A place of contemporary arts, located since 1983 in a psychiatric hospital in Aix-en-Provence (France), 3bisf is a resolutely experimental space: a creative and research residence dedicated to live and visual arts, theatre, workshop, a gallery, and much more.
Within Montperrin Hospital, a town within the town, built at the end of the 19th century, 3bisf marks its presence with a few discreet signs, to be followed if you don’t want to get lost in the pathways between gardens and historic buildings. Next to the General Baths, transformed into a documentation centre, the structure occupies a former detention wing, once intended for “restless” patients. Dating back to the time of lunatic asylums, the place has preserved its curious arched architecture, known as panacoustic, i. e. designed to facilitate the circulation of sounds and therefore surveillance. The former dormitories and isolation cells have become exhibition and performance spaces respectively. The different buildings were simply numbered. This one was 3 bis (with f for females); its counterpart with an h for males (hommes) is now assigned for other functions, since its closure at the beginning of the 1980s.
Its philosophy and positioning today evoke thinking that is close to institutional psychotherapy, the trend of thought born after the Second World War with an emphasis on group dynamics and the relationship between carers and patients. Presenting itself as “a priori non-therapeutic” and advocating “desegregation” (removal of all segregation), the 3bisf residency offers artists a lodging, a workshop and a scholarship in exchange for sharing their research with the public. Patients, locals and amateurs from all walks of life are welcome to attend the workshops, exhibitions, performances and other encounters. Every year, the 14th of July, for example, is the occasion to end the season with a national holiday “of a new kind, of all kinds…”. “But you can also come to 3bis f just for a coffee,” adds Oriane Zugmeyer, in charge of communication and cultural mediation.
On the program for the day of the on-site visit: a workshop proposed by the Anglo-Irish duo gethan&miles called “shooting the breeze”. This idiomatic title reflects their desire to “photograph the wind, make the storm sing, exhibit the snow, write the clouds…”. Every Thursday afternoon, for the past three months, depending on the weather and their mood, the artists have launched a new experience. The breeze inspired them to build kites. Gethan, Myles, their daughter Zélie and about ten participants set off in search of bamboo in the hospital gardens. The group includes patients, visitors and a nurse, who is indistinguishable from everyone else. Jean-Luc Pruvost, who has been working here since 1992, doesn’t wear a uniform and never tires of this space, where he says he can “really do his job, far from over-medicalization”. He and his colleague Brigitte Veuillot are pillars of the structure, as are the other 6 members of the team led, also since 1992, by Sylvie Gerbault. All share the same large open office, the same reflections and responsibilities. The board of directors of the Entr’acte association, the project’s lead, is made up – in equal parts – of representatives from health (healthcare staff, psychiatrists, psychologists, etc.), culture (artists, directors, choreographers, etc.) and civil society. This is one of the founding principles of 3bisf: building bridges between worlds that, elsewhere, ignore each other and (re)creating the link between the hospital environment and the outside world, visitors, artists and patients, art and society…. This ambition is in the spirit of the times and is part of the agenda of many structures, but here it is not just wishful thinking. As reflected in the very diverse population you meet in the corridors of the site, its art centre or residents’ building.
Among the fifteen or so artists or collectives who work here in turn each year, for several weeks or months, there are writers, dancers, performers, visual artists but also clowns, musicians or philosophers…. Some have applied for a research residency, with no obligation to produce a tangible result, others have come to finalize a creation, of which they will present a stage in the work or which they will exhibit in the gallery. In any case, the only constraint is the exchange with the public: “it’s not so much a question of accompanying the formalization of new pieces for the exhibition, as of providing a space for experimentation,” explains Diane Pigeau, the artistic director in charge of visual arts programming. Used to working out of the box, gethan&miles are won over by this new experience: “3bisf is an extremely nourishing and generous place. When we intervene elsewhere, the first question is often about what we can contribute. Here, people ask you what you want.”
Translation by Angela Kent
Cover : Welcome to Europe of Cultural Diversity. Seasonal Visual, September-December 2013. © Laurent Garbit