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Seen in Paris: The Champs-Élysées as a Garden

champs-elysees-parisEdited by Sophie Delon

He’s already met the challenge of transforming the Champs-Élysées into a huge field of wheat during an historic Big Harvest in 1990, into a memorable July 14th picnic ground in 2000 and even an open-air train station for the event Train Capitale in 2003. Gad Weil begins another project in 2010. From May 22 to 24, he’ll transform the Champs-Élysées into an extraordinary garden. How is such an event created? The director reveals the secrets of his latest creation.

A director, an artist, a craftsman. What would you call yourself?

You could probably describe me as a director working beneath the skies, with no roof. Unlike my colleagues who put on their shows at indoor venues, I have spent 20 years working outside! I’m inspired by people like the director Robert Hossein and the artist Christo. I feel that I am at the junction of these two elders. I have no roof, no walls, no orchestra pit; I have the street as it is, with all its imperfections. The street is life and I play with it.

Paris has been the setting for several of your spectacular events. What inspires you about the city?

For me, Paris is an exceptional city. It has a feeling of freedom, culture and incredible creativity. It does not seem to have the nervousness and feverish agitation of cities like Shanghai or New York, and yet it carries

the scars of past combats: those of the Resistance during the war, those of political combats. This spirit of liberty is favorable to all projects and Paris provides an instant magical effect for inventors and creators. I have very strong historical ties with the capital and I don’t think there is an arrondissement for which I don’t have a memory linked to a street event. Events that I organized, like the first Techno Parade in 1998 – a festive

procession across Paris, and more recently the bid for the 2012 Olympic Games, or humanitarian causes which have incited me to join street protests.

gad-weil-parisYou have been particularly inspired by the Champs-Élysées. What potential does the world’s most beautiful avenue offer? What extra dimension does it give to events?

The Champs-Élysées is a kind of home port for me. It is as though I have a piece of elastic on my back, and which, regardless of where I go always finishes by bringing me back to this point! Someone has even joked that a place has been reserved for me to be buried under a tree on the avenue. On a more serious note, I love the Champs-Élysées because I love to go where crowds spontaneously gather together on jubilant occasions. The Champs-Élysées is a popular public gathering point for celebrations like during the French football world cup victory in 1998.

Your next event is titled Nature Capitale. Can you tell us how this project came about?

Nature Capitale is the happy conjunction of an idea and chance timing. Firstly, 20 years ago, I transformed the Champs-Élysées into a huge field of corn for the Big Harvest event. Since then, the world has changed: Internet, essential environmental questions, our way of life. The question therefore that needed to be asked was what kind of plant event would make sense in 2010? The answer in part was provided by UNESCO which declared 2010 as being World Biodiversity Year and May 22nd, in particular, as World Biodiversity Day. That was how the idea for transforming the Champs-Élysées into an extraordinary garden came about, as Charles Trenet used to sing. Filling the avenue with hundreds of plant species, from the smallest and most delicate of flowers to impressive trees, showing the rich plant heritage that are cultivated every day by farmers and nursery men in France. Although the event may seem a major undertaking, it is nevertheless really conceived as being as light as the song by the famous French singer.

What message would you like this event to convey?

I am very interested in environmental issues but I’m not an expert on the problem, like people such as Yann Arthus-Bertrand are. I’m not therefore seeking to be pedagogical but simply to create a moment for sharing and being at one with nature, in public in the heart of the city. We should not forget that nature is firstly ours, human nature, and that a feeling of fraternity unites us with those men who get up early to cultivate the earth, tired and with dignity and who feed mankind. Nature Capitale is certainly not about making people feel guilty or anxious, it is a time for expressing joy, for optimism and enthusiasm, which are also the terms used by UNESCO

to define this year of biodiversity. It will be a carefree, amazing and stunning walk, a grand leisurely saunter for all.

How is it possible to transform the world’s most beautiful avenue in this way? Traffic diversion, complete transformation of the Champs-Élysées, all that seems an immense task!

Sure enough all the road will be used from Rond Point des Champs-Élysées to the place de l’Étoile. But that will not be the work of just one man! The participation in the event of the Young Farmers Union and the inter-professional organization France Bois Forêt has enabled us to suggest this project to the City Council with a real legitimacy and give it a sense of general interest. Since then, things have fallen into place with the help of

the forces of law and order, highways department, etc. And at the same time, the identity of the Champs-Élysées will be preserved. It is not a question of making it disappear completely. When I was asked if it would be necessary to dismantle the central traffic lights on the avenue, I said, absolutely not! The dialogue between a traffic light saying “go/stop” and an apple tree or a lavender will be a powerful image of the event! The appropriation of nature by the city is essential, just like the appropriation of nature by the public. It is this iconoclastic poetry that will be at the heart of the event.

How many people are expected to attend the event?

Two million people should stroll around the site over three days … Parisians, tourists, visitors passing through the capital. The event already started several weeks ago on the Internet. Some 8,000 “fragments” of the

planting have been put on sale online since March on the Nature Capitale website. This sale makes it possible to finance the event, and the “Fragments” acquired by the public, businesses, groups and associations give the planting an extended life beyond the event. These “Fragments” are 1m x 1.20m parcels which may contain a tree, a young plant, a field of corn, lupins, etc. The “Éclats” are a smaller version, like a window box, of these pieces of the planting work. There are also some numbered drawings, keys of the champs and many other surprises to discover on the website.

NATURE CAPITALE, from 22 to 24 May 2010

Av. des Champs-Élysées, Paris 8th (from the Rond-Point to place de l’Étoile)

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One Response to “Seen in Paris: The Champs-Élysées as a Garden”

  1. Virginia says:

    Oh I can’t be there for his wonderful event. I regret that. I will however watch
    virtually. Another Paris moment that I long to experience.

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