Four years ago, Jean-Luc Dieny, a professor from the Nevers Burgundy École Supérieure des Arts Appliqués (graduate school of applied arts, ESAAB), proposed to the then-manager, Loïc Le Goff, that they organise a system to alter objects to produce new items with the help of the companions.
This led to several exhibitions being organised:
- “Cher design, Chair’s design” (cherished design, chair design) in 2014. The Nevers ESAAB’s 20 students from the applied arts skills upgrade classes (MANAA) worked with the Emmaus companions from Nevers Magny-Cours. The programme included a reflection process on design in recycling, a dialogue between industrial and artisanal designers, an unlikely but very fruitful meeting with the greatest ragpickers in France, some original scenography and an exhibition linking eight partners. The exhibition is still running; it was relocated to the Maison de la Culture de Nevers Agglomération (“Nevers House of Culture”, MCNA) and then the big national Emmaus Paris Salon which takes place in June at Porte de Versailles.
- “Vélo-cité” (bike city) in 2015. After the previous year’s experience with the chair project, 19 applied arts students returned to share the expertise they acquired from their experience with the Emmaus companions to build imaginative bikes. Once again, the outcome was astounding and the Magny-Cours community retains fond memories of the endeavour. Jean-Luc Dieny, professor at the Alain Colas school, was able to guide the students, and through the bike project they broadened their horizons to consider an ethical approach involving sharing.
- “Jardins – Cabinets de curiosité” (gardens – cabinets of curiosity) in 2016. Those involved in the project focused on the concept of cabinets of curiosity, rooms full of marvels filled with a range of eclectic and unusual objects akin to the bric-a-brac so dear to Emmaus communities, where people come on treasure hunts in the hope of finding a sought-after rarity.
- « Funambules des jardins » (garden tightrope walkers) beginning of 2017. For several months, 19 students worked with the Emmaus companions to create ‘metaphoric scarecrows’. As sustainable development is becoming a real need, words such as ‘recycling branch’, ‘reinvention’, ‘rehabilitation’, and ‘reparation’ all hark to the future and recall political commitment in the noble sense of the term, against the notion of programmed obsolescence.
Climate change is becoming sufficiently concerning for everyone to start thinking about their transport, consumption and life choices. It is thus essential to enable students at the beginning of their studies to understand that contemporary design does not have to involve adding a new object to the never-ending list of things that surround them.
These poetic, engaging and surprising objects are thus increasingly the fruit of the students’ very personal reflection and their unbridled creativity, which stem from their thoughts on ergonomics, the value of use or the renewal of conventional shapes, including notions addressed in their studies.
The production of these unusual objects has also revealed the infinite possibilities offered by the maelstrom of items that can be found through collection activities. This is a revelation because, as is the essence of making art out of something run-of-the-mill, one is making the ordinary sacred. Hijacking these ordinary objects shows that beauty is everywhere, including in objects which do not seem special, and that simply showcasing them can create what Kant put at the heart of the aesthetic experience: pure beauty. Like Marcel Duchamp, we believe that we can find beauty in a seemingly ordinary object if we take it away from simply its functional value. We are even disrupting the concept of a work of art.
We seek out objects which can transcend their traditional use, based on a central theme: the Emmaus companions offer objects they have recuperated and make available their DIY workshops to allow the young designers’ creative juices to flow freely; these times for mutual learning and sharing (meals, DIY sessions) with the students are what make the project so fruitful.
The students work for several months to set up the projects. In 2016, the work took place over two months, with four six-hour working sessions at Emmaus Magny-Cours to make the scarecrows and photography.
The Guynemer applied arts school has been involved in the projects every year. In 2017, the pupils from the CM1 class (middle class, first year) worked to make their own scarecrow, supported by students from STD2A (design and applied arts science and technology at the Alain Colas school). The scarecrow they made arrived at the school’s garden with his suitcases in 2016.
