The architecture firm Ateliers Adeline Rispal and its partners (Si/Studio Irrésistible, graphic design, Les éclaireurs, lighting design, Innovision, multimedia engineering consulting) have designed the scenographic and artistic arrangements of various spaces in the Justus Lipsius and Europa buildings in Brussels, as part of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which began on 1 January 2022. Adeline Rispal looks back at their project, entitled L'Étoffe de l'Europe™, its creation and significance. The Institut français is providing project management assistance.
Updated on 17/01/2022
Could you briefly tell our readers about your long career in the fields of architecture and scenography?
I am an architect specialising in the scenography of cultural and public places, particularly museum exhibitions. I finished my architectural studies in 1981 and the following year I joined Jean Nouvel to work on the design and supervision of the work for the Institut du Monde Arabe. Two years later, he entrusted me with the project management of the museum's scenography. This experience was fundamental for me and, since then, I have always kept a foot in both camps: architecture and scenography, which is also a form of architecture. In both cases, it is a question of locating a political, cultural or scientific project in space and creating the spaces intended to house its human activities. This belief is rooted in my encounter, at the end of my studies, with the work of Carlos Scarpa, who was also an architect, exhibition curator and scenographer. My discovery of his work at the Castelvecchio in Verona changed my perceptions and allowed me to reassess my practice as an architect. When I left Jean Nouvel's office seven years later, I set up my own practice with two other architects and we naturally specialised in cultural projects.
Les Ateliers Adeline Rispal won the tender for the design of scenographic and artistic installations in the buildings of the Council of the European Union. The project you are presenting, as part of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, is called L'Étoffe de l'Europe™. Can you describe the principal ideas behind this project?
The central idea behind the project is to highlight the humanity of Europe and the Europeans who create and weave its fabric on a daily basis. Europe is in my blood: my mother is from Barcelona and I considered myself more European than French at a very young age. We are the fruit of thousands of years of migration within geographical Europe, so it was essential for me to express and enhance this beautiful complexity that enriches us and unifies us for several millennia to come.
Why did you choose the symbolism of fabric, which is linked here with a reflection on data through the notion of data-weaving?
The fabric refers to the metaphor of the links that are woven in the long and patient work of building Europe: making, unmaking, remaking, etc. Europe is in essence unfinished and always needs to be woven, collaboratively and voluntarily. We are all heroes of Europe, hence the word étoffe (fabric). Fabric is, moreover, a virtuous material: easy to transport and with a low ecological footprint depending on the materials it is made of. It can completely transform a space at little cost: if you want to transform the atmosphere of your home, the easiest thing to do is to change the curtains.
As far as data weaving is concerned, we ourselves are very sensitive to history and science. We believe that when you use scientific data, you get a little closer to the truth, to a representation that can be shared by all. In a project as political as L'Étoffe de l'Europe™, it was imperative for us to maintain this rigour, even though it is also a utopia that is constantly being called into question by scientific advances. We decided to weave together dates, a chronology and the symbols of the member states. There remains a virtuous value in the data that represents us in some way, and in data design, the purpose of which is to transform the quantitative into the qualitative in order to communicate better with everyone. The notion of data also manifests itself in the work of the digital artist Jacques Perconte, who will be honoured in this development project.
How does this project reflect the main themes of the programme for the upcoming French Presidency of the Council of the European Union?
This was indeed part of the specifications. The presidency will be based on three key words. Belonging: building a sense of belonging and, to achieve this, making Europe desirable and corresponding to the expectations of its citizens. Strength, because it is a question of asserting Europe's political strength in the face of current geopolitical upheavals. And finally, Recovery, after these two very trying years of Covid. We are translating all of this into our scenographic and artistic project, particularly in the first installation.
The scenography of L'Étoffe de l'Europe™ is linked to the Justus Lipsius and Europa buildings. How did you take into account the characteristics of these two architectural ensembles to make them coincide with your project?
We like to weave together the programmatic, symbolic, historical, architectural, technical, functional and economic constraints of the projects we are in charge of. The Justus Lipsius building is quite austere, it is a marker of institutional power, fairly classic in its design. The second, Europa, is different: the architect has chosen to play with shapes and colours, which results in something more sculpted. The Belgian artist Georges Meurant worked on it using a coloured chessboard on the ceilings and floors. This affected us a great deal and pushed us to use colour to bring the optimism we need in these troubled times. We worked with the colours of the different European flags, with real input from our design partners at Studio Irrésistible to create the rigorous and joyful aesthetic of a weave that will run through and inspire the events in the different spaces.
The atrium of the Justus Lipsius building, where the first large installation is located, created issues of space, and in particular scale: 1,600 sq.m under a glass roof 20 metres high. We wanted to work with this very imposing architectural scale on a second, more human, more approachable scale. We therefore decided, despite the many constraints of the atrium, to suggest a rather large textile installation, made up of two half-wings of printed non-woven fabric that rise up and create a sort of cradle floating above the ground up to a height of about 4 metres, in which one feels like a human among humans. The installation resonates not only with the idea of belonging that I have already mentioned but also with the other concepts, of strength in the scale of the gesture and of recovery in the dynamics of this shared vessel.
The project involves French designers, such as the digital artist Jacques Perconte and the textile designer Jeanne Goutelle. How did you approach these different collaborations?
Jeanne Goutelle has been with us since the application stage. She has created metal screens in the reception areas of the Presidency, woven with textile ribbons in the colours of France, using fabric recovered from industry in Saint-Etienne. The idea here is to inhabit spaces and make them more welcoming. The Hémicycle armchairs designed by Philippe Nigro, recently produced by the Mobilier National, are installed at the heart of these spaces. In the Justus Lipsius building, the work of Jacques Perconte, a pioneer of digital art, is projected on a curtain of high-definition LED screens and his photos are hung on midnight blue backgrounds. These are pieces that weave digital and poetic landscapes and resonate with the concepts that run through our scenographic project.
The project also includes six emerging French artists based in Belgium whose works are displayed on the 50th floor in a large hall that serves as the offices and meeting rooms of the French Presidency: Léa Belooussovitch, Jérôme Bonvalot Vincent Chenut, Loup Lejeune, Elise Peroi and Lucien Roux.
The Institut français is providing project management assistance for the Étoffe de l’Europe™ project.
During the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union, from 1 January to 30 June 2022, the Institut français is working towards the objectives defined by the government for this Presidency. The Institut français will therefore be implementing a series of cultural events and activities to promote European creativity.
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