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Esch 2022, An exhibition about the cross-border workers

The exhibition Frontaliers. Des vies en stéréo The exhibition Frontaliers. Des vies en stéréo Photo by Léa Cheymol

An immersive exhibition by Mehdi Ahoudig and Samuel Bollendorff (22.10.2022 - 05.02.2023), organised by Esch2022 - European Capital of Culture and produced by Les films du Bilboquet with the support of the DRAC (Direction régionale des affaires culturelles) Grand Est Region and Sony France.

The exhibition Frontaliers. Des vies en stéréo at the Massenoire in Esch-Belval focuses on a community, which more than any other, shapes everyday life in the Esch2022 region: cross-border workers (‘”frontaliers” in French). Currently, around 212,000 people from border regions in Germany, Belgium and France travel to Luxembourg to work every day (Source: STATEC). With French cross-border commuters accounting for more than half of this traffic, the two initiators and curators of this project, Mehdi Ahoudig and Samuel Bollendorff, decided to focus on the French border territories as part of the documentary project at the heart of this multimedia exhibition. More than 90 % of these French commuters live in the departments of Meurthe-et-Moselle and Moselle, which include the eight communes of the CCPHVA (Communauté de Communes Pays Haut Val d`Alzette) that are part of the Esch2022 region.

Mehdi Ahoudig, a French sound and audiovisual media artist, and Samuel Bollendorff, a Luxembourgish-French photographer and filmmaker, began their documentary project in early 2020. Their aim was not to carry out a ‘representative’ study in the scientific sense. Rather, along their immersive audiovisual field study, which took the form of a documentary journey, they met more than 80 people. The two artists engaged in an open dialogue with the interviewees and share their experiences and recordings with the visitors of the immersive exhibition. During their fieldwork in Lorraine, Ahoudig and Bollendorff attempted to draw a typology of cross-border workers through twelve or so audiovisual portraits. The results of their study are presented simultaneously across three different media, with both visual and audio elements, pursuing the duo’s ongoing artistic research on the complex relationships between image and sound.

In addition to the immersive exhibition, the web series they published on the Esch2022 website in August includes different elements of the project, treated in an experimental, direct and thematic way, inviting viewers to share and disseminate the short formats across the Internet. The documentary film Il était une fois dans l’Est also forms part of the project and concentrates on the places where the life destinies of these cross-border commuters unfold. After its premiere on 21 October 2022 at L’Arche in Micheville, it will be broadcast on French television (France 3 – Grand Est on 10 November 2022, then LCP – La chaîne parlementaire and France 3 national) and shown in selected cinemas.

A technological and intimate journey

Mehdi Ahoudig and Samuel Bollendorff have been working together since 2010, experimenting with new forms of audiovisual narration in order to explore the dialogue between still images and sound. How to engage the spectator’s imagination by revealing the off-screen?

Their first collaboration, À l’abri de rien, an investigation into poor housing conditions in France, was awarded the Prix Europa in 2011. They went on to co-direct the ‘talking photography’ project La Parade, a post-industrial tale on popular cultures linked to the mining industry, which received an Étoile and a Special mention for audiovisual work of the year by the Société civile des auteurs multimédias (SCAM) in 2018.

Their work is based on the conviction that fixed-frame techniques enable filmmakers to create a space for listening while leaving enough room for viewers to interpret and establish links between the image and the sound. Freed from the strain of perpetually renewed visual information, spectators can give free rein to their mental images, guided by the sound narrative. By doing so, they assume responsibility for the ‘third narrative argument’ and engage with the story by summoning their own imaginary potential to connect the sound and the image, bring to life the off-screen space and create their own experience.

For the presentation of their investigation, the artists wanted to extend their experimental approach by encouraging viewers to engage physically by means of animated photographs, panoramas composed of a multitude of images, videos embedded in still images... They choose to blur the tracks of perception, to create a distance from the harshness of reality and construct a universe that viewers experience as a progressive and asynchronous spatial and temporal journey. The viewers’ physical engagement and their immersion in sound are experimental devices aimed at heightening the potential of the images so as to create a multisensory ‘talking photography’ experience.

The curators and initiators

Mehdi Ahoudig is a sound and audiovisual artist. Since 2004, he has directed numerous documentaries for ARTE Radio and France Culture (Wilfried, Poudreuse dans la Meuse, Qui a connu Lolita?, etc.), which have received the Prix Europa in 2010, 2011 and 2015. His latest documentary, Une caravane en hiver, received the RAI Broadcasting Award at PriMed in 2020. He lives in Marseille.

Samuel Bollendorff is a French-Luxembourgish photographer and director. His work questions the place of the individual in twentieth-century societies. A pioneer of interactive documentaries and transmedia projects, he explores new forms of audiovisual narration and presentation in public contexts. His photographic work, films and installations in the public space question the potential of images as a tool for political reflection.

Among his productions are Voyage au bout du charbon (Prix SCAM 2009), À l’abri de rien, co-directed by Mehdi Ahoudig (Prix Europa 2011), Le Grand Incendie (Visa d’or for Best Interactive Documentary), La nuit tombe sur l’Europe and Les détachés. He lives and works in Paris.

 

 

 

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