Interview with Julien Floria, Director of the Cultural Center of Micheville, L’Arche, an alternative space for art, music and new technologies
What are your priorities as director of L’Arche?
I took up my duties on 15 March 2021, continuing the work of Isabelle Chaigne, who initiated and defended this project (after overseeing the construction of L’Autre Canal in Nancy, she became its director). For several months, she helped me familiarise with the various elements of the project, from the construction site to the cultural and economic framework of a venue that was implemented in cooperation with local authorities, the DRAC, the Région Grand Est, the départements 57 and 54, etc. In keeping with our mission statement, we have started to roll out a programme of events, including events held as part of Esch2022 that had already been earmarked. We had to define how the entire project was to take shape, at what pace and for which audiences, how it was to be funded, and how to achieve a balance in the use of its different spaces.
What are these?
L’Arche has three areas dedicated to public outreach. The Great Hall is a hybrid space with an adjustable format for different activities. With a total capacity of 1,150 – shared between a balcony with 400 seats and a pit for a standing crowd of 750 – it can hold 660 seats once the tiers of the pit have been put in place. Its capacity and adaptability are the key factors in defining which kind of productions it can host. As a large space, it will be primarily dedicated to live shows, partly resulting from artistic residencies and scenographic research. It will also be able to accommodate concerts – such as, for example, a cinema screening with live music by the Philharmonie Luxembourg, scheduled as part of the Italian Film Festival in 2022 – and act as a local host venue for other artistic forms supported by the CCPHVA, which may not necessarily tie in with the programme charter of the public entity in charge of managing L’Arche, which has a clear focus on digital technology. The programme will thus combine contemporary music, cinema, theatre and choreography in connection with new technologies.
This large space may also be transformed into an additional cinema besides the main screening space with a capacity of over 150 seats, operating on 5 days a week. This cinema will be connected to the main reception area and to the bar-restaurant, a welcoming place for discussion and sharing open from Wednesday to Sunday, whose offer focuses on sustainably and locally sourced products.
What kind of films will the cinema show?
It will screen national releases, arthouse films supported by the CNC (National Centre for Cinema and Moving Images), and productions shown as part of larger events such as the Short Film Festival, the Printemps du cinéma, etc. It will also play host to special events such as a Blockbuster Binge Film Night (f.i. Star Wars), accompanied by a workshop on special effects at the Fablab, etc. The programme will also be connected to the artists in residence programme and the workshops taking place in our other spaces. From 2022, part of the Villerupt Italian Film Festival will take place in the Great Hall and the Cinema at L’Arche.
What are the other spaces?
The exhibition space on the second floor will be accessible to the public during general opening hours. It will be devoted to digital arts, including immersive video (video mapping), where viewers experience interactive environments. Visitors will be able to actively take part in these exhibitions based on artistic forms familiar from 3D technology and gaming.
Further projects will be organised off site or as part of co-productions, in particular with HACNUM, a nationwide network of hybrid arts and digital cultures supported by the French Ministry of Culture. In recent years, numerous projects have been developed around digital culture and heritage, among others at the Constellations festival in Metz, which I co-directed. L’Arche is part of a wider process of structuring the digital arts scene. The Chroniques festival in Marseille and Aix, Scopitone in Nantes, L’Ososphère in Strasbourg, Pôle Pixel in Lyon, La Gaîté Lyrique, Centquatre and Palais de Tokyo in Paris are venues with which we may collaborate. In Luxembourg, we have initiated discussions with the Rotondes in particular and we aim to carry out cross-border collaborations around artistic residencies, workshops, etc. I look forward to meeting and talking directly to the other cultural players in the area to make sure that L’Arche is embedded in an existing network. We are fortunate to be able to count on the support of Pim Knaff, a member of the Esch city council and president of the European Grouping of Territorial Cooperation Alzette-Belval, who sits on our board of directors and encourages communication with local actors in Luxembourg.
What projects will you organise as part of Esch2022?
L’Arche will support various off-site projects, such as the acrobatic dance project by the ensemble Chor’à Corps on the former blast furnaces in Belval, by making its Great Hall available for residency purposes and providing technical equipment. Sylvain Mengel, the cultural projects manager of the CCPHVA, will coordinate these different co-productions. L’Arche is the main host venue for Esch2022 projects in the region. We are currently thinking about the opening night of Esch2022 (REMIX Opening) and about ways to coordinate actions between L’Arche and the various sites in Esch and Belval. As part of Esch2022, L’Arche will host the project ‘Discursive Mechanics’ organised by Association MY ART – Modulab, which will include video mapping across our eastern facade, featuring works of the late Brussels-based artist Frédéric Penelle. His plates and illustrations will be amplified and enhanced by video projections by the artist and videographer Yannick Jacquet.
Other projects may unfold on the façades of L’Arche at a later stage, and the historic city wall might be used for open-air cinema screenings next summer. This outdoor area, a potential platform for disseminating works produced at L’Arche, is visible from the surroundings and will complement the gallery, a more intimate exhibition space inside the building that will display the works produced in our workshops by various audiences, from children to seniors. Whenever possible, these cultural workshops will be free of charge and aimed at familiarising participants with the use of daily or cutting-edge technological tools in professional training. L’Arche will furthermore present the most recent technologies, for instance by hosting beta tests of new software.
This means L’Arche will also be a laboratory for new technologies?
Exactly, this focus on digital technologies, aimed at the local and regional network of professionals, will allow us to bring together the industry, start-ups and the cultural scene with the aim of promoting a democratic culture and providing free public access to these new technologies. As an alternative venue with a focus on culture, L’Arche will operate at the heart of current issues related to health, education and heritage. It will combine knowledge and technology in a multi-facetted and interconnected environment by supporting practices that inform each other. Culture is viewed from the perspective of creation and preservation of the region’s industrial heritage. One of my dreams is to reconstruct the Micheville factory entirely in 3D as part of a workshop with children, to create a map of the factory based on photographs that could be broadcast via virtual reality headsets. People familiar with the former factory could sit in a deckchair in our gallery and experience a slide show – and why not an odorama – that would virtually transport them into the mine.
What are the different spaces dedicated to these experiments?
The MediaLab is a production unit located in a wing of L’Arche that comprises five media studios for rehearsal, recording, editing, soundtrack production and image processing. These media tools will be made available for the conception or development of cultural projects. Musicians or choreographers may for example receive support in recording or developing a stage production. The photo and video studio will allow users to familiarise with image production and treatment techniques. The PixelLab is a facility for data processing, while the Fablab is devoted to creative work using industrial technologies such as 3D printers.
From 2022, L’Arche will also host the CCPHVA’s monthly Repair cafés, where citizens can bring along disused domestic equipment – a Miele vacuum cleaner from the 1960s, for example – which is then dismantled and repaired so that it is good to go for another 15 years…
L’Arche will make incursions into gaming, which is very much integrated into the graphic arts and creative industries. Gaming involves scenarios, settings and environments connected to all realms of entertainment. Another objective of L’Arche is to monitor the technological advances in these various fields so as to make them accessible to the general public. For example, during the pandemic, the Fablabs operated at the very heart of society by producing masks.
Who are the architects of the building and when will it be inaugurated?
The building designed by K-Architecture (Paris) was inspired by the famous Villa Malaparte in Capri, the setting for Jean-Luc Godard’s film Le Mépris. Conceived as a nod to Italy, it integrates into a landscaped environment that will connect it to the Belvedere and to the remains of the historic city walls. These spaces will enable us to organise outdoor exhibitions and will be lit by digital lanterns at night.