Uncoupdedés.net — Le Cairn, centre d’art


Mixed media

Le Cairn, centre d’art

Past: February 13, 2013 → February 14, 2014

The term “site”, often mentioned in contemporary art, is particularly appropriate for describing the activities of the Cairn, a centre d’art located in Digne-les-Bains in the Alps of Haute-Provence. Artists go there and create perennial works on the protected territory of Europe’s largest geological reserve. These creations are incorporated into the encyclopaedic collections of the Gassendi Museum, itself organised like a huge showcase of curiosities. Invited to work on this subject, art critic Fabien Faure reminds us of the link between the mine prospecting activities of American geologists and the history of land art.

In 1995, Nadine Gomez, curator of the Gassendi Museum in Digne-les-Bains (in south-east France) and Guy Martini, who founded the Réserve Géologique de Haute-Provence in 1984, decided to found the CAIRN-Centre d’art. At the time, they envisaged an organisation resolutely devoted to contemporary art, which, however, would take into consideration the specific nature of this rural area in the southern foothills of the Alps, just outside the Rhone Valley area. Since then, devoted to the production of works and of monographic exhibitions, the CAIRN centre regularly hosts artists in residence, for whom they propose to work “in the spirit of the places”. In other words, while the CAIRN centre was based in the Réserve géologique de Haute-Provence — that is, concretely, in the area of 200,000 hectares that it covers — many artists, in return, have devoted themselves to re-examining, interpreting and reshaping the sites that make up this area. This dialogue, which has been renewed for almost twenty years, has produced dozens of exhibitions and lasting works, particularly “on location”. It gradually developed a collection that is clearly and deliberately situated or localized. The term “site” now seems to be appropriate for anyone who wishes to test and analyse the spatiality of many three-dimensional works — which are indeed exterior, but not only. However, since we are concerned with the foundations of the work done in Digne, it may be useful to re-examine the links between recent art and the idea of site, which is itself historically determined.

[…] Faced with the constitution of a geological scientific culture, of which the Digne area has been one of Europe’s major centres since the 19th century, the above aspects lead one to reconsider the work done within CAIRN, such as projects conducted in the last ten years by artists as diverse as Mark Dion, Herman de Vries, Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Nonas. Aware of the issues inherited from Smithson’s work, the American Mark Dion, at his personal exhibition in Digne in the summer of 2003, subtly developed links uniting a geologically over-determined area and an essential period of the history of recent art. Covered by the black marl that is typical of the Digne area, the stairway construction of his Deep Time Closet (For Réserve Naturelle Géologique) cites the nominal conventions that govern the foliated order of the geological eras and, short-circuiting temporalities, freely borrows from the sedimented configurations of Glass Stratum, Leaning Strata and Smithson’s Alogons. Two years previously, during his first exhibition in the CAIRN centre, Herman de Vries had already made use of the materiality of the same black marl and the topographical and landscape suggestions that are associated with them. Regularly deposited on the floor, they formed a large powdery rectangle, passing through the entire length of the art centre’s gallery. This work, defining and delimiting an area, attested to the intense visual, tactile and spatial presence of the “things themselves”, to use an expression dear to the artist. Since then, de Vries has stayed frequently in the area. Inaugurated in 2003, his Sanctuaire de Roche-Rousse defines a protected site. Located at an altitude of 1,400 metres, on a site that is reached after walking for at least an hour, this semi-circular enclosure bearing on a face of orange-grey limestone consists of a simple wrought iron grille: “inside, one sees wildlife, intact life. The whole process of Nature is there”, says the artist. The Sanctuaires are spaces whose inviolability puts us in the position of eye-witnesses. Their effectiveness is due to the paradoxical situation that they establish: abandoning Nature to the fate determined by its own laws and, therefore, asking us to renounce any form of interference into its territory, they suggest that we should meditate on our belonging to the world.


Le Cairn Art center
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1, boulevard Victor Hugo

04000 Digne-les-Bains

Opening hours

Wednesday – Sunday, noon – 7 PM

Admission fee

Free entrance