LILLE: It’s “Fantastic”

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Just another tunnel to walk through!

Until mid-January, Lille this pleasant metropolis in northern France will be shaken by ‘an invasion of Fantastic’ events. Once every three years, and lasting for about three months, the city celebrates its powerful imagination through a incredible string of performances, concerts, happenings and exhibitions. The theme chosen for this year is ‘Fantastic’. So the city and its whole area are overrun by weird, fabulous, strange, bizarre, fanciful or phantasmagoric events. Notice that the first strange thing is the use, by the French organisers, of the English spelling ‘Fantastic’ instead of the French ‘fantastique’. Knowing how the French are proud of their language and its hard-to-use rules, what an unusual open-mindedness to the world. That is just ‘Fantastic’.

 

The opening parade
Traditionally, the opening day ceremony has a huge night parade attracting the young and the old, locals and strangers in a joyful crowd which peacefully invades the city centre. Last October  even a few showers didn’t stop more than 300,000 people joining the party. The show was led by a flying coloured giant of eight metres, a piece of art by the famous American artist Nick Cave. Surrounded by the music of various local bands, all of which are collectively called ‘Harmonies’, a string of flying gas-filled creatures glided in the night sky over a cheering and tightly-packed crowd as they marched along the narrow streets. In the Grand Place, a central stage had been built to allow everyone to admire the ‘fashion show’ of a hundred non-professional young performers wearing amazing tunics especially created for this event by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, the well-known French couturier.Each performer seemed to be a colourful phantom, dressed in yellow, blue, green or pink. And each had a face painted as they were a zombie. The work of the make-up artists was impressive and amazed the enthusiastic spectators who were all corralled at the catwalk.

After more than an hour, the procession of flying creatures reached the Grand Place and slowly moved to Faidherbe Street where it has to slip under a man-made tunnel. Designed by François Schuiten – a Belgian artist – the tunnel has a starry sky silhouetted on its roof. For those who had been before – and the knowledgeable – who wanted to avoid the long march through the city, this provided them with an ideal spot to grab the best seats for when the parade passed them. But you need to get their early for the crowds build up well in advance of the arrival of the parade. Then, like a long giant snake, hundreds of thousand people arrive at the final stop in Esplanade François Mitterand. Here the Lille National Orchestra, directed by Jean-Claude Casadesus, serves up to the revellers a concert which is followed by the traditional giant fireworks show.

While many spectators return home, many more stayed in the central streets for a popular party that saw some people dancing till dawn. After the night’s festivities are all over all many people will think about is the next parade. But they have three, long years to wait!

The urban metamorphoses of Lille “Fantastic”
Lille is directly linked to central London by Eurostar. This makes Lille the closest French city for many UK travellers. In just 80 minutes from central London and you are right in the centre of Lille at the Lille-Europe international station. It is faster to get to the city than it is to reach Bristol, Norwich or Leeds and only about the same time as it takes to get to Birmingham.

Nick Cave’s flying giant acts as a ceremony master introducing you to all the Metamorphoses of the town during the Fantastic. From time-to-time, as you leave the station, a foggy cloud can greet you. Slowly it takes life, concealing the outside fountain and sliding along the pavement. This ethereal sculpture ¬- I don’t know what else you would call it – is a work of art by the Japanese artist Fujito Nakaya that forces passers-by to walk on a “clouds’ sea.”
Just two blocks away you will see the facade of Lille-Flandres the old railways station which is still in use. Visit the platforms inside and you will be astounded to see a huge ‘flying-saucer’ hanging from the roof. As Ross Lovegrove, the British artist who designed it, says “nobody knows if flying-saucers exist, but anybody is able to draw one!” And if you are in the area after dark go and see the suite Novotel where an astonishing piece of street art is to be found. On the hotel wall there is ‘Permanent Sunset’, an artwork created by the duo ‘Electronic Shadow’. You really don’t need to have supped a few too many beers to see the sunset after sunset in Lille!

These are just like “hors-d’oeuvres” before the discovery of all the other metamorphoses that are dotted through the city. For example, ‘The House Fallen from the Sky’ by Jean-François Fourtou which is stuck into the ground upside down is well worth a visit. On the Place de la République, Pierre Delavie has transformed what was the the old Post-Office building which had previously looked like a collapsing Greek temple with tall, leaning Corinthian columns.
A little away from the old centre, ‘Heterotopia’ by Priscilla Monge is a grass football field made of hollows and bumps, all criss-crossing like disjointed waves on an ocean. Try running on it. It’s an odd feeling and if you try playing with a ball then be prepared for some falls and much laughter from passers-by.

