Field­work Mar­fa A Uto­pia on Judd’s Doors­tep


The at­mos­phere at the Beaux-arts de Nantes is in­tense. The school will be ope­ning a new buil­ding on the Île de Nantes in 2017 and is about to com­mence the se­cond phase of Field­work Mar­fa, an am­bi­tious re­si­den­cy pro­ject for stu­dents and ar­tists ini­tia­ted in 2011 in the small Texan town sy­no­ny­mous with Do­nald Judd, who mo­ved there in the 1970s and crea­ted the Chi­na­ti Foun­da­tion. For Pierre-Jean Gal­din, at the helm in Nantes since 2004, his ins­ti­tu­tion will func­tion as the hub of an in­ter­na­tio­nal en­ti­ty whose sa­tel­lites are in Nantes, Da­kar and Seoul. The Mar­fa re­si­den­cy pro­ject it­self was concei­ved in part­ner­ship with the HEAD school in Ge­ne­va, and al­so in­volves The School of art, Uni­ver­si­ty of Hous­ton. It all be­gan ten years ago when Pierre-Jean Gal­din, re­cent­ly ap­poin­ted di­rec­tor of the École des Beaux-arts de Nantes, and JeanPierre Greff, di­rec­tor of HEAD in Ge­ne­va, were at­ten­ding a con­fe­rence on art schools in Go­then­burg. They got to tal­king about Mar­fa, the town of two thou­sand souls built at a cross­roads in the Chi­hua­hua De­sert, and be­gan to dream of a joint re­si­den­cy pro­ject there for the two schools: the de­sert as a place of in­fi­nite pos­si­bi­li­ty, a space of pa­ra­doxes, with a na­tu­ral re­la­tion bet­ween Judd’s re­la­tion to space and the work done at Nantes on pu­blic space around the Loire es­tua­ry. Re­si­dents at Mar­fa would work on land­scape, fron­tiers, Mi­ni­mal and Land art, and im­ma­te­rial ter­ri­to­ries. The Mar­fa pro­ject was dri­ven by a mix­ture of em­pi­ri­cism and uto­pia­nism, by dreams of free­dom and the al­most my­thi­cal di­men­sion of Mar­fa, al­so known for its pur­por­ted ex­tra­ter­res­trial ma­ni­fes­ta­tions, the Mar­fa Lights. It’s a long drive from El Pa­so air­port to Mar­fa: three hours through the de­sert. You can feel the emp­ti­ness. In this conser­va­tive part of the U.S., Mar­fa is an is­land of fan­ta­sies. Most of the in­ha­bi­tants here came from New York, Los Angeles or even fur­ther, in pur­suit of their par­ti­cu­lar ver­sion of the Ame­ri­can Dream. The town has al­so fas­ci­na­ted film­ma­kers. James Dean slept at the Pai­sa­no Hotel here when shoo­ting Giant, and its Mexi­can-tile cour­tyard and buf­fa­lo head tro­phies on the walls are still the ba­ck­drop to ma­ny a mee­ting here. This was where Lar­ry Clark shot Mar­fa Girl. Ar­tists such as Ch­ris­to­pher Wool and Zoe Leo­nard have set up stu­dios here and the place has a ge­nuine ar­tis­tic life, ba­sed around a com­mu­ni­ty at­trac­ted by the free­dom to ac­com­plish their pro­jects. The Ball Room art cen­ter ope­ned in 2003 and pro­du­ced, among others, a contro­ver­sial work by Elm­green and Drag­set consis­ting of a false Pra­da bou­tique on the road­side, out in the de­sert, for­ty-five mi­nutes from here. Nu­me­rous gal­le­ries of mixed qua­li­ty have joi­ned the en­semble and a hip new hotel has just ope­ned, which has ra­ther chan­ged the town’s phy­sio­gno­my. Mar­fa’s clo­se­ness to Mexico al­so means it has the big­gest Bor­der Pa­trol in these parts. The fron­tier is in­vi­sible, but you can feel it eve­ryw­here. Com­mu­ni­ties do not mix and in­equa­li­ties are acute. As Pierre-Jean Gal­din sug­ges­ted, af­ter the recent elec­tion the new po­li­ti­cal si­tua­tion is li­ke­ly to orient fu­ture work to­wards ques­tions of the land­scape and en­vi­ron­ment, but al­so Mexico and its com­mu­ni­ties.

