Milano master-class

15. About Yves Clerget

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There’s a DVD/book that was released in 2008 by the Pompidou Center and the CRDP of the Académie de Créteil (Regional Center of Educational Documentation) that’s called Explorateurs de limites, Promenades urbaines en Région Parisienne (Explorers of Limits: Urban Walks in Greater Paris) and presents different practices. The word “practice” is used a lot here by Yves.

Yves himself was an architect and had worked on modern methods of communicating culture with a bunch of people thinking about how culture should be presented to the public today and how to educate people on the city. They worked in collaboration with CAUEs (Architecture, Urbanism, and Landscape Advisory Boards), which are very particular to France. There is a CAUE in every department in France. It’s an organization in charge of promoting architecture generally speaking: “What is the purpose of architecture?”; “What is the purpose of urbanism?”. And so, Yves Clerget first worked on defining these programs to help communicate culture and urbanism to the public.

Yves also met people who were developing urban policies which my generation learned about in the late 1990s. In France, urban policy went through a long period of neglect, and there has since been a push to reestablish links between culture and urban development. President Sarkozy, for instance, was staunchly opposed to including questions of culture in urban policies, while others viewed culture as vital.

Yves Clerget also worked on plans for Parc de la Villette, and more specifically on these issues of building awareness and educating people about the city. Then there was the Pompidou Centre, where he was in charge of urban communications and design, at a time when the Pompidou had a center of industrial design. That center notably invited Lucius Burckhardt (the inventor of strollology) to speak. So, what kinds of discussions were there with Yves Clerget? It might be interesting to do an archeology of the relationships (or non-relationships) between different actors at that time, which now seems rather distant.

As part of exhibits on urbanism and even on painting, the practice of communicating culture to the public took the form of walks, which often took place in new cities as well as between the museum at the center of Paris (the Pompidou Centre) and new cities. These efforts worked on how to create connections between art and the city—and city planning.

I discovered this at a time when I was becoming more socially aware, and so what Clerget really taught me was how to design “polyphonic walks” (those are Yves’ actual words) and how to create space in narrated walks—we speak, but it’s not a lecture, it’s more of a discussion. Yves had a true Socratic gift. He would organize guest debates, but these weren’t lecture walks. Instead, he tended to leave room for anything that might come up, so everyone there could chime in with what they knew, creating connections with what was concretely in front of us, classifying things in our environment, looking and—in the end—learning about the city.

And this urban education was based on a collective polyphonic experience in which the people present witnessed and partook; their gaze circulated between them, and everyone had something to contribute, a piece of knowledge in a sensory experience. It was an intersection between the senses, conceptions, perceptions, and experiences (these were the major leitmotivs in Clerget’s thinking). This was a major moment in my social awakening, between Reveries of a Solitary Walker and the collective construction of trails, this was a real step.

Then, a bit randomly, I started discovering Marseille in 2004, and that’s when I met Nicolas Mémain, Hendrik Sturm, and this scene of Marseille artists/walkers. By contrast, in Paris, walks are more scholarly (and Yves Clerget had a big influence on walking groups in Paris, and in particular on local tourist outfits, which do scholarly walks as well as educational walks for a larger public, and there are many groups that don’t necessarily interact with each other). I would draw a parallel between the sense of “learned person” that is sometimes evoked, but there is also Jacques Rancière’s “ignorant authority”, which has nothing to do with Yves Clerget’s lineage, but the whole context in the 1970s is work reexamining—we should question these, at times, parallel legacies and put them into dialogue so we can examine what it is we’re doing in terms of practice and art. For instance: What can artistic practices bring to educating the public? Or tourism practices? Or urban planning practices? Since trails are also about urban planning. A look back on the 1970s can give us insight into our practices today.