Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster – Essarois Wash House
Built in an out-of-centre location, the Grande Fontaine wash-house was very probably constructed in the first half of the 19th century. The building is rectangular in plan, and has two openings, the entrance door and a round archway. The fountain is outside. It feeds both the pool where the washing was done and the still visible pool for the two outside tanks intended for retting hemp. In the context of the programme to restore the wash-house of the commune of Essarois, the residents wished to create a space for social intercourse. The wash-house in fact stands above a large enough piece of land to make it possible to develop the space for all the residents and introduce various different activities. Children were represented on the group of patrons so that account could be taken of their wishes with regard to the scheme.
Several dice made in a local stone structure the space; coloured marble incrustations designate the numbering of each of their faces. Nine are located outside, just one punctuates the wash-house interior. Using the mode of play, the new territory is thus designated. The ten or so stone dice, as if scattered by an anonymous hand between two throws, betoken the incessant renewal of the use of both buildings and places. The transformation of the place also includes a basketball court, a table with benches, a swing, a football pitch, and urban street lights adopting the form of a luminous globe that is one of the recurrent signs in the artist's work. Verticals (the pillars of the lamp-posts, the pillars supporting the basketball nets, the architecture of the wash-house) give rhythm to the location, the denuded character of which accentuates the feeling of a certain horizontality. An area for playing games and holding discussions, the site has thus been brought back into the social life of the present-day village. The residents of Essarois have adopted this new open space to celebrate the commune's annual fête.
The mediator suggested bringing in the artist Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster with whom he was collaborating at that time on a film project (Riyo, 1999) produced by the Anna Sanders Film company, affiliated to the Le Consortium art centre, which attests to the bridges established by the artist between the different spheres of activity of her creative work – environments, series of rooms, cinema. Gonzalez-Foerster has been active since the early 1990s, creating features the arrangement of which conjures up the space of something missing, the feeling of an absent person. Her works amount to huge interior and exterior landscapes where the plurality of the juxtaposed elements of reality is valid for one place only. For the viewer, these deserted, becalmed environments punctuated by a few markers become so many experiences leading to the crossing of several territories, as much physical as mental. The artist worked in concert with the residents of Essarois to upgrade the site adjacent to the commune wash-house. Ball games, boules, gathering together on the occasion of outstanding events, etc., were all issues borne in mind in the creation of this specific environment.