Of course, Do­nald Judd is the do­mi­nant fi­gure in this land­scape. Born in Mis­sou­ri, it is said that the ar­tist pas­sed through Mar­fa when he tra­ve­led across the coun­try on his way to mi­li­ta­ry ser­vice (this was du­ring the Ko­rean War). As he wrote his mo­ther, he was char­med by its 1930s ar­chi­tec­ture. Ma­ny years la­ter, when li­ving in a loft in New York’s So­Ho, he was loo­king for more space and thought of Mar­fa. With the help of the Dia Foun­da­tion he was able to buy an old mi­li­ta­ry base and trans­form it in­to a place to show his works the way no mu­seum see­med ca­pable of doing. Vi­si­ting the Chi­na­ti Foun­da­tion to­day, the im­pact of the land­scape is im­me­diate, in­es­ca­pable. The most stri­king en­sembles by the ar­tist are the 15 un­tit­led

works in con­crete (1980-1984), a se­ries of mo­dules laid out over a ki­lo­me­ter of scrub, and, in dia­logue with them, the 100 un­tit­led works in mil alu­mi­num (1982–86), hou­sed in two brick han­gars with glass sides to which Judd him­self ad­ded hi­gher ar­ched roofs. Their illu­sio­nis­tic me­tal al­pha­bet with its sen­sual re­flec­tions ra­di­cal­ly trans­forms the vi­sion that we get of this ar­tist in mu­seums. La­ter, Judd in­vi­ted some ar­tist friends to create works for the site, among them John Cham­ber­lain, Carl Andre, Ro­ni Horn, Ilya and Emi­lia Ka­ba­kov, Hi­ro­shi Su­gi­mo­to, John Wes­ley, and Dan Fla­vin, whose piece is the most suc­cess­ful. In six two-part buil­dings, his neons fol­low a re­gu­lar rhythm that echoes the pea­ce­ful, swee­ping land­scape vi­sible through the win­dows. Last year, a new work by Ro­bert Ir­win—Judd ini­tia­ted the pro­ject short­ly be­fore his death—was inau­gu­ra­ted in the old mi­li­ta­ry hos­pi­tal. Through the buil­ding’s sym­me­tri­cal win­dows, the piece plays with the crys­tal­line light of the de­sert, ta­king vi­si­tors from night to day in on­ly a few steps. But Do­nald Judd was al­so a bit of an au­tho­ri­ta­rian. The Chia­na­ti Foun­da­tion can be vi­si­ted on­ly with a guide. In the town, Judd’s pre­sence is eve­ryw­here, even on the fa­çade of the big white buil­ding that houses the of­fices of the Judd Foun­da­tion, crea­ted as an es­tate by his two chil­dren and his last part­ner. It owns the three ranches that he had in the moun­tain, plus The Block, his house in the town, a mo­nas­ti­cal­ly as­ce­tic place sur­roun­ded by brick walls wi­thout the usual adobe ren­de­ring. As if to pre­de­fine the myth, eve­ry­thing here was kept exact­ly as it was when he died. The books in his abun­dant shelves are not even ac­ces­sible to re­sear­chers. The play area crea­ted for his chil­dren is for­ced and aus­tere, as is the rest of this pro­per­ty bi­zar­re­ly lo­ca­ted bet­ween a noi­sy seed plant that is part of the town’s bea­ting heart and the tracks along which trains pass se­ve­ral times a day, like in mo­vies, and the bells of the church. Maybe this is a way of mar­king out time as his art marks out space. On­ly a few you­th­ful works add a more ap­proa­chable, mo­ving di­men­sion, sug­ges­ting some of the di­rec­tions he ne­ver ex­plo­red. AN EXPERIMENTAL DI­MEN­SION Du­ring the first five years of the Field­work Mar­fa pro­gram groups of stu­dents have come to work in a house ren­ted in the town, not on­ly from Nantes and Ge­ne­va but al­so from the art school in Cler­mont-Fer­rand. The pro­gram has been co­or­di­na­ted by Yann Cha­tei­gné Ty­tel­man, Étienne Ber­nard and, cur­rent­ly, Ida Sou­lard. In ad­di­tion, thir­ty-three ar­tists from dif­ferent coun­tries, se­lec­ted by a ju­ry, have each spent two or three months in re­si­dence here, pre­sen­ting the works they did at sym­po­siums held in 2012 and 2013. Among them are Me­lis­sa Dub­bin and Aa­ron Da­vid­son, Étienne Cham­baud and Vincent Nor­mand, Char­lotte Moth, Wil­frid Al­men­dra, and Be­noît-Ma­rie Mo­ri­ceau. Squa­ring up to Judd may be consi­de­red quite a tough chal-

