Hans-Ulrich Obrist Archive - Chapter 3: Agnès Varda
A day without seeing a tree is a waste of a day

The Tower
Archives Gallery, Level - 2
Galerie du Cerisier, Level-2
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Une heure, une expo (in French only)

For an hour, the mediators of LUMA Arles invite you to (re)discover the exhibition about Agnès Varda. The exchange then continues over a drink in one of the Parc des Ateliers establishments.

May 3
May 10
May 17
May 24

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At the heart of the third chapter of Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s archive at LUMA Arles lies his encounter with Agnès Varda (1928-2019).

As a filmmaker, feminist, and pioneering artist, she played a central role in the French New Wave film movement of the 1950s and 1960s. In her own words, Varda’s artistic trajectory spans three distinct but interconnected lives as a photographer, filmmaker, and visual artist.

The exhibition highlights Hans Ulrich Obrist’s crucial role in introducing Varda to the art world. In 1991, he first travelled to Paris for a residency at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Jouy-en-Josas, invited by Jean de Loisy and Marie-Claude Beaud. Over a three-month stay, Obrist visited over 300 artist studios, averaging five per day, where he met Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, who spoke at length about Agnès Varda and the scope of her work between fiction and documentary. From that moment on, he nurtured the dream of meeting her.

In 2002, thanks to Christian Boltanski and Annette Messager, Obrist finally had the opportunity to meet and film Varda at her magical house at 86 rue Daguerre, Paris. After this interview, Molly Nesbit, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Hans-Ulrich Obrist invited Agnès Varda to participate in Utopia Station, a section of the 50th Venice Biennale directed by Francesco Bonami in 2003. Varda’s proposal marked her debut as ‘an old filmmaker, but a young artist’ with the installation of her video triptych Patatutopia, which celebrates the sprouts and roots of heart-shaped potatoes. As she said: “I celebrate the resistance of this vegetable. I have the utopia of thinking that one can see the beauty of the world in a sprouted potato.”

After half a century of cinema, Utopia Station opened the door for Agnès Varda to explore new possibilities for engaging with multiscreen displays of moving images, multisensory experiences, and tactile elements. She continually experimented with exhibitions throughout the last 15 years of her life, as is evident in some of the unique works loaned by Rosalie Varda, Mathieu Demy, and Ciné-Tamaris. The starting point of her first major exhibition, L’Île et Elle [The Island and Her], at Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in 2006, was Noirmoutier that she discovered thanks to Jacques Demy. Varda introduced her now iconic cinema shack. Each hut, whose structure is made of film reels, corresponds to a film she made. The last hut she built during her lifetime, My Shack of Cinema : The Greenhouse of Le Bonheur in 2018, is on display in the Archives Gallery at LUMA Arles.

The friendship between Varda and Obrist grew through numerous interviews and projects, with Obrist attending nearly all her exhibitions and Varda participating in the Serpentine conversation marathons in London. Obrist regularly visited her on rue Daguerre, sometimes with Maja Hoffmann, with whom Varda shared a deep affinity for Arles, photography, cinema, and contemporary art. During their last meeting on March 3, 2019, Varda invited her artist friends and close ones to participate in the making of her last work, Les Mains complices [Partnering Hands], featuring intertwined hands of couples surrounded by heart potatoes, a celebration of love.

Her spirit continues to inspire artists who crossed her path, as well as those who share her thirst for freedom, adventure, curiosity, and her audacity. A vibrant testimony is provided by the eight posters created especially for this exhibition by Adel Abdessemed, Nairy Baghramian, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Douglas Gordon, Katharina Grosse, JR, Annette Messager, and Laure Prouvost. Her thoughts, forever, exalt the beauty of life’s simple things:  “A day without seeing a tree is a waste of a day.”

Curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Senior Advisor, and Arthur Fouray, Archivist and Curator.
This exhibition is presented in partnership with Les Rencontres d’Arles.

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"The future (...) is invented with artists from the past." Hans-Ulrich Obrist Victor & Simon

Agnès Varda in her Lady Potato costume at the 50th Venice Biennale, "Utopia Station", 2003

Succession Agnès Varda

Agnès Varda

Born on May 30, 1929, in Ixelles, Belgium.
Died on March 29, 2019, in Paris, France.

A photographer since 1949, she directed her first feature film in 1954, La Pointe Courte, a radical movie. Breaking with the narrative codes of the dominant cinema, she invented cinécriture (cinewriting).

Her most famous films are Cléo from 5 to 7, Happiness, Vagabond. In 1999, she chose to shoot in digital to get closer to the anonymous people starring in The Gleaners and I. Then came The Beaches of Agnès, a private and professional self-portrait, Faces Places, co-directed with artist JR, and her last film, Varda by Agnès.

In 2003, she created her first video installation at the Venice Biennale, Patatutopia. More than thirty exhibitions followed in France and around the world. Agnès Varda liked to define herself as “an old filmmaker and a young visual artist.”


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