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2017 Journey to Nantes: From Quirky Playgrounds to Pretentious Projects

“Where is the green line? We lost the green line! We have to find it!”

These days in Nantes, if you look local enough—holding three baguettes or walking with purpose qualifies you for the job—tourists will ask you where is “the square with the palm tree sculptures,” “the square with the giant wheel,” “the submarine,” “the elephant,” “the Jules Verne carrousel,” “the unsigned paintings” or “the giant buckets.”

Yes, gone are the days when people would ask for XYZ street. Nantes has landmarks now.

Well, to be exact, these are not permanent landmarks but various modern art projects scattered throughout the city. The 50+-stop itinerary takes visitors on a “journey” from art installations to more formal exhibitions, from quirky playgrounds to obscure art projects. A green line is painted on the pavement and tourists follow it religiously—to the point that I hear “where is the green line?” twenty times a day, as if losing sight of it would be the end of the world.

Even though the “journey to Nantes” summer event started in 2012 and I saw most of the art pieces every year, I still don’t know what to think of it. On one hand, I like the fact something is happening—it’s fun to see these giant installations on the city’s main streets and squares and they do draw a crowd, which in turn makes Nantes livelier and more international. On the other hand, I’m not in love with contemporary art and I find the rhetoric around these art pieces deliberately pretentious. The “journey to Nantes” free booklet highlighting the artwork and the creators is a mouthful. “That’s the draft, right?” I joked. “It’s still gotta go through a few rounds of edits, doesn’t it?”

My dad is an artist—and his work can be described as figurativism, so he’ll never be featured in the “Journey to Nantes”—and my mom did graduate studies research on contemporary art, so we spend most nights debating about art and its future. Of course, being French, we are also getting nowhere, which is the entire point of the debate.

Meanwhile, Mark has fun playing on Claude Ponti’s art project/playground and riding the vintage, steampunk carrousel imagined by Royal de Luxe.

“La Délivrance”, WWI commemorative statue given to 11 cities formerly occupied by Germany, Beaulieu, Nantes
Sticker illustrating a “petit beurre”, Nantes’ trademark cookie
Sticker illustrating a “petit beurre”, Nantes’ trademark cookie
Rêver l’Erdre from Marie-Hélène Richard, Erdre River, Nantes
Rêver l’Erdre from Marie-Hélène Richard, Erdre River, Nantes
Rêver l’Erdre from Marie-Hélène Richard, Erdre River, Nantes
Travel with me from Docteur Paper
Travel with me from Docteur Paper
Paysage glissé, TACT architectes et Tangui Robert (a giant slide down the castle)
La part manquante, Boris Chouvellon, place du Bouffay, Nantes
La part manquante, Boris Chouvellon, place du Bouffay, Nantes
La part manquante, Boris Chouvellon, place du Bouffay, Nantes
Mon nom est personne from Alexandre Périgot
Mon nom est personne from Alexandre Périgot
Mon nom est personne from Alexandre Périgot
Mon nom est personne from Alexandre Périgot
Mon nom est personne from Alexandre Périgot
Mon nom est personne from Alexandre Périgot
Dépodépo from Claude Ponti, Jardin des Plantes, Nantes
Dépodépo from Claude Ponti, Jardin des Plantes, Nantes
Les Manèges d’Andréa, Île de Nantes
Les Manèges d’Andréa, Île de Nantes
Trafic from Ador et Sémor, quai d’Aiguillon
Graffiti wall, Salvador Allende

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