L’Asile des photographies



L’Asile des photographies

Past: February 13 → May 11, 2014

“In 2010, Le Point du Jour and the Fondation Bon-Sauveur invited us to work on the archives of the Picauville psychiatric hospital, about forty kilometers from Cherbourg. This invitation came in the wake of an earlier request: the old hospital buildings were due for demolition, and the Foundation had asked Le Point du Jour to help find another way to keep the memory of the hospital alive. It’s unusual for a medical institution to approach a local cultural institution in this way. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we were told that the audiovisual department had a collection of old photos and films, patiently compiled by Léon Faligot, a nurse at the Foundation. We would also be given access to the hospital’s written archives which included medical files, some of which dated from before the Second World War. When we discovered these hundreds of photographs from the 1930s to the present day, stored away in cardboard boxes and files, we knew straightaway that we had stumbled upon buried treasure.”

— Mathieu Pernot and Philippe Artières.

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Mathieu Pernot, Le Dortoir des agîtés, Hôpital de Picauville (Manche), 2010 © Mathieu Pernot

Over the past fifteen years, Philippe Artières and Mathieu Pernot, the former as a historian and the latter as an artist, have addressed similar subjects in forms that resemble inventories or stagings.

These similar practices, and the friendship this has forged between the two men, prompted Le Point du Jour to suggest that they work together on the Picauville hospital archives. In 2004, Mathieu Pernot asked Philippe Artières to write a text that would accompany the photographs in Hautes Surveillances (Actes Sud). Depicting an empty prison interior as though it were a stage, with friends and family shouting to the prisoners from outside the walls, these photos bear witness to both the prison regime and the minute liberties taken by those subjected to it.

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Mathieu Pernot, Inventaire, Hôpital de Picauville (Manche), 2010 © Mathieu Pernot

Of obvious importance to the work of historian Philippe Artières, archives also feature in that of Mathieu Pernot. His book, Un camp pour les bohémiens (Actes Sud, 2001), was based on the anthropometric records of the itinerants sent to a camp in Saliers, near Arles, by the Vichy regime.

Ten years later, Philippe Artières explored the very same Bouches-du-Rhône departmental archives for his exhibition, Du bateau à la cité, l’enfermement à Marseille XVIIIe-XXe siècles. This attention to penal systems doesn’t prevent the two men from sharing an interest in a “history of the ordinary”, the subheading of Philippe Artière’s book Rêves d’histoire — Pour une histoire de l’ordinaire (Les Prairies Ordinaires, 2006). In it he discusses how ideas for research, a mix of political and personal, emerge from a random exploring of archives. Mathieu Pernot’s Le Grand Ensemble (Le Point du Jour, 2007) could be one such subject. The photographer juxtaposes his pictures of imploding inner-city tower blocks with postcards of the same places in their glory days. By enlarging the tiny people on the postcards and linking them to the messages written on the back, Pernot reminds us how the human element was excluded from the functional housing of urban renewal.

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Mathieu Pernot, Ancien bloc opératoire, 2010 © Mathieu Pernot

The two most recent books by the artist and the historian again show us the lives of anonymous individuals through the prism of major political questions. In Les Migrants (GwinZegal, 2012), Mathieu Pernot considers the lives of migrants not through conventional photo-journalism but by photographing their huddled forms and the handwritten notebooks in which they recount their lives.

In Vie et mort de Paul Gény (Le Seuil, 2013), Philippe Artières uses a narrative style rather than the academic to investigate the murder of a member of his family, a Jesuit priest who was killed by a “madman” in Rome between the two world wars. Both books combine images and text in a way that serves as neither illustration nor commentary. They reveal a subject while offering neither authoritative scientific discourse nor assertive artistic style. They leave it to our imagination to comprehend the facts.

In L’Asile des Photographies, Philippe Artières and Mathieu Pernot have again produced a work that is part documentary, part allusion.

Mathieu Pernot and Philippe Artières Mathieu Pernot’s work has been widely exhibited, including at the Cité Nationale de l’Histoire de l’Immigration (2009), the Musée Nicéphore-Niépce (2007) and the Rencontres d’Arles (2007, 2002 and 1997). He has published ten books, the first of which was Tsiganes (Actes Sud, 1999).

Philippe Artières is Director of Research at the CNRS School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS). His published works include La vie écrite — Thérèse de Lisieux (Les Belles Lettres, 2011), D’après Foucault : gestes, programmes, luttes, with Mathieu Potte-Bonneville, (Les Prairies Ordinaires, 2007) and Le Livre des vies coupables : autobiographies de criminels, 1896-1909 (Albin- Michel, 2000). In 2013, he edited La Révolte de la prison de Nancy — 15 janvier 1972, for Le Point du Jour.

Philippe Artières and Mathieu Pernot worked together on a further two books, both of which accompanied group shows on the 13 theme of imprisonment: Archives de l’infamie. Michel Foucault, une collection imaginaire (Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon / Les Prairies Ordinaires, 2009) and L’Impossible photographie, Prisons parisiennes 1851-2010 (Musée Carnavalet / Paris-Musées, 2010).

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9 rue du Plâtre

75004 Paris


Hôtel de Ville

Opening hours

Late night on Thursday until 9 PM
Every day except Tuesday, 11 AM – 7 PM

Admission fee

Free entry

The artists

  • Mathieu Pernot
  • Philippe Artières