Starting on September 12, 2009, the French Institute Alliance Française in New York City will introduce audiences to a diverse range of artists who are taking a fresh, new look at traditional art practices. The Crossing the Line Festival features dance, music, film, visual arts, and even cuisine, but each artist is re-inventing their discipline, adding their own interpretation and breaking new ground.
The two curators of this festival, Lili Chopra and Simon Dove have kindly agreed to be interviewed by Bettina Forget for Art+Culture.
Dear Lily and Simon, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for Art+Culture. Please introduce yourselves to our Art+Culture readers.
Lili is the Artistic Director of FIAF, the French Institute Alliance Française in New York, and Simon is Director of the School of Dance at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.
The central mission of Art+Culture is to reach across artistic disciplines and encourage dialogue and collaboration between artists and art lovers. It appears that you had a similar aim in mind when you organized the Crossing the Line festival. Please tell us more about how you came up with the festival's concept.
Crossing the Line is really a festival of inquiry. Artistic disciplines are increasingly an erroneous and shallow way of defining current practices. As artists examine and explore the world and our responses to it, their work evolves appropriate forms, unbounded by narrow notions of artistic discipline. The ideas themselves and the questions they raise, drive the form, shape, location, public interaction. It is the significant artists’ questions that we seek to curate in Crossing the Line.
Many of your events are collaborations between artists, such as the project 'Alice Blaché Film Score' with contemporary composers Missy Mazzoli, Tamar Muskal, Tender Forever (Mélanie Valera), and Du Yun. How did you select artists, and how did you coordinate their collaborations?
That is our work. We are continually searching out artists whose individual approach to their work is developing a distinctive practice. We then enter into a dialogue with those artists, and our presenting partners – in this case the Whitney - to develop an engaging framework to contextualise their work. That is what curators do.
Your festival establishes connections between two iconic places: France and New York City. What were the challenges in teaming up French artists with New York City venues such as the Whitney and Central Park's East Meadow?
Crossing the Line takes place in New York City, so it makes sense that we contribute to the cultural life of this city, and support the development of artists who live here. The mission of FIAF is to broaden awareness of and engagement with French culture, which we do by developing a platform for some of the most distinctive artists currently based there. NYC offers so many contexts for new work, from great theaters to stunning public spaces. Crossing the Line uses the whole city as our site – and artists respond so positively to that challenge – wherever they come from.
You have included disciplines such as cuisine (Omnivore New York) and shopping/window display (Macy's) in your line-up of events. Do you see these as art forms in their own right?
Crossing the Line examines contemporary culture, and proposes ways of looking at the world we inhabit. Fashion, commerce, shopping, agriculture, food, nutrition…these are all an integral part of our lives and our approach to them, or our relationship to them is an integral part of how we are defining ourselves and the culture we are a part of. It seems strange to us that most festivals seem to ignore these critical parts of our culture. Some of the most creative beings alive today are involved in re-imagining food or evolving fashion.
Fashion displays, cooking duets, a picnic - many of your events have a distinctly French flavour. Are you aiming to introduce New York to the French concept of "joie de vivre"?
We think New York City has already made a huge contribution to the joy of urban living. We are more interested in investigating what that means for each of us. How can artists show us new ways of seeing, or different ways of engaging with the rich and diverse details of our lives? How does that impact each of us? Since the global financial crisis, we are living in a different world. The foundations of our values, or our comfort, or our sense of security have been deeply shaken. We need to re-imagine many elements of ourselves, and the society we have constructed and the most important people who can help us do that are artists.
In recent years, the political climate in the US has emitted some anti-French vibes. Do you still sense some resistance? Does your festival aim to dispel some pre-conceived ideas or stereotypes about France and the French culture?
Crossing the Line seeks to dispel some pre-conceived notions about the arts and the role of artists. Our society’s ability to embrace the arts – or not – seems to us much more critical for the future well-being of all of us, than any momentary political exploitation of human anxiety. Developing a broader perspective in all of us, would perhaps inoculate us against such political manipulation.
It is the French who coined the term "avant-garde" - loosely translated it means 'pushing the boundaries'. Many of your events are cutting edge, such as 'Visual System - A Digital Experience'. Was this subtext deliberate?
Crossing the Line has no sub-text. The ideas and perspectives of these artists and the forms they take are very clear, understandable, and deeply engaging. We really do not believe in the notion of cutting-edge. It is such a relative term in relation to what is already known, or generally accepted. We have designed a diverse set of experiences that we hope can enrich the lives of those who engage with them. It really is that simple.
How important is audience participation for you? For example, at your 'Bal populaire' you plan to create short dances to be taught section by section to the public. Is this another way you "cross the line"?
We do not use the word audience in relation to Crossing the Line. It has come to suggest a crowd of anonymous onlookers. We strive to engage people with the work in the festival in all kinds of ways.
How can New Yorker's find out more about your Festival?
Check the web site – at www.fiaf.org for regular updates, buy a copy of the fall preview edition of Time Out (it includes our brochure), call us for a brochure, or just come over to the East Meadow in Central Park on Saturday, September 12, between 2 and 6pm.
Crossing the Line Festival
September 12 - October 3, 2009
French Institute Alliance Française