Public debate

Marc Dondey

Combining disciplines makes the way the world is understood more effective.

Marc Dondey is Director of the Scène de recherche (Research Stage) of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (ENS) – Paris-Saclay which opened in January 2020. He works for interdisciplinarity between artists and scientists. He presents this new place and explains his approach to creation.

Updated on 27/04/2022

5 min

Marc Dondey
Marc Dondey @Tonje Thoresen

You have been director of the théâtre des Amandiers and the Gaité lyrique, an artistic rep in the contemporary music scene in London and Strasbourg. What has you career path been?

Theatre gave me my entrance into the artistic world, where I started as a theatre critic. At the Almeida Music Festival in London – an event dedicated to contemporary music creation –, I explored a very international repertoire with an approach against the flow that brought together artists from all disciplines, musicians, scenographers, directors, in voluntary interdisciplinarity. My path is crossed by the desire to create work spaces for creations that are unexpected, moving, surprising, that interrogate me, interrogate the artists that produce them, and invite the public to share them. This movement has become my profession as my experiences have progressed. I think you need a mix of persistence and flexibility to make these projects happen!

Your career shows creations at the crossroads of the arts, science and new technologies. What is your common theme?

My common theme is transdisciplinarity: criss-crossing personalities, paths, different cultures. I like working in a context of hybridisation, crossing the imagination, languages and territories by mixing new technologies with them.

What do you like about transdisciplinarity in particular?

Experimenting and surprise. I find that is only when you activate these slightly complicated work configurations that you access a noticeably richer and stronger experience from a human, artistic, and maybe intellectual and political point of view. What comes into play in these elements crossing cultures, is the discernible intelligence of the world surrounding us: a particularly necessary approach faced with the systemic developments we are experiencing, the pandemic, global warming, les digital transformations... Combining disciplines makes the way the world is understood more effective.

Are the “L'urgence des alliances” (The urgency of alliances) debates you organised with Télérama and the Théâtre de la ville de Paris last June an example?

Yes. Scientists, artists, philosophers, producers... Together we have thought about what post-Covid culture could be and should be. We wanted to work to understand what was happening to us in order to get out of our state of shock and helplessness. The answer for all of us was to take the form of sharing between the different ways of thinking and expression: that of culture, health, sciences, the environment, the economy and education. We needed this prism and curve of alliances to understand, the imagine what could be done and said to come out of the pandemic.

Today you are director of the Scène de recherche of the ENS Paris-Saclay: what is this new place was inaugurated in January 2020, its origin and connections with cult institutions like the Centre Pompidou?

Pierre-Paul Zalio, president of the ENS Paris-Saclay wanted the Scène de recherche to exist, in the context of creating the Université Paris-Saclay, which groups together several universities and scientific specialist higher education establishments. It was the right time for the ENS Paris-Saclay to make its contribution because an internationally renowned major scientific university should have a cultural section and organise artists to be present as well as for them to meet researchers and students. The Scène de recherche is there to encourage new ways of researching, creating, exploring and lecturing. Art and culture are means to meet new and different partners, which has enabled us to sign conventions with the Centre Pompidou, Ircam, EnsAD, Fondation Daniel et Nina Carasso among others.

The Scène de recherche is there to encourage new ways of researching, creating, exploring and lecturing.

What is your mission?

The mission consists of spaces for researchers, artists and students of all disciplines – artistic and scientific, from elementary science to human and social sciences – to work and experiment together. This gives rise to highly varied configurations. The residencies and workshops serve to bring about ideas, unexpected work paths thanks to the encounter between other imaginations and practices. This is the basic principle of research-creation, which inspires our residencies and training, and the programme open to the general public.

Can you give us some examples of creations to come?

We’re supporting 4 to 6 residency projects, on very diverse registers. The Aeon show residency shows the synergy between the artist Clément Debailleul (who started the magie nouvelle (new magic) movement), and cognitive sciences with the Neurospin laboratory. The perception of time, movement and space is explored here. In the Mauvaises Filles (Bad Girls) project the director Sandrine Lanno looks into how gender is constructed in a juvenile delinquent centre with young women offenders. It’s real social fieldwork combining sociology, anthropology, drama writing and staging.

The Scène de recherche of the ENS Paris-Saclay also as a training mission. What is it?

The training provided puts emphasis on artistic practise and collective experimentation. We have science-fiction writing workshops, augmented guitars, choral singing... More “supervised” training with units of transversal lecturing: Immersive environments on 3D sound spaces, in partnership with Ircam, Robots and augmented bodies, where we explore interaction between humans and machines. We are preparing a research year in research-creation at master level.

What is important for you to support?

If there’s one central subject, it’s that of the body and moving. The body in all its dimensions, from the individual to the social body. The body as a space of perception, sensation, emotion, robotics, augmented gestures, fragility, health, handicap... The body as subject and object, living laboratory for science and technology. In addition, at the moment we’re leading a workshop on facial recognition.

The Scène de recherche of the ENS Paris-Saclay is a key partner of the Institut français Arts and Sciences programme: how are you contributing to it?

We are taking part in a dialogue with cultural attachés, scientists and academics from the Institut français. Our contribution is to make propositions to the network members which could enable them to work on site with scientists and artists who are in their environment.

The invitation of the Institut français to talk with the network means we have to come up with mobile, flexible, “exportable” formats. Sharing projects, yes, but also exchanging knowledge. How can we design projects that do not travel but that we send instructions for how to implement them? This pushes us to consider how projects are reconstructed in different environments. For the Scène de recherche this partnership is the opportunity to discover people, artists, partners, new territories: that’s the most valuable aspect the Institut français can bring us.

The Institut français and the Scène de recherche of the ENS Paris-Saclay

The Scène de recherche of the ENS Paris-Saclay is a partner of the Institut français Arts and Sciences programme. As part of it, Marc Dondey participated to a webinar, organised by the Institut français, about arts, sciences and technologies. 

Find out more about the Arts and Sciences programme

L'institut français, LAB