English Scandal of the month

Shelley’s Art Musings – Anselm Kiefer’s Mysterious Studio in Barjac

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I recently wrote about Anselm Kiefer, which if you didn’t catch the article you can find it here.  I talk about how very interesting the artist is, and about his work and background.

Kiefer’s work has risen in popularity since an exhibition at the Royal Academy on 2014, where he has also received an honorary academician, but his art can quite often leave people scratching their heads as to the meaning. This isn’t particularly helped by the artist himself, as he feels art can be difficult for the audience and the creator alike, not always leading to a conclusive meaning, and that you should find something different in it each time you look at it.

This can make Kiefer’s work feel overwhelming and impenetrable for beginners, but it would appear that it is not just his art that is like that.

In Barjac, France, there is one of Kiefer’s studios.  It has towers made from cement casts of shipping containers looming on the horizon, while underneath is a hive of tunnels.  Great glasshouses that home sculptures can be found on this 32-hectare estate, but Kiefer has since moved his studio to Paris, leaving this part of his work to age with the elements.

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Photo by Charles Duprat

This looks like a Kiefer fan wonderland, but unfortunately it is not open to the public.  The studio was made on the site of an old silk factory, and along with the giant towers and greenhouses, tanks and plane can be seen left on grass verges of the estate.  This goes with some of Kiefer’s long-running themes of the second world war and the horrendous treatment of people during that time.

As I can’t visit this studio, researching has proved interesting for this article, as there isn’t actually a direct website for the studio or the artist as a matter of fact, so I have had to make my decisions about what to write from what others have written and a documentary called “Over your cities will grow grass” by Sophie Fiennes.

What I have found really interesting was an account from two people who tried to visit this studio.  They ran into the same issues as me as they tried to research the exact location, only to find that it isn’t documented anywhere online.  They eventually found it by using google maps to compare the landscape from photos they had seen of the studio.

After their extensive efforts of locating the studio, they made their way to the area, only to find that the whole place was surrounded by barbed wire (it apparently had said that it was an electric fence but testing that proved otherwise) and a few guard dogs around the site.

The place was abandoned with exception of a guard hut which appeared to be occupied but the inhabitant didn’t want to talk.

Through the bushes though the visitors could see the towers, which look like they have been meticulously engineered, but Kiefer has said that they really aren’t, and they fall down all the time (perhaps this is one of the reasons this place isn’t open to the public, because it is an inherent death trap…).

It seems that the creation of “La Ribaute” was not taken to very kindly by the locals, especially the hunters of the area as there was trespassing issues once Kiefer took control of the land.  Some of the art was stolen, not to resell (although that would have been worth a fortune) but simply to break up, creating destruction of property. Eventually in 2008, Kiefer left this studio, donating it to the people and hasn’t been back.  Since then no one has really decided what to do with it.  For me, this seems a saddening waste.

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Photo by Charles Duprat

Kiefer has said about himself that he has no particular style, and that he is ever-shifting, which is quite evident in the work he produces.  His vast use of materials conveys his creative unrest, which is why this studio is so compelling as it combines so many of his differing themes.  Each with their own take on life and future memories of the past.

Within the vast studio is a room built of similar containers to the towers.  Kiefer has said that he would have liked to have seen this room shift, for the building to slide or collapse as this would be a wonder surprise to his art.  This says to me that is not only concerned with the finished product being a moment in time, but also the life and degradation of the piece.  Perhaps this is another of the reasons that Barjac has been left.  To see what happens when nature takes its course to his work.

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Photo by Charles Duprat

Age and transformation is a key theme, which resonates with his other works which explore the second world war and the treatment of people.  It is perhaps the healing process for this large-scale artist.

At this time, the future of Barjac is unknown, but Kiefer believes that nothing in life is ugly.  Everything holds a beauty, so for him the decay of this mass, closed off exhibition can only bring a new light and beauty to what he has left.

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