Les Douches La Galerie has the pleasure of presenting 'The Persistence of Landscaping', an exhibit that brings together Aymeric Fouquez's series North and Pierre Schwarz's series Goalposts. Through images of military cemeteries of the First World War and football goalposts, respectively, the peculiar visions of these two photographers document the space and transformations surrounding them. These are photographs to be seen over and over again during our summer exhibit.
On the Series Goalposts by Pierre Schwartz and North by Aymeric Fouquez
'I've always associated military cemeteries with things far removed from their primary function and thought of them as particularly well maintained playing fields.' At the end of the 1970s, Aymeric Fouquez's grandmother regularly took him to play in the neighbouring British cemetery in Marquoin, in the Pas-de-Calais, and he still distinctly remembers 'the high quality of the freshly mown grass that immediately gave [him] the feeling of being a star footballer (1)'. Yet football is only the most unexpected similarity between the two collections of photographs brought together in this exhibit: Fouquez's photographs of military cemeteries and Pierre Schwartz's series on football goalposts.
To begin with, each series is the result of many years of work, and given their scope, they both border on the obsessive. From 1990 to 2008, Pierre Schwartz produced images of fifteen hundred goalposts from around the world; since 2004 Aymeric Fouquez has photographed several hundred military cemeteries in the north of France and in the east of Belgium. Though they are both undeniably serial in nature, these works do not therefore share the same systematic quality. Schwartz's photographs adhere to a strict protocol, while Fouquez's display a great variety of points of view. The goalposts are photographed frontally, and always from the same eleven-metre distance of a penalty kick. They appear perfectly centred within the image's rectangular format. The cemeteries are seen from near and far, captured entirely or only partially within the image's frame. Unlike Schwartz, whose methodological rigour does not exclude expressive skies and the effects of backlighting lent by his choice of black and white, Fouquez sticks to wintry white light that traces no shadows and neutralises all colours. Although formally very different, both of these works are at heart documentary, owing a certain debt to the photographic objectivity of Bernd and Hilla Becher. Yet while one can quite easily speak of a typology of goalposts, whose systematic repetition of the same motif highlights their individual differences (from the regulation cage to the improvised posts or the net painted on a wall), the idea of 'inventory' is actually more apt for describing Fouquez's approach, which does not concentrate on the undeniably real morphological variations of cemeteries.
At the same time, these works seem to deal less with motifs than with spaces: the enclosing walls of the military cemetery and the football pitch delimited by the goalposts. Might they both in fact belong to the very trendy category of 'heteroptopias' as defined by Michel Foucault (2)? They clearly do share many of the characteristics of 'places of this kind [that] are outside of all places'. Cemeteries, like other sacred spaces, are obviously of this type, although the same is not explicitly true of playing fields. Nevertheless it would be remiss not to acknowledge, as Foucault does in the case of theatres and cinemas, that 'the heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible'. The amateur football pitches photographed by Pierre Schwartz are in fact places that awaken the imagination of players who eagerly project themselves into the dreamed of space of professional football. (This is particularly evident in a photograph taken in Sarajevo in 2008 where the projectors of a pitch that is clearly destined for matches of a higher classification are visible in the background.) They are also places of communion that Schwartz likens to 'sacred spaces'. This sacralisation of the football pitch echoes the inverse desacralisation of military cemeteries that have turned into profane spaces for relaxation, according to Fouquez.
But what particularly interests both Fouquez and Schwartz is seeing how these 'other spaces' interact with the other spaces around them. And then the motif of the goal quite disappears. The mise en abîme of the photographic act of framing the image gives way to a frame within a frame, a viewing tool, where the term 'tool' should be taken in its literal rather than in its figurative sense. Goalposts obviously bring to mind a painter's viewfinder, the instrument that the landscape painter Neville uses in Peter Greenaway's film The Draughtsman's Contract. But Schwartz does not use a viewfinder to compose his landscape since his compositions are determined by a pre-established point of view. The frame of the goalposts heightens our vision and concentrates our gaze on the landscape within which the football pitch is inscribed. And this is also precisely the role of military cemeteries. They allow Fouquez to understand northern landscapes, or more exactly, they allow him to analyse the permanent reorganisation of the fields, the habitat and the transportation surrounding these immovable enclaves. Pierre Schwartz's photographs of goalposts and Aymeric Fouquez's photographs of military cemeteries are thus landscape photographs whose aim is ultimately to highlight the cohabitation of quite distinct spaces imbued with interests that are very often contradictory.
(1) Aymeric Fouquez, 'Michel Platini', Nord, Kodoji Press, 2010.
(2) Michel Foucault, 'Des espaces autres'. This lecture was given by Michel Foucault in 1967 and published in 1984 in the French journal Architecture Mouvement Continuité, n°5. The translation by Jay Miskowiec is entitled, 'Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias'.