Park in Progress, Domaine National de Saint-Cloud, Friday July 1st, 2011

It feels naughty, creepy and, frankly, slightly scary to be in a park after nightfall. It feels even more so when that that park is as imposing as the the Domaine National de Saint-Cloud, a short Metro ride from Paris, on a hill in the south-west and far enough away for you to feel like you’ve left the metropolis. It’s a long way from home, dark and not a little unsettling. The striking views it offers over the Paris as twilight descends and shadows lengthen only reinforce the feeling that you’ve left the city behind. It’s beautiful, certainly, but also eerie and you get the feeling you shouldn’t really be there.

Park In Progress from Pépinièreseuropéennes on Vimeo.

In the sunshine, the Parc de Saint-Cloud is a glorious place to escape, unwind and enjoy the patterns created by the rays of light falling through the trees. Last Friday night, however, was an opportunity to see the park from a different perspective. As darkness fell over Saint-Cloud, Park in Progress 4 lurched into life.

Park in Progress is an annual initiative organised by Les Pépinières européennes pour jeunes artistes, an organisation which, since 1992, has aimed to promote young creatives and their work on a European and international level. The event allowed around 40 young artists to showcase their work, but it is much more than an art fair. I was expecting a marquee filled with watercolours, plastic cups filled with warm wine and half-hearted, cringe-worthy performance pieces. What I got was a engaging experience that made creative use of one of the world’s most beautiful parks as well as clearly inspiring the artists whose works formed the collection to come up with something site-specific and special. Hell, we even got welcomed to the show by a man with a megaphone and no trousers.

Whilst there were some installations and video-art, Park in Progress was, due to the unique nature of the setting, really about live performance. A dance piece by Alban Richard saw the crowd of thirthy-something wannabe art bohemians clutching picnics, bottles of red and cans of lager smuggled in from the local superette draw together. The piece was performed against the backdrop of both an operatic aria and the crepuscular Paris skyline in the park’s Nymphée d’apollon. At this point, people-watching the crowd was at least as interesting as the performance. This morphed into a second piece by Carmen Cruz and François Martig which lured the two-hundred attendees towards the more upper levels of the park and deeper into the darkness towards the Jardin de Trocadéro. It’s been a long while since I’ve  followed a woman dressed like the ghost of PJ Harvey into the depths of a remote French forest on a Friday evening.

The Jardin de Trocadéro is a ‘jardin à l’anglaise’, taking its inspiration from nineteenth-century English parks and is a delicately-constructed space, its topiaried trees bordering a small lake housing a family of confused ducks. Heading into the rapidly-descending darkness, attendees were confronted by a noise installation, which included a cooped chicken, from the Belgian collective Livescope, at odds with the elegance of the surroundings. The standout performances included Julia Hadi‘s solo dance piece, performed on the shore of the lake, illuminated against the pitch-darkness by a video projection, giving her work a VHS, Videodrome aesthetic. This was followed by the night’s most memorable piece, dancer and choreographer Armelle Devignon held the attendees spellbound whilst she, lit by floating candles, mirrored by the surface of the lake and accompanied only by a black silence, descended into the water, before disappearing into the darkness and confusing the ducks some more.

Whilst many of the works were interesting, and I have a few names I’ll be looking out for in the future, tonight was about the collection as a whole; the individual works working together in the park. At times it felt almost like immersive theatre, something Punchdrunk would create. I’d encourage you to go next year, but I want to keep it to myself.

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