The exhibition showed at the Nevers House of Culture from 15 January to 16 February 2017, then the Forgeneuve Gardens (in Coulanges) before it was finally featured at the Emmaus’s national Paris Salon in June. The scenography of the exhibition (designed by Jean-Luc Diény) included large photos depicting Emmaus Magny-Cours, which were attached to billboards. Silhouettes of the companions were laid over the photos. A scarecrow was installed in front of each photo on a patch of lawn. On the ground in front of each scarecrow there was a sign designed (format and text) by the student explaining the approach for each individual creation. The 19 sculptures were stand-alone and stable. Three silk wall hangings (1m wide, 2m high) presented the project, the Emmaus community and the ESAAB.
The meetings between students and companions at the community gave them the chance to talk and get to know each other better. This collaboration bore wonderful results (in both material and human terms). If we can look at objects differently, however disfigured, is it too ambitious or presumptuous to ask the following question: can we do the same for the way we look at each human being?
Approx. 10 companions, the leader, and two or three friends.
- The Alain Colas school in Nevers,
- Nevers town hall,
- Nevers House of Culture,
- The media, and
- The young pupils who come and admire the exhibitions.
The idea was born out of a meeting between two men, Jean-Luc Diény, professor of design, and Loïc Le Goff, Emmaus leader. It was a highly improbable meeting which forged links between the companions and young students to whom life has been kind.
The relations have not gone much further than shared work and meals, however the collaboration has continued every year from 2014 to today.
In 2014, a first manifestation of this link entitled “Cher design, Chair’s design” brought everyone together around curious chairs born out of great imagination and the exemplary collaboration between the students and companions from the Emmaus Magny-Cours community through a meeting that was a fruitful as it was improbable.
2017 saw a repeat, with just as much pleasure, with the customisation of old bicycles into what Marcel Duchamp described as “ready-made” creations; these manufactured objects have become works of art simply through the choice of the artist.
That begs the question: what is a work of art? There are as many answers to that as there are representations. Removing an industrial product from simply its utilitarian function to exhibit it in its pure form – thus as a work of art – guides the view of the spectator and amateur towards the inherent interest of the object.
The companions and ESAAB students’ collaboration made it possible to reconcile two nearly contradictory terms: “recovery” and “hijacking”. The legitimacy of the Emmaus movement is based on ragpicking, collecting and recuperating things that society has discarded to give them renewed value and enable people to recover the dignity in their lives. The ESAAB students reuse everyday objects to create new artworks, disseminating a new message which is often very different from the original message. We are involved in a form of satirical parody which reuses or imitates the original work.
In any case, they all offer these objects the second life that novelist Georges Pérec describes so well. The Emmaus movement provides a summary. The extraordinary objects that have been produced are surprising or even shocking because they stand out so much from the norm. Equally, they are the result of assembled items, formed of elements which are very different in nature and purpose but which come together in solidarity. The productions serve as a metaphor for the experience of Magny-Cours. Through their work, reflection and discussions in this short period of time, the students and companions have created a fantastic installation that shows that, as different as we might be, we can live together and learn about each other. Meeting one another is what transforms dark paths to bright streets. In despair as in happiness, each human being has tremendous dignity.
Sharing (DIY sessions)
Sharing (DIY sessions)
Sharing (DIY sessions)
Sharing (DIY sessions)
Sharing (DIY sessions)
Sharing (DIY sessions)
Sharing (DIY sessions)
To continue the work we have started by decorating the community.
The action of the Emmaus movement is driven by consideration for the weakest, solidarity and secularism. Our work is guided by concrete engagement, the rejection of poverty, trust in each and every person’s ability to run their own life, the practice of bringing together those who experience injustice and those who fight it, the desire to fight against exclusion and to reject fatalism.
For four consecutive years, all the stakeholders of this project have come together for fantastic exhibitions, which reflect the great beauty of a finished work, created by an eccentric or even strange yet hugely attractive collaboration between the ESAAB students and Emmaus companions.
