ULLA VON BRANDENBURG

Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette is a general interest foundation. It is a heavy responsibility that is taken to heart by everyone—the Administration Council, the Galeries Lafayette group and all of our staff. General interest is indeed the principle that guides us as we build our culture, our programme, our identity and our institution.

Since they were created, the department stores have always been associated with the joys and pains of history. In 1918, while Paris was celebrating the armistice in the plaza of the Hotel de Ville, BHV, covered in blue, white and red flags, was treated as if it were another state building. Although this anecdote is associated with hawkish, patriotic times, it has a place in the memory of Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette, which conspicuously carries the name of a department store and must also shoulder its history and its responsibility. In our time, this responsibility is exclusively societal. Also, the range of activities developing around the pre-launch programme is entirely focused on these concerns. Very fortunately, we are not the only ones working with these goals in mind, and along the way we are finding worthy partners like the Nouveaux Commanditaires protocol.

Initiated by Fondation de France, this protocol makes it possible for citizens confronting issues relating to society or regional development to get contemporary artists involved in their concerns by commissioning a work from them. Its originality is based on a novel conjunction between three special actors: the artist, the sponsoring citizen and a mediator appointed by Fondation de France, sometimes supported by public and private partners working together on the project.

This is the context that gave rise to the performance Baisse-toi Montagne, Lève-toi Vallon [Bend Down Mountain, Rise Up Valley] by Ulla von Brandenburg. On the initiative of Jack Liesveld, a resident of the Saint-Simoniens residence in Ménilmontant, which currently depends on the Social Action Centre of the City of Paris, the artist decided to revive the spirit of philosopher Saint-Simon, a spirit that in 1832 was already being upheld in Ménilmontant by Prosper Enfantin and thirty-two disciples. Produced by Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette in collaboration with a large number of private and public partners, the play written and directed by Ulla von Brandenburg goes back to the roots of social utopias and a positivism that, though now outmoded, once incarnated the hope of an aesthetic renewal, synonymous with social progress, mobility, industrial technology, accessibility and the abolition of privilege.


"BAISSE-TOI MONTAGNE, LÈVE-TOI VALLON"

When Ulla von Brandenburg met the inhabitants of the Saint-Simoniens residence, especiallyJack Liesveld, the artist first thought her commission could take the form of an enormous banner hung on the side of the residence, which is perched on the hill in Menilmontant where Saint-Simon’s disciples prospered in 1832. The Saint-Simonianism she discovered at that time seemed to offer obvious historical and social resources that could shine forth from the Parisian heights, sending down an echo of past utopias.

But after interviews with the “nouveaux comanditaires” or new sponsors—the residents of course, the mediators and their institutional partners—Ulla von Brandenburg uncovered much more than just the vestiges of a current of thought; it was the foundations of a genuine vision of society, stillborn in the 19th century and ferociously contemporary.

On the still-smoking embers of the Revolution, Saint-Simonianism called for a fraternal society whose most competent members (industrialists, scientists, artists, intellectuals, engineers…) would be tasked with governing France as economically as possible, in order to create a prosperous country dominated by the spirit of enterprise and principles of freedom, peace and the common good. Motivated by the search for a universal principle capable of underpinning a philosophy conceived as a general science, Count Saint-Simon (1760-1825), who was its instigator, chose universal gravitation as the guiding principle, and from this positivism he derived a social and political theory based on principles of perfect equality. Just as the laws of physics apply indifferently to all human beings, under this empire every person should be able to climb the social ladder according to his or her merits, doing so without lapsing into selfishness and individualism.

The fact that the “woman question” lay at the heart of the doctrine of Saint-Simonianism—to the point that it took part in the feminist revival in the 1830s—was another reason why Ulla von Brandenburg decided to write a more ambitious work capable of tackling the Saint-Simon spirit in the post-industrial era.

Baisse-toi Montagne, Lève-toi Vallon, is her first large-scale theatrical performance. The play for five actors and a chorus is based on events, symbols and dressing rituals linked to Saint-Simonianism (the clothing of the Father, the choreography of gestures, the hierarchy of chants, an elementary lesson in astronomy, the manipulation of objects), handled like so many fragments that distantly recall the memory and values of a movement whose failings as a community and sect are obviously food for thought. Presented on a set streamlined from the floor to the ceiling, the performance is chanted, recalling the forms of transmission used in the community of monks that Prosper Enfantin assembled at his Ménilmontant residence in 1832. Chanting, which necessarily feeds on incantatory codes, is also linked to questions of rhyme and metrics, measure and emphasis, as befits this positivist thought. The new order teeters on it, between the melancholy of a lost utopia and the muted fear still generated today by the birth of radical social movements, despite everything. Through the prism of Saint-Simoniansm, Ulla von Brandenburg’s play will no doubt inspire a reconsideration of today’s whistleblowers or members of Anonymous, people who are themselves steeped in idealistic rituals that belong to a broader political and social history.


 

A performance by Ulla von Brandenburg first presented on March 18th and 19th 2015 at the Kaaitheater in Brussels as part of the Performatik Festival 2015. 

Director: Ulla von Brandenburg ; Music: Joachim Saxenborn, Ulla vonBrandenburg ; Playwright: Benoît Résillot ; With: Pierre Casadei, Lucienne Deschamps, Duncan Evennou, Giuseppe Molino, Benoît Résillot ; Costumes: London College of Fashion, London.

A commission produced as part of Fondation de France's Nouveaux Commanditaires initiative for the Saint-Simoniens residence in Ménilmontant. 
Work produced with the support of the Fondation de France and the Fonds de dotation Famille Moulin.
Mediation: Jérôme Poggi and François Quintin.
Production: Objet de production and Lafayette Anticipation, Fondation d'entreprise Galeries Lafayette.
Production AssistantKaro Sieben.