A hybrid discipline, at the crossroads between architecture, dramaturgy and graphics, theatrical scenography is often associated with staging work. But as an aesthetic form, becomes an art in its own right: its uniqueness lies in its ability to bring to life worlds buried in the imagination of a playwright. Building on this approach, every four years the Prague Quadrennial explores the movements that inspire this discipline. Scenography is covered in all its forms around different themes.
For the 14th edition, the Czech capital will welcome 800 artists from 79 countries to present more than 600 performances in ten days. Three international competitions also sought out the boldest projects in classes for “Countries & Regions”, “Schools” and “Theatre Architectures”. Absent from the event since 2003, France is presenting two exhibition pavilions this year and intends to reaffirm through them the creative vitality of its contemporary theatre.
Scenography, art of fusion
With the fiftieth anniversary, the 2019 Quadrennial is naturally structured around three themes that have been closely linked to the spirit of the event since its creation. In Prague, scenography is considered a work of fusion, aiming to extract the best from different aesthetic forms to express the power of an artistic vision. This celebration of different influences in the same creative work is recognised by the most prestigious prize awarded at the festival: the "Triga d'Or".
This trophy is inspired by the statue on the pediment of the Prague National Theatre which represents the goddess of victory, Niké, on a chariot pulled by three horses. Each of the horses embodies an age of life: the vigour of youth, adulthood and the wisdom of old age. Like these horses tasked with serving the same ideal, the three themes of the 14th edition of the quadrennial evoke the defining stages of the scenographic creation process: Imagination, Transformation and Memory.
Box of dream(s)
The French delegation is led by the director of the Amandiers theatre, Philippe Quesne. Renowned for his rich scenery complete with its own Baroque bestiary and always full of humour, the director, who trained in Decorative Arts, puts scenery at the very heart of his shows. Since his appointment as Head of the Nanterre National Centre for Drama in 2014, he has led the way in experimental scenography by inviting artists such as Théo Mercier, Sophie Pérez and Xavier Boussiron who are not afraid to mix up forms.
Artistic director for the French side, Philippe Quesne presents the unpublished work Microcosma. Based on the myth of the desert island, which he touched on in 2018 in the show Crash Park, he continues his study of human micro-societies confronted with survival, adding in new utopia and surprising fantasies. This immersive installation brings to life one of the author’s secret observation boxes, and puts the concept of landscape at the heart of his thinking, in turn a place of anxiety, challenge or dreams.
Alongside the "France" pavilion, the schools area offers a particularly original experience that fervently embraces one of the three themes of the Quadrennial: “Imagination”. Rather than selecting the best student work in the traditional way, the teaching team opted for a more open and free framework, stimulating the creation of imaginative scenography from this new generation.
To this end Eight national establishments training in the discipline (Nantes National School of Architecture, Paris National School of Decorative Arts, Lyon National School of Arts and Theatre Techniques, Paris La Villette and Paris-Malaquais National Schools of Architecture, Mulhouse/Strasbourg Rhine University of the Arts, Strasbourg National Theatre School and the New Sorbonne University, Paris) invited ten students to express themselves as part of a “Ninth School”, and to work together on the design of the pavilion. For one year, the schools met in workshops and round tables between Nanterre, Paris and Strasbourg to define their work, experiment with new forms and produce the final project.
Around a formal as well as a political question – “What does France mean?” – the students started from the theme of the island, at the heart of Philippe Quesne’s creation, to develop their own bias, characterised by material relating to poverty. The result is a project with a theme of homelessness that is imbued with African culture and displayed in a scenography truck whose purpose is to take with it the dreams of students, as well as to metaphorically depict the return of France to Prague after years of absence.
To support this dual project, the delegation has finally acquired an additional creative tool. On the website for the French part of the quadrennial, the students and their artistic director put together an online logbook through which users can follow the progress of the work, view sketches and find portraits of each participant.
Designed as a window on the project rather than a showcase, this eclectic virtual space allows observation of the creative process in action, in the everyday, including its ups and downs. The approach clearly reminds us of Philippe Quesne's taste for vivariums and entomological experiments. It has a particularly strong significance as part of the 2019 quadrennial, where staging is unimpeded and represents the true art of collective impetus and hybridisation.
The Institut français is a partner of the Prague Quadrennial.
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