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Issue #169 - The Spaces in Between
Summer Micro Issue #5 - Retour à Nantes
Just like last year, I’ll be taking a break over the next four or five issues, so this is a shorter issue than would normally drop into your inbox. I hope that you enjoy this selection of links and pics, feel free to get in touch, and look forward to catching up later in the summer.
…but just like last week we’re still time-traveling, back to a few weeks ago when we took a cheapo Ryanair flight from Stansted to Nantes in Northern France. Just like Sheffield the week before, this is another former industrial city that has reinvented itself through culture and encouraged creativity in schools, businesses, and public spaces.
This is the second time that I’ve visited Nantes, the first having accompanied students studying French, staying for a week to gather content for various interactive projects. The first time around the students arranged interviews, spoke with business owners and filmed scenes in some of Nantes’ most famous gastronomic locations. It was an incredibly productive trip and my job was to mop up after students, capture footage they might have missed, and help them with camera and recording audio.
This time we returned to talk to colleagues in various institutions in Nantes to talk about a plan to bring students for a six week summer course, where students living with families and learning french, would work on new projects, making immersive and interactive works, in collaboration with people in Nantes, perhaps students in design or architecture, or with artists, or those working in startups and creative enterprise. We want students to make work in sympathy with the themes and issues of Nantes, recognizing its history, as an industrial center, and also as a multicultural city, confronting a dark past of slavery, and a new future as a place of asylum and refuge for those escaping conflict and war.
It was wonderful catching up with my Pittsburgh colleagues Sébastien and Anne in Nantes, spending a few days with them, accompanied by my family to see the city. We spent time meeting and talking with representatives who will take care of lodging and teaching french, and also toured the Ile de Nantes, the creative hub of the city, where shipyards and factories have been turned into university buildings, cultural and artistic centers, including the fabulous Ile des Machines, the atelier where these incredible mechanical creatures are conceived and brought to live, using the same skills in engineering, carpentry, and craftsmanship that once built navy frigates and cargo ships. We very much hope that we’ll be able to bring students here, there is a great deal of creativity here, galleries, festivals for drawing and printmaking; we see students building installations in the École de L’Architecture (ENSA), and the École des Beaux Arts.
The weather all week has been incredible, so much so that lunch is extended into a short siesta, when we can shut our eyes and rest during the hottest part of the day. We’re staying in an AirBnB on the Quay, just a short walk across the bridge to the old center of town. Nantes is a mix of traditional and modern buildings, much of it pedestrianized, it is a proper walking and cycling city. Sitting out on the balcony early in the morning, returning from a walk to the boulangerie for baguette and croissant, I see cyclists commuting to work, or dropping of kids at nursery and school using cargo bikes, with big wooden crates on the front where kids sit in bucket seats.
We hire bikes to tour the city, it is so easy, just 2euro to hire a bike for half an hour, and an additional 20cents for every half hour after that. We stop to see the Elephant, and past La Grue Jaune Titan, (the giant yellow crane), and eat in La Cantine du Voyage. This is a restaurant where herbs and veggies are picked from the garden next door, to accompany brochettes, either fish or chicken, sourced locally; and a salad, and a beer. The boys drink the local Breizh Cola and play on the pinball machines and table football.
We also walk through the city center enjoying the Fête de la Musique. Almost every café and bar is hosting a band or DJ, sounds blast out, mixing together as you walk through the streets. There’s heavy metal, folk music, we even stumble on a few choirs enjoying the acoustics of narrow streets and stone buildings. Everywhere there are people dancing and having a good time.
This is a city that seems alive, moving at pace, where ideas form, and we hope our students will see the possibilities, to build, to make and to immerse themselves in a way of seeing that is different to what they may have already experienced. It is tough seeing the images from France at the moment, there are many parallels to life in the UK and US. The murder of a young French teenager in the suburbs of Paris have sparked protests that have become riots. This is country that needs change, again where politicians serve the racism, and shape the inequalities, that comfort those on the right, afraid of the future, afraid of the present. As we come to the end of the main street, by the chateau teams of riot police stand in full-body armor, armed with guns and batons. It is a scene at odds with the celebration and joy that is happening in the street, music and dance everywhere.
In the morning we sit in a café talking through ideas, thinking through some of the logistical issues. We’re hopeful that we can put it these pieces together, we want to tempt a range of students, many who want to immerse themselves in the languages and culture of France, those that want the challenge of creative and design learning, especially outside of the US and UK, to see how language and culture inform new ways of making and seeing. We want students who are good with ideas and those that want learn about themselves, to find out who they are in situations where they are unfamiliar with language, location and culture. There will be something for everyone here, and we hope to enjoy and celebrate exchange and collaboration.
I’ve enjoyed being in France, speaking French (it is rusty). I spent a few hours in FNAC buying comics and graphic novels (bandes dessinées) and Livre de poche, small paperbacks; that I’ll take home and add to our free bookshelf in the room. It was fun chatting to people, which can be tricky when you’re traveling, and just experiencing a different way of life.
I promised that you’d get the hang of this time traveling, next week we’ll be in Wales on the final part of our trip, spending a few days with family before we return to Pittsburgh.
This has been a busy few weeks, I’m also pleased to say that all my students passed with flying colors and turned in some great summer 360˙ videos that I’ll add to our YouTube channel. It’s always interesting to see them challenge themselves, head out into the city and discover somewhere new.
So, hopefully we’ll be back in Nantes in Summer 2024, ready to be busy with a big group (fingers crossed). In the meantime, we’ll take a flight back across the channel and after a few days on the south coast, we’ll drive east along the M4.
The weather has been bright but windy here in Wales, it is a peaceful place though, I’ve already got through one book and powering through another. Over the past two weeks, we’ve been with people and by the sea, and I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed them both.