A collective project, conceived by the artist-photographer in Marseille, has shown that participatory art brings well-being, even in distressed neighbourhoods

Art is useful for getting out of the ordinary and exploring a possible social change, in search of well-being inspired by non-ordinary beauty, says Ilaria Turba. The artist-photographer knows this for sure, having just finished the project Le désir de regarder loin, a collective, participatory and interdisciplinary gesture made in Marseille which involved five hundred people putting together LE ZEF - Scène Nationale de Marseille and the fragile districts of the north of the city. Starting point, a somewhat dreamy question: what is desire.

Ilaria Turba's work lasted three years and took many forms: collection of wishes, photography and bakery atelier, urban art walk, exhibition at MuCEM - Museum of civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean. Institutions and politics have taken part in the path and have drawn a different portrait of a difficult neighborhood.

How did you get into this project and what exactly was it about?

In 2018, a cultural project united the Merlan theater and the Gare Franche artist residence into a single reality. To accompany this passage, the director of LE ZEF Francesca Poloniato invited me among the resident artists.

Le désir de regarder loin is the set of artistic actions that I have undertaken to encourage a relationship between LE ZEF and the territory. And to enhance and amplify the authentic voice of a part of Marseille otherwise excluded not only from the cultural debate, but also from that of the city.

For these things you need time and freedom of action ...

Francesca Poloniato gave me carte blanche to write a local project from scratch. The theme of the desire to look away arose spontaneously, inspired by the context, the landscape and the natural and urban scenographies of the Northern districts. The open view on the sea describes the history of Marseille and its evident stratification of people and cultures. Desire is a word that means "without stars", looking for a way in the dark.

What is your desire to look into the distance?

I started collecting wishes by doing interviews. Meanwhile, I collected the 'pains du désir', the 'loaves of wishes' and the photographic images created in the ateliers, organizing them in the Cabane, my studio, where people could come, get to know me and participate in the project. The long time was a very important factor.

The final restitution took the form of a public walk with an affichage along a path that touched unusual and unknown places. One hundred and fifty people participated in a unique event, precious and not destined to repeat itself, a party.

What was the real impact on the neighborhood?

During the workshops I turned to associations and communities: the youth collective, the boxing club… I asked everyone to reflect on desire. The projects of the groups emerged and the relationship with LE ZEF as an open place and reference point of the neighborhood was strengthened, because we gave ourselves some non-ordinary time, out of the ordinary.

A gigantic portrait of one of the girls of the youth collective now hangs at the entrance to the theater: it is a sign of a shared identity, and of the link between a difficult neighborhood and a space where culture takes place. For the perception of many inhabitants touched by my project theater and culture previously felt as distant and incomprehensible, now they are more accessible and close.

Is art a social tool?

I think art is a means of creating reflection and community. A tool for society. Certainly social changes pass through politics, but it is clear that such an intervention highlights issues that otherwise would not emerge.

We have transformed, moved the imaginaries of a territory with a simple and strong proposal. It is shortsighted to think that art does not produce wealth. The relationship with beauty creates well-being, but we are a society that tends to ignore it. In an ideal world it would take less SPA and more projects and artistic spaces open to citizens.

Cover photo: archivio Ilaria Turba