If you leave Marseille, go along the beach and take yourself to Calanque, in a secret idyllic corner you’ll find a strange little paradise by Éric Touchaleaume and his family. The story began, or rather was resumed, in 2011, when the Parisien gallery owner and antique dealer began to collect what known as the community of poisoned apples. La Friche de l’Escalette, is a former lead factory, which has in modern times become a dumping ground for the rusty carcases of cars, old mattresses and other lost children of our society’s consumerism. With much hard work and unfaltering determination, this quietly ambitious project saw this site completely brought back to life. La Friche de l’Escalette rose from its ashes, and has been transformed into a park dedicated to sculpture and architecture, with its first pop-up exhibition dedicated to Jean Prouvé in 2016. This year, plastic takes centre stage. With futuristic cabins, and inflatable furniture, this Pompeiian ruin becomes a summertime Star Trek as we follow the story of a utopia which came to a screeching halt with the 1973 oil crisis. A visit accompanied by the sounds of crickets, where nature reclaims the land and offers us a surprising show where the ruins mix natural beauty with broken dreams.
La Friche de l’Escalette : route des Goudes, impasse de l’Escalette – 13008 Marseille.
Eric, could you tell us the story of this place?
Between 1850 and 1925, this lead and silver plant was one of the region’s first production units, with 250 employees. It’s a memory of a fallen industrial dream. Imagine the world of Zola, fifteen factories in the region and the working culture that comes with it. Production ceased in 1925 and it was gradually transformed into an open-air dumping ground.
How was this project born?
A little bit by chance. In 2011 I acquired la Friche de l’Escalette from an antiques collegue, with the aim to sanctify this place. Our project is two-fold: highlighting the industrial past of the region and organising outdoor exhibitions for architecture. The factory’s own architecture was quite remarkable and there is a somewhat land-art aspect about this project, with the aim to preserve the ruin’s current state without it deteriorating. It took us several years to clean up the accumulated waste, which we did with our bare hands. My son Elliot has since settled on the site and continues day after day to keep the place alive. Luckily for us, as of 2013, it has become part of the Parc de Calanques, and it is therefore illegal to build on this the patch of land.
Our project is two-fold: highlighting the industrial past of the region and organising outdoor exhibitions for architecture.
Which pieces of work ar ebeing exhibited this summer?
The current exhibition is dedicated to plastic, a material that underwent an intense and short-lived craze between the end of the 60s and the 70’s. Thanks to the helps of collectors and enthusiastic we have managed to bring together examples of these deconstructable and futuristic homes. The Hexacube by Georges Candilis and Anja Blomstedt, the holiday villages on the beaches of Port-Barcares and Port-Leucate between 1964 and 1972. Bulle, a set with six pods created by Jean Maneval. We actually have two copies of it on the site, so one that still features its original furniture and will serve as a template for the second. Finally Futuro, the famous flying saucer of Finnish Matti Suuronen. We’ve been fortunate to work in collaboration with Benoît Ramognino, for me the “Pope of Plastic” and incidentally a dealer at the Saint-Ouen flea market. He helped us discover a series of inflatable armchairs by innovative designer Quasar Khanh. I also can’t forget the Boomerang desk, the ‘Grand PDG’ 1968 edition by Maurice Calka. Wendle Castle’s Baby Molar chair (1971) and Werner Zemp’s (1968) Playground prototype.
What are your hopes and plans for the future?
I’d like to create a ‘maison d’hôte’ and workshops in order to have residential spaces for artists. For summer 2018, we are paying tribute to Jean Prouvé again, alongside an exhibition called ‘The Tropical House of Niamey’ that I discovered in Niger. In 2019, we are welcoming the winners of the international Cabin competition and these young architects will come back to work and exhibit pieces around the theme of small houses. I dream of making a lively and inspiring place, where enthusiasts, artists and all who are curious are welcome.
Credits : Eve Campestrini @thesocialitefamily