Restoring dignity with the companions and pride in a finished piece of work.
The impact has been limited to media coverage and visitors who have attended the exhibitions, which lasted for a good month each time. This served to promote Emmaus.
Humanist culture involves studying identity and the concept of otherness, i.e. analysing everything that pushes people to meet and welcome the ‘other’, to discover new horizons, different viewpoints, to take ownership of one’s knowledge and attitudes. Based on items that have been produced, hijacked and represented in 2D or 3D, objects are used within art for narrative, symbolic, poetic, responsive and imaginary purposes. The object is thus exposed to a change of status: it goes from being an object, rejected by the consumer society, to becoming an object on display in a museum and thus a work of art. It is an act that goes against nature because everything is destined to disappear.
The meeting of companions and students has, once again, produced prodigious objects born of intelligence and reflection. We affirm this radical gesture of transformation by referring to Marcel Duchamp again; through a single declaration of an artist, a manufactured everyday object becomes a work of art. The first ready-made items date back to 1913 and introduced a new form of conceptual work. Since then, objects have been taken out of the context of classical art and have enveloped the real world, presenting themselves as such in the art scene and lending themselves to being hijacked as well as showcased.
Utilitarian, functional – objects respond to specific needs at a given moment. They have commercial value and are subjects of economic exchange. Swiftly defunct, outdated or broken, they become waste and end up being rejected, in landfills, and efforts to recycle them on an industrial scale are only just emerging. It is immediately clear, therefore, that thinking about an object equates to thinking about a subject: that of desire, purchasing, using, negotiating, throwing away. It also involves thinking about what is beautiful or ugly, clean or dirty, useful or useless. With objects you can initially see the materials: instead of creating them using natural materials (marble, wood, earth) or transformed material (bronze, canvas, paint), artists collect objects that have already been manufactured, either whole or in the form of more or less identifiable waste material, and assemble them, either by playing on accumulation or by seeking out unexpected meetings.
One can reflect on the point of objects or modify them by changing the context, that leads us to talk about hijacking them by giving them a second chance.
We thus see that, often, the destiny of certain women and men can be compared to that of the objects they create. They count on solidarity for a second chance and above all a new life.
Let us take the topic of the last exhibition “Jardins – Cabinets de curiosité” and the key quote from Candide at the end of the eponymous philosophical French novel “Cultivate your garden.” Cultivating one’s garden is like carrying out a modestly profitable economic activity, not in order to generate profit, but to meet reasonable needs. If you extend the metaphor, “cultivate your garden” also means “cultivate your own skills”; “everyone, use your talents”. It is thus a ‘humanist’ moral in that it implies that each being has a natural predisposition, a latent talent – emphasised by the fact it is an anagram – which they must cultivate for it to flourish. This enables each person to fulfil their potential, to enhance themselves through effort and perseverance.
Finally, like “culture”, the idea of cultivating oneself is also figurative, abstract. The wise person cultivates their field but does not let their spirit lie fallow. They feed on the ideas of others, weighing them up, countering them, assimilating them, challenging themselves, accepting doubt, regularly questioning things they believe to be certain: they cultivate their spirit, their “secret garden”.
The story of Saint Luc in the development of Emmaus insists on the path taken by the two companions: it starts with the path of doubt, questions soon answered through meeting, an episode full of exchanges and sharing. It is the act of meeting that transforms shadowy fields into sparkling streets: if the path of Damas is one of conversion, the path of Emmaus is one of consolation and sharing; the path of reparation for all women, all men overwhelmed by their existential pain, the trials and tribulations of a complicated life.
“Thank you everyone, particularly the ESAAB students who supported our companions over these miles of their journey of existence and enabled them to recover more soul and enhanced dignity”.
I think that with a few more companions we could promote our furniture by sprucing it up or even transforming it and giving it a new look.
That would enable us to train the companions in restoration, which may help them get a job.