Client: Sentier du Rhône
Location: Pouzin, France
Completion date: 2011
Artwork budget: $5,608
Public Art Agent
Sentier du Rhone
Circuit d'art contemporain en Ardeche
Photoreceptors was a series of 4 larger-than-life photographs on banner. The ephemeral intervention represented the human dimension of an industrial landscape where sources of electricity and transportation are far more dominant that individual, living, bodies. The anonymous images of the eyes of two of the oldest residents of the town of Pouzin face outward from the bridge connecting the town, which today lies on either side of the Rhone river. The eyes look upstream and downstream, asking whose bodies represent us in public spaces and why larger-than-life billboards occupy spaces that could be used to shape a collective history.
The individuals photographed lived in the town’s retirement home and agreed to participate in the projects. Images of subjects’ eyes were cropped and printed on banners designed to fit into the bridge’s triangular trusses. The frame reinforced the shapes of the eyes and echoed the popular symbol of the all-seeing Eye of Providence, an eye often surrounded by rays of light and usually enclosed by a triangle. The mysterious symbol appears on the original Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, used to authenticate certain documents issued by the U.S. federal government, and represents the eye of God watching over mankind. Here, elderly local project participants take the place of the religious deity and stare out along a river that has flown in the same manner, day in and day out, from the time of their birth, to the time of their deaths. The eyes have a wistful, direct, and haunting quality; their regard does not affirm any particular vision of how mankind should live but rather meditates on the current shape of the landscape and the space it creates for human life.
The temporary public commission for the Sentier du Rhône included collaboration with local governments, structural engineers (to analyze wind load) and outdoor service installers. During the project design phase, the artist carried out workshops with local school children and photographed local residents who took part in the project.
The images were hung on a riveted steel bridge constructed in 1961 that measures 292 meters long and weights 2000 tons. This structure is a functional artery connecting together two different French départements. The town of Pouzin itself was largely destroyed during World War II and subsequently rebuilt as a working-class community (ville ouvrière). The loss and of life and property in a site that serves as a strategic gateway to the Ardèche region is today less visible within the town itself, that in the past.