presented by BERNARD MILLET
Born in 1958 in Avignon. Lives and works in France.
Heritage curator and cultural affairs adviser to the president of the Bouches-du-Rhône Departement.
General manager of the Rencontres d’Arles from 1995 to 1998.
For fifty years photography in the Walker Evans tradition and, later, in a conceptual vein, has shown a fascination with the outskirts of cities, where shopping malls, car parks, dormitory suburbs and roads make up a new landscape where attempts at coherent town planning take concrete form. These often indistinguishable areas, unfairly called ‘non-places’, take on infinitely repeated architectural form, devoid of all perceptible variation, around cities all over the world. More a phenomenon than an actual development model, and characterised by such abstract terms as ‘active city’, ‘shopping precinct’, ‘business park’ and ‘new town’, these areas fascinate photographers who reveal them a ‘places without qualities’, to paraphrase Robert Musil. These pictures of urban landscapes have no actual subject. They are a lucid report of disillusionment as a mature form of criticism. Photography of city peripheries has grown significantly since the late 1970s, with the archiving of abandoned industrial buildings by the Bechers and of dehumanised urban areas by their disciples: standardised housing as seen by Lewis Baltz and Dan Graham, incongruous landscapes by Robert Adams and mise en scène settings by Jeff Wall. In its social and anthropological concerns, this movement represents a reinvention of melancholy, long masked by its anti-aesthetic aspect. André Mérian’s work is very much part of this movement. His is a catalogue of places which, far from being mere subjects or pretexts, are imbued with a tension between the natural world and its irrevocable transformation into usable space. No criticism or condemnation underlies this view of things. The images impose neutrality by rejecting any shaping of meaning. This neutrality is not only that of unidentifiable places presented indiscriminately; it is also, and mainly, that of the photographer as he uses repetition to dislocate the very idea of the documentary image.
In May 2006 the French Cultural Centre in Damascus invited me to work on a series of urban landscape photographs of the outskirts of Damascus and Aleppo.
Beforehand I held a workshop with the students of the Damascus School of Art on this theme, which also let me do some location spotting. At first my Western ‘urban references’ were disrupted, leaving me unsettled.
This body of photographs is a questioning of the landscape form, of the mutation of destruction/construction; sometimes I felt I was in a space where a war had just ended, tense and in suspense, yet paradoxically tranquil.
Exhibition produced in 2006 with the backing of the French Cultural Centre of Damas.
André Mérian is represented by Les Douches Galery, Paris and abroad by the VanKranendonk
gallery in The Hague, Netherlands.