s film it also denotes the beginnings of a new form of cultural consumption. The Pompidou Centre launched the age of mass democratic access to the ideals of humanist culture. Yet with this film, Rossellini curbs the enthusiasm, by opting to counter sweeping views of the new institution with the often spontaneous and misinformed heterogeneous voices of ordinary people. A simple shot-by-shot description of the Centre thus becomes an incisive critique.
Watching Fiona Tan’s film, Cloud Island, one is also absorbed by its richly crafted sound. The artist filmed the island of Inujima in May 2010, capturing the daily routine of its dwindling population. As the architect Kazuyo Sejima engages in the construction of ten pavilions, Fiona Tan only allows fleeting perceptions of these new structures that will in time host artworks and cultural visitors. Inujima, once an industrialized island, is the subject of a coming transformation hardly visible in the film, as the natural environment takes over the industrial remains. The old copper refinery may be about to be devoured by vegetation, but throughout the film sound provides an aural countershot, melting natural and non-natural entities. The hustle and bustle of the masses wandering though the Centre Pompidou can perhaps be compared to the symphony collectively composed by all the diverse agents that appear in Fiona Tan’s film.
The distinctive quietness in the sequences of Cloud Island is a misleading perception. Behind the monotony hides a production not so different from the one that emerges out of the boundless and unrelenting cooperations taking place at the Centre Pompidou. Everything and everybody is mobilized through the all-embracing effect of culture. Beyond the urban and regional dimension in which the two films are inscribed, an unseen form of social production lurks in the noise.