“Did the city run out of money?” I asked my parents a couple of days after we arrived. “Is the ‘Journey to Nantes’ summer art festival still a thing? Don’t tell me Macron privatized it as well!”
It’s been six years that every time I go to Nantes in July or August, the first thing I notice is the annual art festival with installations scattered throughout the city. Nowadays, Nantes is more famous for the yearly free public art event than for its past as France’s largest port and chief slave trader or its former robust industry in shipbuilding.
Granted, installation art is hard to miss. In the past few years, we saw a giant slide flanking the castle, a large wheel with palm trees in a public square, a submarine in front of the opera house, marble toilets in a park and, of course, the mechanical elephant on the Île de Nantes.
I mean, even if you have zero interest in modern art, you turn into an art critic after a few days.
But this year, I did miss it the newest installations—or rather, I didn’t see them right away.
The statue on Place du Bouffay, for instance. I walked by a few times, assuming it was just another historical statue commemorating one of these many historical events that happened in Nantes or in France because, well, this is the old world and a lot happened over the past couple thousand years.
Two days after we arrived, I finally took a closer look at it and I realized that it was one of these modern art projects—“Éloge du pas de côté” (“Tribute to the step aside”), a sculpture depicting the artist standing with the left foot on the pedestal and the right one out. “That’s stupid, mommy, I bumped my head on this guy’s foot!” was Mark’s critique of Philippe Ramette’s work.
The rest of this year’s projects are smaller, less impressive and less quirky than usual. I was also annoyed to discover that the exhibition at the Lieu Unique is no longer free.
My favourite so far? The crazy fountain in Place Royale shoots up random jets of water and sprays people!
Note to the many tourists who stand in front of the migrants’ tents flipping through the “Journey to Nantes” booklet to find out the name of the artist behind this bold initiative—this is not installation art but the shameful way France treats refugees. I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry about the misunderstanding…