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Triennale Art
& Dunkerque
Triennale Art & Industrie Dunkerque Hauts–de–France

note of intent

The second instalment of the Art & Industry Triennial – Chaleur Humaine – looks at how artistic, architectural, landscape and design practices have addressed the issue of energy, its uses and misuses, and its narrative, dreamlike and critical potential. Comprising works mainly from the collections of the Centre Pompidou and the Centre national des arts plastiques, as well as works borrowed or commissioned from artists, the exhibition takes 1972 as the starting point for a journey through the next five decades.


A year before the first oil crisis, 1972 signalled the imminent end of the insouciant Trente Glorieuses and the start of an eco-anxious era. The first Earth Summit was held in Stockholm, and the Club of Rome published the report

The Limits to Growth and the editors of The Ecologist published the manifesto A Blueprint for Survival, two works on the finiteness of resources that were to have a major media impact. At the same time, chlorode- cone was authorised for banana cultivation in Guadeloupe and Martinique, the use of DDT was banned in the United States and NASA produced the first complete image of the Earth seen from space. 1972 was a time of extremes, with scientific alarm bells ringing, major new environmental pollution and new representations of the Earth, allowing us to grasp its immensity. This date alone reveals the contemporaneity of denial and evidence, of lightness and concern about the climate.

The geographical context of Chaleur humaine is determined both by the content of the partner institutions’ collections and by the cross-border curatorial exploration of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK, at the heart of which lies Dunkirk. This area was chosen for reasons of environmental vigilance and for its capacity to provide a relevant sample for observing and understanding energy activities, environmental upheavals and the ways in which they affect creation. While the exhibition does not claim to be exhaustive, it does explore practices that are representative of the growing awareness of energy issues since the 1970s.


The title evokes both global warming, caused by human activity and the fossil fuel economy, and the system of solidarity and togetherness, from the intimate to the communal. The expression “human warmth” conjures up a multitude of images, memories and scenarios, well beyond the time frame of the exhibition: the sharing of warmth, an expensive commodity, during the neighbourly vigil around the open fire in the Middle Ages1, the camaraderie of miners in the face of underground danger and in the trade union struggle, mutual aid in the face of tornadoes, floods.., or the climate and anti-dystopian fiction of Octavia Butler (the Xenogenesis trilogy, 1987-1989), Richard Powers (The Overstory, 2018) or Kim Stanley Robinson (The Ministry for the Future, 2020).

Putting on an exhibition of this kind might seem pointless in the face of the evidence of global warming, the energy crisis and the need for behavioural change. Artists, however, could well have a role to play in this transition to action, through their ability to propose forms for these upheavals. The “Blue marble”, the photograph of the Earth taken from space by the astronauts on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, has unfortunately not succeeded in giving us a better understanding of the Earth2. Our survival depends on the critical zone, that thin surface where living organisms, air, soil and subsoil interact, but we still don’t know how to represent it.

Temperatures are gradually rising by 1.4, 1.5 and then 1.6°C above those of the pre-industrial era, but we have not managed to show this rise3. The difficulty of (imagining) the state of the Earth in order to experience it better may have something to do with it. According to the philosopher Bruno Latour and the historian of modern literature and science Frédérique Aït-Touati, one of the major levers for taking action in favour of the environment lies in affects. How can we be affected by the climate and affect others? One way of doing this was to come up with artistic forms for the critical zone. Their conference-performances Inside and Moving Earths in 2019 at the Théâtre des Amandiers in Nanterre, followed by the Critical Zones exhibition curated by Bruno Latour at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, invited us to stop looking at the Earth as a space in which we live, but as a space in which we evolve4. Based on the idea that the anthropogenic era requires a revolution in both mental and visual representations if we are to rise to its challenges, the second edition of the Dunkirk Triennale Art & Industrie brings together a wide range of practices to take a different look and gain a better understanding of the current situation, its history and its urgency.


The eight chapters of Chaleur humaine have been built up from finds in the collections and by canvassing artists from a wide range of backgrounds. These include works of art, design objects, prototypes and models linked, conceptually or formally, to themes that have become fundamental to this research: oil, nuclear power, the landscape, bodies at work, fatigue, the car, pollution, recycling, sustainability and the future. The year 1972 has also been a key focus of research: what were artists, architects and designers working on during that pivotal year? What were their concerns at the end of the Thirty Glorious Years? What materials were they using, and how were they using them?

