Guillaume Logé

We call them neo-nomads, these men and women who would rather outfit a truck or trailer than a house, and whose movements are governed as much by work obligations as by the desire to change their relationship to the world. From 2012 to 2016, the noLand Collective, including sociologist Yves Pedrazzini, anthropologist Maude Reitz, architect Sophie Greiller and photographer Ferjeux van der Stigghel, sought them out. The goal was to explore the lifestyle of these contemporary nomads, and how it mirrors the contradictions, constraints and aspirations of society, as well as the prospects it offers for the future. Could this lifestyle become widespread? Is it more sustainable? Does its increasing appeal reflect a progressive degradation of working conditions and a redefinition of the relationship between sedentarism and mobility?

Let us consider these questions through the eyes of an art historian. As reinforcement to science, the work of art serves as a “scale model” that immediately gives us access to a complex ensemble, as Lévi-Strauss observed. A radiant core, it helps us understand that which escapes the language and logic of man, measuring tools and protocols that inevitably are limited. It provides studies with that hidden essential – that of links and changes, of the living and the spiritual that animate “the reality.” Those photographic seasons are part of the humanist photography tradition (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Willy Ronis, Izis, etc.), or poetic realism in /film (Jean Renoir, Marcel Carné, etc.), artists who tried to capture human reality of mankind and the magnitude of popular values - from the trivial to the sublime - from close up. The sensitive empathy that guides his approach reflects his strong connection with those with whom he shares daily life by means of a mestizo esthetic, from which we must learn.


Hybridization, paradox, identity building and rebuilding, borrowing and contestation: these words that permeated the Planète métisse exhibition, curated by Serge Gruzinski (Quai Branly Museum, 2007) likewise traverses the neo-nomad world. “All different, but all together,” read the words painted on a truck door. This could easily be the idealistic slogan of this esthetic that, in amplifying unity, sums up the extremely diverse visual references that profoundly characterize the spirit of these roadside populations. As Claude Lévi-Strauss reminds us, works of art serve as scale models that immediately give us access to a complex ensemble, to links and changes, the living and the spiritual that drive the “real,” dimensions that language and logic struggle to fully grasp.

Our eyes may may linger on the many still lifes in the foreground or a specific part of the frame. As with Dutch or Flemish paintings, it is beneficial to freeze time in order to reflect on the symbolism or the relationships between the objects. Given the obvious eclecticism, creativity, misappropriations and transformations that characterize their furniture, clothing, interiors and trucks – even lifestyles? – one thinks of D.I.Y. in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s definition of the term, that “science of the concrete” from La Pensee Sauvage (1962): to develop an awareness of the nature surrounding us, to make fundamental connections and to identify with a space that is defined not just by concrete boundaries, but also by beliefs, myths and the absolute.


Nature: ubiquitous. Animal life is recurrent, domesticated. The same momentum of fusion. Man belongs to an ideal world. The chiaroscuro of the photos (do they borrow from the Dutch “Golden Age”?) speak of this dream. Photographer Mathieu Pernot also succeeded in capturing “travelers’” relationship to the infinite by using this technique. A being’s belonging to a space that is impervious to any attempt at traditional geography, and groundless space where his-her memories and beliefs will settle. A space that is accessible only to metaphor - that of fire perhaps (one of the four elements) - as the title of the eponymous series suggests (Le Feu, 2013).


Mathieu Pernot, Caravane, (_Le Feu series, 2013)
(Much of Mathieu Pernot’s work focuses on gypsy and migrant populations, in which the photographer has taken an interest for many years.)

We must reconcile these images of figures silhouetted in the landscape, like in Caspar David Friedrich paintings.


Caspar David Friedrich, Man and Woman Gazing at the Moon (1824) - © BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jörg P. Anders
(And the many other works of Friedrich representing the same theme – typical of German romanticism – which can be found, for instance, in the work of his friend, Carl Gustave Carus.)

The same romanticism we find in the Wanderer – the wanderer who melts into a space that is as much sensitive and spiritual as it is pristine and natural. Or renewed myth of Virgil’s Arcadia in the Bucolics (ca. 37 B.C.). A timeless metaphor: shepherds herding their flocks. A contemporary thirst for a “return” to the Golden Age, the marriage of man and nature; no more personal possessions, but a fullness of being here and now. One thinks of the recurrence of this pattern theme, of Ovid and Virgil, with the interior elevation of Titian’s Pastoral Concert (ca. 1509) to the outpouring of joy in Pierre Bonnard’s Pastoral Symphony (ca. 1907).


Titien, The Pastoral Concert (ca. 1509) - © RMN-Grand Palais (musée d'Orsay) / Adrien Didierjean
(The two nude women are allegories: poetry (music), beauty, harmony with nature and the quenching of humankind’s most basic thirst (water). Two men in perfect harmony with an idealized nature and livestock present on the edge of a grove of trees.

This sense of the human being of the community reformulates. Night again: guests gather at a table under the lights. In another, the silhouetted figure of a man alone. Last reference, this time to Caravaggio’s Calling of Saint Matthew (ca. 1599).


Caravage, The calling of Saint Matthew (ca 1599) - © Archives Alinari, Florence, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Raffaello Bencini
(See also the other paintings of Caravaggio – one of the most famous representatives of Italian Baroque, the « painter of light » in the words of art historian Anne de Margerie – conceived using the same method of shadow and light).

Let us dwell for a moment on this dialogue of contrasts – dazzling and (magic?) shadows. The light evokes the revelation. Religion, of course, the cornerstone of the Baroque period that captures its force, from the Latin word religare (to connect). In this camp scene we find natural religion, that of a pure and total link with the world. This imprint of the Baroque is essential to feel. The Baroque, which assembles antagonisms, rearranges them and resolves them: momentum/immobility, flight/rootedness. The Baroque of profusion, of vital energy, of complexity, status changes, contradictions, antitheses, the earthly and the spiritual.

Mestizo esthetics we said. The great freedom to which neo-nomads aspire authorizes the invention of a lifestyle that spills over the frame. This lifestyle asks to break traditional categories, to free itself of all convention and prevention, to seek multiple supports for reflection in order to provide the means for understanding and, in turn, thinking differently.

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