Velo Café Renaissance was a short residency undertaken by Wideyed members Lucy Carolan and Richard Glynn, 17th – 24th October as part of the 2015 edition of lille3000, a 4 month long cultural bonanza that has been happening periodically in and around Lille since the city was selected as a European Capital of Culture in 2004.
For Velo Café Renaissance our host organisation in Lille was l’Entorse, an association that (in partnership with East Street Arts in Leeds and Vooruit in Ghent) is producing projects linking arts and sports, and they based our residency in Herlies, a large-ish rural village roughly 20km from Lille (but still falling within the Lille Métropole area) in the Nord Pas de Calais region of France.
Herlies is home to about 2000 inhabitants (mixture of established farmers and incoming city commuters) and a few small business – 2 cafés, 2 chip shops, a pharmacy, a butcher, a bakery, a Belgian beer specialist trading out of a single domestic garage, and (weirdly) a car sales showroom – with a school, a large care home for the elderly, plus the most amazing sports facilities (including a short course swimming pool) considering the small size of the population. Our home for the week was a startlingly horse-themed gîte on a farm a 20 minute walk away from the village centre. The area is palpably close to the Flemish-Belgian border – we’ve already mentioned the chips and beers, but there’s also a similar low, red brick architecture, cows grazing at the bottoms of gardens, broad landscape with big skies.
Based on a previous work by us called Park – a contemporary reworking of the Victorian mutascope (better known as What The Butler Saw machines) – made with prints plus recycled bike parts, East Street Arts and l’Entorse had invited us to develop further bicycle-based photographic mechanisms in response to Herlies, and our first task on arrival was to find the necessary materials: in the neighbouring village of Marquillies there’s a fantastic place called Ressourcerie des Weppes, a recycling plant that has a symbiotic relationship with the local tip next door to it, and which was full of all kinds of rescued ‘treasure’ – from the knackered old bicycles we needed for our work, to… a pair of gold teeth, grisly discovery in the drawer of an abandoned bedside table.
As our work required a lot of welding and grinding we needed an open but sheltered space with electricity, and the covered area in the village school playground Herlies Mairie arranged for us to use was perfect.
In addition to doing our own residency work we also managed to fit in two afternoon workshops, one with a small group of Herlies OAPs from the village care home, the other with 30 kids aged 6-11 who helped us make a stop-frame photo animation and also had a go at creating their own hand drawn flipbooks.
For the residency, l’Entorse paired us with Le Tourne Bride, one of the two Herlies cafés, and we shared the space with funky bicycle themed furniture (e.g. seats made with tensioned inner tubes – literally sitting somewhere between art and design) commissioned by Kraft, another Lille-based curatorial association. For our end of residency presentation on the evening of 24th October we projected video pieces produced in Herlies (one of ours plus the result of the kids workshop), and also presented two machines – a mutascope, and a zoetrope we somehow found the time to make.
In what was effectively 6 days (once you deduct workshop time), we actually did 2 weeks worth of work. It was so intense there was no time for the degree of engagement with place and people we would have preferred – no time even for reflection (or eating sometimes), and as such it felt more like a commission than a residency. There was no time to explore Lille or any of the other Renaissance lille3000 events and exhibitions either. But we came away with ideas for new works that we might not have had otherwise so it was definitely a worthwhile experience, and we would very much like to thank East Street Arts and l’Entorse for giving us that opportunity.