lenge for these young ar­tists, but it is al­so a real op­por­tu­ni­ty to hone their vi­sion and think hard about their aes­the­tic choices. Among recent pro­jects, in May 2016, Jen­ni­fer Bur­ris-Sta­ton, a cu­ra­tor in re­si­dence, set up the Mar­fa Soun­ding fes­ti­val, the se­cond edi­tion of which will be held in spring 2017. It com­prises on-site mu­si­cal per­for­mances, sound ins­tal­la­tions and conver­sa­tions. With the help of lo­cal struc­ture Mar­fa Live Arts, Bur­ris-Sta­ton in­vi­ted com­po­ser Al­vin Lu­cier, then aged eigh­ty-four, to com­pose a new piece, Sfe­rics, for the cel­list Charles Cur­tis— and, she adds, “for the wind.” It was per­for­med in a part of the de­sert that par­ti­ci­pants in Field­work Mar­fa so­me­times call The Land, as if to plant the first pio­neers there. This is a huge eight-hec­tare space that has just been pur­cha­sed for the Nantes art school by a group of lo­cal pa­trons in Nantes—a res­tau­ra­teur, a real es­tate de­ve­lo­per, a gal­le­rist, an ar­chi­tect—. This is a real ad­ven­ture, more than the word “pa­tron” usual­ly im­plies. En­te­ring the road that leads there, a few­mi­nutes from Mar­fa cen­ter by car but al­rea­dy on the edge of the de­sert, you pass through one of those woo­den frames that usual­ly an­nounce the en­trance to a ranch. The ad­dress is full of pro­mise: An­te­lope Hills Road. In the dis­tance, low moun­tains catch the light and clouds. There is a well for water. Horses left by a neigh­bor graze free­ly. Birds and rab­bits move around here and there bet­ween the yuc­cas. This se­cond foun­ding stage of Field­work Mar­fa was pre­sen­ted in New York last Sep­tem­ber by the mayor of Nantes Jean-Marc Ay­rault as part of a fun­drai­sing drive to pay for fa­ci­li­ties to house stu­dents and ar­tists here. Concei­ved by one of the pa­trons, ar­chi­tect An­tho­ny Rio, with Uni­té Agen­cy, the idea is to leave the space as flexible as pos­sible and to al­low maxi­mum free­dom for its fu­ture users. There will be a stu­dio at the end of the plot, concei­ved as a place where life and work go hand in hand, like in Judd’s stu­dio. The first stone should be laid in Ju­ly 2017. There will al­so be a per­ma­nent sculp­ture gar­den (the Art Field) and an experimental area for stu­dents from Nantes and others in­vi­ted from part­ner schools (the Art Vil­lage). As of this sum­mer, the lat­ter will be home to a li­ving, chan­ging li­bra­ry concei­ved by Bru­no Per­sat. It will com­prise his personal col­lec­tion of the Whole Earth Ca­ta­log,( 1) and books on the Ame­ri­can coun­ter­cul­ture of the 1970s as well as other col­lec­tions still to come. This is a way of ques­tio­ning Judd’s om­ni­pre­sence in the town. A dance floor by Do­nald Judd, Chi­na­ti Foun­da­tion, Mar­fa. (Ph. DR) Page de gauche / page left: The Block, 400 and 416 West El Pa­so Ave­nue, Mar­fa. (Mai­son de Do­nald Judd ; Ph. DR). Judd’s house Cé­cile Pa­ris, an open-air scree­ning area concei­ved by Jean-Sylvain Bieth, andMi­chel Au­bry’s re­cons­ti­tu­tion of the pa­vi­lion de­si­gned by Kons­tan­tin Mel­ni­kov for the USSR at the 1925 Ex­po­si­tion In­ter­na­tio­nale des Arts Dé­co­ra­tifs et In­dus­triels Mo­dernes in Pa­ris, will al­so oc­cu­py the land. Pen­ding the inau­gu­ra­tion of these new buil­dings, other events will conti­nue in the spring, with the co­ming of three groups of stu­dents from Nantes, a “1% cultu­rel” pro­ject at­tri­bu­ted to Fa­brice Hy­ber, and the se­cond edi­tion of Mar­fa Soun­ding. To­day, Field­work Mar­fa is rich and flexible en­ough for its uto­pian side to be still felt, with the po­ten­tial to be­come more com­plete. Who knows, it may even de­ve­lop in­to a pole of re­sis­tance.

Trans­la­tion, C. Pen­war­den (1) The Whole Earth Ca­ta­log was a coun­ter­cul­tu­ral land­mark pu­bli­shed in San Fran­cis­co by Ste­wart Brand bet­ween 1968 and 1972, with oc­ca­sio­nal fol­lo­wups through to 1998.

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