The collections from the 1970s to the 2010s are largely dominated by male artists and, more generally, diversity and inclusion have had little place in the acquisitions of this period5. To redress the balance, research has been carried out in collections that are sensitive to these issues, in particular that of FRAC Lorraine, and canvassing of artists has placed particular emphasis on parity and diversity. A deliberate choice was made to invite a majority of women and minority artists to create projects for exhibition spaces and the public realm, often offering them their first public commission. Including non-gendered, Western-centric perspectives and narratives on the theme of energy has been a central concern of this curatorial work. Even so, the ratio of women to men to non-binary, racialised to non-racialised and able-bodied to disabled people remains unbalanced.

Finally, Chaleur humaine has encouraged local cross-fertilisation, networking and solidarity between players in the fields of education, knowledge, care and culture. Residencies and projects have been set up with children and in collaboration with them (Io Burgard with the Maisons des Enfants de la Côte d’Opale in Saint-Martin-Boulogne and Zoé Philibert with the AFEJI), in partnership with Esä, the École Supérieure d’Art de Dunkerque-Tourcoing (Yemi Awosile and Hugh Nicholson), with the Etablissement et service d’aide par le travail (ESAT) and the Foyer d’accueil médicalisé de Téteghem (Tiphaine Calmettes), at the Café des Orgues in Herzeele (Mathis Collins), in the Dunkerque wine cellar (Jean-François Krebs) and in the 4 Écluses concert hall in Dunkerque.


The curatorship of the second edition of the Art & Industry Triennial will undoubtedly have been marked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, energy insecurity and climate change in 2022, the extent of whose human, diplomatic, social, economic and ecological consequences has yet to be determined. But some of these repercussions are already palpable at the dawn of 2023: rising food prices, record profits for energy multinationals, and the growing insecurity of populations, especially the most vulnerable. In this context, the effects on art can also be felt in the rising cost of energy, which is undermining the survival of public art schools and forcing some public museums to close for extra days or, conversely, to serve as warm banks and food banks, or as places of action for Just Stop Oil, which is demonstrating the urgency of climate change.

What artistic practices will become in this period of turmoil, no one can predict. But we can already assume, as we did at the time of the second oil crisis in 1979, when the English photographer Jo Spence was prepared to accept “(almost) any work”, that many creators will be hard hit by these upheavals. Let’s make sure that these practices don’t disappear with the current economic climate, because, as this exhibition aims to show, they give us a glimpse of other possible ways of co-evolving in, on and with Gaia. Guided by the art of living on a damaged planet, in the words of Anna Tsing6 , or by the provocative question posed by the Brazilian philosopher and indigenous activist Ailton Krenak, “Why are we so afraid of falling, when falling is the only thing we’ve ever done7 ? “the artists help us to think that the state of ecstasy in which our civilisation has lived over the last few centuries of extractivism could have an altogether more ecstatic future if we accepted that the Earth and humanity are not two separate entities.

  1. Olivier Jandot, Les Délices du feu. L’homme, le chaud et le froid à l’époque moderne, Seyssel, Champ Vallon, 2017
  2. Aït-Touati, Arènes et Grégoire, 2019, citées n. 5
  3. Aït-Touati et Jouzel, 2022, cités n. 6
  4. Bruno Latour et Peter Weibel, Critical Zones: The Science and Politics of Landingon Earth, cat. exp. (Karlsruhe, Zentrum für Kunst und Medien, 23 mai 2020-28 février 2021), Karlsruhe, Zentrum für Kunst und Medien, Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2020.
  5. Camille Morineau (dir.), elles@ centrepompidou : artistes femmes dans la collection du Musée national d’art moderne / Centre de création industrielle, cat. exp. (Paris, Centre Pompidou, 27 mai 2009-21 février 2011), Paris, Centre Pompidou, 2009 ; et le rapport « Mission prospective sur les Fonds régionaux d’art contemporain – FRAC », 2021, accessible : https://www.culture.gouv. fr/Espace-documentation/Rapports/ Mission-prospective-sur-les-Fonds- regionaux-d-art-contemporain-FRAC
  6. Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan et Nils Bubandt (dir.), Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2017
  7. Ailton Krenak, Ideas to Postpone the End of the World, Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 2020, traduction des autrices