The Circuit of Lights
The village of Grancey-le-Château lies on the side of a slope in the heart of a huge landscape. A wide long avenue of 100-year-old lime trees, straight and majestic, forms the upper access route to the village. On one side it forms the edge of a sparsely planted wood, on the other elements of buildings — regular stones staking out progress, the high walls of a farmstead, a curvilinear drinking trough. The inhabitants were unanimous in expressing their dissatisfaction with the public lighting on the Allée des Tilleuls that had then been in existence for twenty years. The local council, led by the mayor of the commune, Marcel Follea, envisaged renewing the lighting, and wished to commission an artist with the task so as to endow their project with a strong identity. Moreover, they decided to integrate their scheme into the framework of the circuit of lights designed by the European Leader II programme of Côte d'Or and steered by the services of the General Council, a territorial development initiative.
Laure de Waast, an architect currently working within a Council for Architecture, Town Planning and the Environment, would assist Joumard during the project so as to promote appreciation of the distinction between private and public spaces, which would lead to a fruitful exchange with the patrons. In fact, their initial scheme came up against an obstacle: the lighting they had envisaged, deployed on either side of the avenue, also impinged on private property. Negotiations followed negotiations, and finally the private owner of the wood gave his consent. On one side, integrated into the public lighting network, a series of street lights of a sober clean-cut design diffuses a curtain of white light. There are only two breaks: on the right of the farm, with a series of vertical bars, and alongside the drinking trough to bring out its shape. On the other side in the undergrowth along the verge, a set of 42 halogen lamps embedded into the ground diffuse a warm glow. Their use is controlled by four networks permanently engendering modulations in the luminous intensity. A pulsation surfaces under the foliage that captures the walker's intent gaze, while the light travels on up to the branches. On either side of the avenue, the two lighting systems complement one another (vertical/horizontal, white light/warm light, dissemination/curtain wall...). The method of ground-level lighting is derived from an urban fashion, while the fittings conjure up the emergence of electric mushrooms — the creation of a museum of fungi was then being planned as the commune is rich in many species. The alliance of the urban and the natural, the private and the public, the local and the universal, characterises this work.
The mediator suggested bringing in Véronique Joumard with whom he had already collaborated several times, and more particularly in 1993 at a solo show at the Le Consortium art centre (with Christiane Geoffroy and Xavier Veilhan). With the Grancey commission, it may be noted that Joumard succeeded in condensing different experimental approaches explored in the context of that exhibition in one and the same work. From the mid-1980s Joumard has been operating a reversal that still typifies her work today: the light does not illuminate the work, it is the work. The showing of the light source and laying bare of the electric operating systems are given visibility through a number of devices that are always economical in terms of formal resources, fiercely simple in their spatial installation, and rich for the viewer in terms of sensory experience. These works ally the elementariness of a visual art language to the perceptual complexity of the physical apparatus, which is why the artist often refers to minimal art (Robert Morris, Carl André) to put her experimentation into perspective. Joumard stresses the empirical side of her approach, and there would be no point in looking in her art for any interest in processes worked out in advance of the making of the project. As she observes, the relationship to the context is very important. It is a mainspring for thought, a way of working... Several periods spent in Japan (the first dating from 1990) have gradually influenced her work. The constant imperceptible shifting of the ground, a less codified approach to light than in Europe, but also the presence of a permanent and regular movement, both in the towns and the gardens, are of special interest to her.