Mark Lewis: Above and Below
Project info

LE BAL is the crowning point of a three-year adventure to create an independent venue for the document-image; the image in all its forms – photography, video, film and new media – as a means of representing reality. It will also be a challenge taken up and won: to take a place for fun and festivity in the 1920s and transform it into a flexible, open space that moves with the multiple forms the “document” now takes.

We dreamed of giving the building its third life. With the support of Magnum photographers, we set up the Association des Amis de Magnum Photos which carried the project and gave it, if not funding, solid credentials. Immediately, this new venue was given a wide-ranging mission to present the visual “document” in all its forms, still and moving; to convey a historically fluctuating notion and illustrate diverse artistic practice: from Eugene Atget’s “documents for artists” to Jeff Wall’s “near documentary,” from Walker Evan’s “documentary style” to Gilles Peress’ “visual anthropology” or Allan Sekula’s “critical realism,” to name but them. Different hypotheses of the world, different stances, different ways of constructing human experience.

LE BAL appears at what is an even more critical time, as artists increasingly question the conditions in which images are produced, circulated and assimilated. Can we still “read” the world simply from its surface? How can we “represent a world that is defined by representation, a world which constantly records itself, and records itself recording itself?” (Marc Augé). LE BAL must relay these questions and show works that deliberately put the genre to the test. At stake is the ability to understand “what’s going on” beyond appearances.

Bertrand Delanoë was enthused by the idea, and in 2006 the City of Paris bought the building. The project for LE BAL was born. Since then, a small and determined team has fought on every front to bring LE BAL into existence: put together a demanding programme; rally a dedicated community to galvanise ideas, projects and encounters; convince partners to be part of an innovative public/private structure; and give a new face to the building, thanks to the talent of two young architects, Thomas Dubuisson and Caroline Barat. Work finally began in February 2008.

Over the past three years, the project has grown and become more precise. True to our original instinct, it will blaze a trail, open our eyes and reveal new possibilities. Its ambition is clear: to seize every possible means — exhibitions, talks, publications, grants, workshops — to confront the public with documentary works that combine, to differing degrees, investigation, experience, recording, analysis, description and formal invention.
We imagined LE BAL as a free zone, a territory of images traversed by historical, social and political implications. As a time and place for re-cognition of reality in all its complexity and contradictions. At a time when visual information is in crisis and the society of the spectacle omnipresent, we remain convinced that the document-image can resist. Lucid but unresigned. With no other ambition than to relate the world.