Jean-Louis Andral – Director Musée Picasso Antibes:
Antibes has numerous vestiges of the old Greek and Roman city of Antipolis, and one particularly fine example is the Îlot Saint-Jaume. It was originally a place of worship: the Romans built a small temple there devoted to the emperor Septimus Severus, and, a few centuries later, when Christians had begun making the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a church dedicated to Saint James was built over its ruins. Antibes stood on the route for pilgrims travelling to Galicia from Italy. However, the church was razed in the sixteenth century in order to build a fortress as part of the defences being put up around the town. This itself would soon be destroyed under the aegis of Vauban, who replaced it with a bastion that, reflecting the site’s historical and geographical position, was called the Bastion Saint-Jaume. Over time, as the town’s defensive role waned in favour of its maritime development, the structure was covered with a roof and transformed into a shipyard. This aged roof had to be taken down in 2005 and restoration work was carried out on the building, so that now it once again has the pared-down, stony look it had in the seventeenth century. In order to celebrate this renaissance, a major event was organised in summer 2007, and a contemporary artist was invited to intervene in this emblematic part of Antibes’ historical heritage.
Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa was born in Barcelona in 1955. He came to fame in the early 1980s with his big, simple forms in cast iron. Since then, his work has moved towards sculptural installations using light, sound and language. Recently, his international stature has grown considerably thanks in large part to public commissions, especially in North America (United States, Canada) and Japan.
For his exhibition at the Bastion Saint-Jaume, the artist conceived a presentation in two parts. On the main level, eight life-size sculpted self-portraits in cast aluminium were presented in the bastion’s eight gun emplacements. On the terrace, facing the sea at the corner of the ring wall, was a monumental sculpture eight metres high of a squatting figure, Nomade. All these pieces used the formal vocabulary developed by the artist over the last few years, based on letters. With this vocabulary, Plensa is suggesting that, beyond its simple mission of communicating a meaning, spoken or written language can also be seen as a kind of envelope covering the matter and energy that constitute us. “Like bricks,” he says, “letters have a potential for construction. They enable us to construct thought.”
Plensa’s big Nomade, which visitors can get inside, invites us to travel within it. Reaching beyond its constituent materials, its space, all emptiness and silence, opens up to the sea and spreads out before it, like a gigantic figurehead on the prow of the Bastion Saint-Jaume.