Foreign Body

2012 – 2013

Having arrived in Strasbourg only recently, I spontaneously head toward the European Quarter. Located in the northwest of the city, it covers the Wacken, from the Orangerie to the Robertsau. The area of the city through which I am walking up and down is not all that well-known and gives me the impression that it is somewhat deserted by its own inhabitants. I only come across a few joggers and people out for a walk; in some places however, tourist buses are more numerous. What am I seeking in this rather bland part of town? Perhaps the same things I did in Brussels —another city where the European Parliament has its sessions, in the hope of finding again what I observed and felt a few years back during a research stay.

As I see them, these government quarters have something about them that speaks to us of another Europe, maybe not the one ordinary citizens had dreamed of though. The legitimacy of the European Union was supposed to be based on prosperity and fairness for all. Today, its citizens are called upon to make sacrifices to their standard of living while multinationals are thriving.

Landscape issues, urban issues, social issues play themselves out in those places. Their soulless contemporary architecture looks to me like it is disconnected from the rest of the city. These tall glass buildings, with their cold, rigid lines, seem to have been put there indiscriminately. In these concrete-covered areas, one can espy checkpoints, surveillance cameras, many walls and closed gates reminiscent of cells.

At the Ill Basin, the city is reflected on the mirroring walls of the Parliament building. Strangely enough, this urban silhouette appears to be reflecting another city, perhaps any city, just a city that looks like all the others, a generic city of sorts. Is it really Strasbourg we see in this distorting mirror?

In these places, the specifics of Strasbourg fade and give way to a disembodied urban space. On Rue de la Carpe Haute, the EDQM building stands in sharp contrast to the rustic quarters surrounding it; contemporary architecture jostles with old country houses in an odd stand-off.

On Rue du Levant, the European Court of Human Rights overlooks lowly little gardens. Its overwhelming, invasive presence is a jarring one, clashing with its surroundings. A little further on, on Boulevard Pierre Pflimlin, I am taken aback by its inordinate bulk in relation to the surrounding neighbourhoods. Near the entrance, the colours of the European Union fly. I take pictures of the reflections of these flags as they reverberate on it. To me, they look like they are caught within the building’s structure.

This public institution is the review body for tens of thousands of citizens each year. Some of them even camp right next to it in makeshift shelters. Protesting, waiting or ranting, they live there under the grey November sky. Be they unregularized migrants or mad citizens —some of them literally out of their minds, they all have different stories, which they attempt to tell me in a language I don’t understand. Their presence on these premises becomes for me a more general expression of disenchantment and indignation. They seem to be telling me another story: that of Europe’s deprived, of the marginalized of the global economy we know today.

Final day in Strasbourg. I am taking pictures of the sun’s reflections on the Agora’s glass walls. They mirror back to me an inverted day that looks more like night.

37 images, various sizes. These works were created while artist-in-residence at La Chambre (Strasbourg, France)