 

Lille, a fantastic choice of exhibitions and events

phantoms with Ray-Bans?

Apart from many more metamorphoses, Lille Fantastic also houses various exhibitions and eclectic events. Theatre and opera, music and dance, circus and concerts are usually one or two-day events. Nearly all exhibitions last until mid-January and are the main essence of Lille Fantastic.
The Tri Postal, a red-coloured brick building next to the old Lille-Flandres station which has many of the works of Nick Cave, serves up ‘Phantasia’ to the visitor – an exhibition of ten contemporary artists. Visitors are welcomed by the Théo Mercier designed phantoms all of which are dressed in white clothes and wearing sunglasses and smoking away. But they’re not scary. Even his red skeletons seem friendly.

 

But hidden in a small dark room is the ‘Tenth Sentiment” by Ryota Kuwakubo, a magical work of light which is really hard to describe. It has to be seen. But describe it, I’ll try. Imagine a toy train passing by toy trees, toy houses and toy people. Light reflects off each as the train travels and projects these silhouettes onto the walls making the images get larger and then shrinking but never ever leaving you entirely. They are fuller of vigour and movement but strangely soothing at the same time. Forgive me if I have confused you. As I said – they need to be seen rather than written about.

Meanwhile the Palais des Beaux-Arts is home to two exhibitions, ‘Fables du Paysage Flamand au XVIe Siécle’ and ‘Babel’. The first, the Flemish landscapes exhibition, brings together about a hundred pictures by 16th century masters as Bosch and Brueghel, with their visions of nature, blending myth with reality, fantasy and including the strangest creatures. ‘Babel,’ on the other hand, is a modern vision of Babel’s tower by contemporary artists and complements the Flemish paintings in their approach to fantasy and use of unrestrained imagination.

‘La Ville Magique’ (Magical Town) is the theme of the exhibition of the LAM, the Modern Art Museum of Lille-Métropole. It explores urban myths between the first and the second world wars. More than two hundred artists are represented by different art forms including photographs and extracts from movies, like Metropolis, the trend-setting film by Fritz Lang. It is impossible to name all these artists, but each one put his own mark in this rich exhibition. Through the eyes of avant-garde artists, the exhibition takes you on a long walk through the vision of a modern town, a vision that is sometimes ideal, sometimes realistic and sometimes quite dark.

Another emblematic museum, la Piscine, presents a largely unknown aspect of the famous painter, Marc Chagall. This exhibition contains a selection of about 200 works including the work he did for theatre costumes, ceramics and sculptures. La Piscine is in Roubaix which is one of two adjacent towns to Lille, the other being Tourcoing. It is hard to know where one town ends and the others begin!

Many more exhibitions are scheduled for Lille Fantastic, and among them two should not be missed. At the Maison Folie Wazemmes, ‘Science et Fiction’ is a must for all fans of Star Wars or Terminator. Admire the original costumes of these movies, the big scale models of their space ships and those alone make a visit worthwhile. But the exhibition has much more to offer, showing how Science and Science-Fiction are drawing closer together.

The last exhibition is perhaps the most impressive in a city that has created a large amount of respect for its efforts. ‘XYZT – Abstract Landscapes’ by Adrien Mandot and Claire Bardainne is an interactive exhibition at La Maison Folie Hospice d’Havré in Tourcoing. Using interactions between optical illusions, mathematic and physical laws, these two artists play with space and its dimensions. Visitors are, at the same time, spectators and actors. Any movement interacts with the art-works and creates new forms or new images. In one of their installations, the artists include the time-in-space movement. When the spectator/actor moves slowly he could see his distorted image moving as a phantom in the air. It will still be moving after the spectator stops.

Lille, what else?

Hard as it is for me to say, don’t try to visit all the exhibitions of Lille Fantastic! They are too many. Select the ones you are interested in and take time to visit the city itself. In the old centre there are many historical monuments, old houses and buildings as well as a network of small streets full of charming restaurants and shops to tempt almost anyone.

Eurostar brings you directly into the heart of the historic part of Lille. A hotel here is probably the best located to enable the visitor to use their time to best advantage. The choice of accommodation is wide with everything from five star to guest houses. And a base here means you can walk almost anywhere. Lille is a city where people like to get out. Remember, Parisians are more likely to drink coffee, the British – tea but people living in Lille prefer beer. And what a selection you’ll find.

A votre santé!

Click here for information on Lille and Fantastic 2012

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