Why South Way Studio’s ideas Must Spark Outrage

Although contemporary art institutions are facing growing contestations from decolonial, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, feminist, queer and environmentalist struggles, many of these very institutions and their leaders hardly make the effort to hear, let alone welcome them.

From 23 June to 3 November 2019, the Musée régional d’Art contemporain Occitanie/Pyrénées-Méditerranée (MRAC Sérignan), an institution under the authority of the Occitanie Region, is hosting the exhibition « Les chemins du Sud, une théorie du Mineur » (South ways, a theory of the minor) curated by Emmanuelle Luciani and Charlotte Cosson (Southway studio), invited by Sandra Patron. On the institution’s website, reading the press release which comes across as a manifesto, doesn’t leave room for any doubts.[1]

Since 2013, it is becoming clearer and clearer that Emmanuelle Luciani and Charlotte Cosson are fostering conservative theories revolving on a cult of roots and identities anchored in Southern Europe – while gathering a certain French art scene around them. Mechanically drawing parallels with Western medieval times, they call for a return to ancestral modes of production in the arts: tapestries, mosaics, ceramics, bronze, pottery, etc. Such artworks are often produced by practitioners voluntarily organised as ancient craftsmen’s guilds, during production residencies taking place in their Marseille-based workshop: South Way Studio. 

Through their magazine Code South Way(#1 Oracular/Vernacular, #2 Cosquer Cave, #3 Preference for the primitive, #4 Néomédieval, #5 Sacra Conversazione, #6 Eros et Thanatos), and many negotiations with history, they articulate a reactionary critique of capitalism linking art, worship and sacred rituals to the rediscovery of a supposedly lost ontology of Western civilization, often referred to as “the whole of humanity”[2]. This essentialist perception of culture is often an opportunity to contribute, as much as they can, to the dissemination of an image: a mythified folklore that would take its roots in French medieval rurality. In advocating for a return to an imaginary past promoting a logic of legacy against a logic of emancipation, their thinking aligns with neo-reactionary movements’ ideologies. 

Code South Way #1 Oracular/Vernacular
Code South Way #3 Preference for the primitive
Code South Way #4 Néomédieval
Code South Way #5 Sacra Conversazione

The many theoretical figures they summon (from Jean-François Lyotard to Marcel Gauchet, Bruno Latour and Bernard Stiegler) and the incongruity of historical references (clumsily manipulated) could suggest that the two curators – whose ideas might be muddled – convene an intellectual and political heritage randomly. But the recurrence of terms such as “alter-progressism”, “counter-revolutionary”, “corporatism”, “rustic”, “ancestral”, “feudal”, “medieval”, “rurality”; and their networks leave little doubt regarding an operation of normalisation of conservative and reactionary ideas, in which they have been engaged for several years. 

Source : La Provence

In 2017, the website La Horde[3] revealed the existence of close links between the extreme right and the Marseille’s art scene. The Leclere auction house was particularly put to the fore, as its director, Damien Leclere, appeared to be an early extreme right activist[4], as well as was one of his employees, Bertrand Raffaillac-Desfosses, number two of Action Française Provence. Do we need to remind ourselves that the curator duo has been collaborating on a regular basis with the auction house: since 2014 with the project they founded and still run (?), PARADISE / A Space for screen addiction, for the Leclere Art Centre in Marseille, or through various conferences and exhibitions they organise there[5]…?

How can a public institution provide such an important platform to neo-reactionary art movements without sparking indignation? While neo-fascist ideas are gaining ground all over Europe, it seems particularly shocking that a recognised cultural organisation would seek to standardise, disseminate and even introduce such ideas into the field of contemporary creation under a “cool” aesthetic varnish[6]. In the second round of the last presidential election, Marine Le Pen obtained 53.60%[7] of the votes in Sérignan, a municipality located near Béziers (in the hands of far-right mayor Robert Ménard) and situated in the 6th district of Hérault where Emmanuelle Ménard, with the Front National’s back up, was first elected as a member of parliament following the 2017 legislative elections.

Today, we are worried to notice that these ideas are being so well-welcomed by the French art world and benefit from increasingly important institutional and media outlets. Let us mention a few: La Panacée, Montpellier’s art centre, whose director, Nicolas Bourriaud, is currently curating the 2019 Istanbul Biennale; the AICA France Prize for Art Criticism for which they were nominated in 2018; the Ricard Prize for which they were selected by Neïl Beloufa in 2018; Artissima, Liste, and Paris Internationale, which distribute their publications. At the start of the school year, on September 14, a new exhibition in which South Way Studio is taking part will open its doors, as part of Noisy-le-Sec La Galerie’s programme, curated by its newly appointed director Marc Bembekoff.

Now, the question is to understand to what extent this support is the result of a widespread political naivety shared by influential relays in the French art world, or on the contrary, if this trend is unabashedly aligned with the agenda of neo-fascist forces that tend to govern the social world today.

This is what Documentations will try to analyse in the next few months. 

Source : compte instagram du Musée Estrine

[1]http://mrac.laregion.fr/exposition_fiche_mrac/237/3116-expositions-art-contemporain-du-moment.htm Au moment où nous apprenons par ailleurs la nomination de Sandra Patron à la direction du CAPC de Bordeaux



[4] Damien Leclere était à la fin des années 1990 responsable du Collectif des Étudiants de Droite (CED), la branche aixoise du Renouveau étudiant, organisation étudiante du FN de l’époque. Si l’on en croit un article de La Marseillaise daté du 24 mars 1998, le CED était plutôt partisan des méthodes musclées, puisque cinq de ses militants ont été impliqués dans l’agression de Mehdi et Saïd, deux étudiants « un peu trop « typés » à leur goût. Les deux victimes reconnaissent parmi les agresseurs Damien Leclere, qui est à la même période en 46ème position sur la liste emmené par Bruno Mégret pour les élections régionales de la même année. Toujours en 1998, le CED organise durant la coupe du monde football qui se déroule en France un concert de rock identitaire sur la commune de Jouques, avec en tête d’affiche Fraction Hexagone. Leclere suit Mégret lors de la scission et adhère au MNR, où il est en charge de la branche locale du MNJ, le mouvement de jeunesse du MNR. Après l’échec du MNR, Leclere entame une brillante carrière de commissaire-priseur, mais il n’oublie pas pour autant la politique : l’activisme est remplacé par des activités plus réflexives, puisqu’on le retrouve au Cercle Isteon, qui regroupe des militants royalistes, des cathos intégristes, d’anciens du FN ou du MNR. (source La Horde)

[5]  Expositions « Post-Internet ? » (2014), « Speculative materialism Oo Oo » (2015), « Post-human/post-humanism » (2016), « Animism/Shamanism : diving into Gaïa’s Spirit » (2016), « Pre-Historic » (2017), « Les Jardins Perdus » (2017), « Maya Beaudry, Mold Gardens (on the Ornamental Membrane) » (2017/2018)



Liens externes

Laurent PerezL’idéologie méridionale. Les Chemins du Sud, une théorie du mineur, Musée régional d’art contemporain Occitanie, Sérignan, du 23 juin au 3 novembre 2019, Art Press, 25 juillet 2019

Benoît GillesL’Action française, plongée au cœur d’une nébuleuse de l’extrême-droite, Marsactu17 octobre 2017