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In North Africa and the Middle East, To build, to dream and to anticipate his nature ... in order to escape the environment

Vincent Battesti

 Seminar Utopias of Nature, Nature of Utopias - 2011
Coordinated by Vanessa Manceron and Marie Roué

Intervention of Vincent Battesti & Anie Montigny (December 2, 2011, 9am-1pm, at the National Museum of Natural History, Paris).

 In North Africa and the Middle East, To build, to dream and to anticipate his nature ... in order to escape the environment
 Original title:
En Afrique du Nord et au Proche-Orient, construire, rêver et anticiper sa nature… pour échapper à l’environnement

This session will focus on the Arab world, from Tunisia to the Persian Gulf, based on located fieldworks.

As a small counterpoint to the sessions that had a European focus, we will make this preliminary remark. In Europe, the “genesis of the countryside as a social idyllic setting results of a long process of a gradual disappearance of the rural proletariat [...] from the second half of the nineteenth century” (Chamboredon, 1985: 141, my translation). After a neutralization (depoliticization and homogenization) that erases social contrasts and historic contradictions embodied in the spatial organization and practices, the countryside, “de-socialized nature”, may appear as “the place of a life submitted to natural rhythms, a haven for a traditional civilization, the place for a direct contact with transcendence (religious or aesthetic)”(ibid.: 142).

In the Arab world? no such thing. What seems closer to ideal and utopian evocations of nature countryside may be sought in Egyptian films of the golden age (until the sixties). But no Heidi in North Africa and the Middle East. The utopian horizon is gardener or urban, one at the level of individual practice, the other at the level of the state or large private groups.

We have identified three levels of discourse and practices that could be utopias of the nature in the Arab world, and all three are designed to abstract from an immediate environment that is almost always considered hostile. In desert areas, one dreams of lush gardens and spaces that take us away from the ground.

Initially will intervene Vincent Battesti on two of these levels, then Anie Montigny on the third.

 “Preserving the garden and display the utopian nature on the wall (Tunisia and Egypt)” - Vincent Battesti
 Original title:
“Préserver son jardin et afficher sa nature utopique au mur (Tunisie et Égypte)”

The gardens of old Tunisian oases have withstood, and despite tough adversity (especially from the authorities), they kept their qualities: to be dreamed gardens, which fulfill not only the view, but all the senses, almost as the garden of the Arabic origin or as the eschatology garden (Battesti, 2005). In Egypt too, oasian or bourgeois gardens are parentheses, bubbles that isolate us from the arid or polluted environment. There is also another local practice: the poster of paradise nature. These large posters, displayed in a few shops but also in the living room at home, in domestic spaces, are created in Egypt for an Egyptian public; they are improbable and “photoshoped” collage of all utopian dreaming nature elements.

Vincent Battesti, 2011, Tozeur (Tunisie)

Vincent Battesti, 1995, Degache (Tunisie)

Vincent Battesti, 2011, Tozeur (Tunisie)

Vincent Battesti, 20 fév. 2007, Mansuriyya (Égypte)

Vincent Battesti, 1er déc. 2011, Paris (France)

coll. Vincent Battesti - photo Bruno Scotti - oct. 2011

coll. Vincent Battesti - photo Bruno Scotti - oct. 2011

 “The other side of the desert in the Arab Gulf: between nostalgia and technology” - Anie Montigny
 Original title:
“De l’autre côté du désert dans les pays arabes du Golfe: entre nostalgie et technologie”

Scenery and artifices created in the malls (shopping centers) in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Qatar — Venetian scenery, skiing mountains, for example — or projects of Green Cities — Al-Masdar — refer to the dominant paradigm in the region: technology creates the possibility thereby to satisfy the quest for a triad of comfort (to escape the desert), security (to be in a self segregated environment) and protection (from pollution or harmful Western influences) (Montigny, 2007). Unlike oasis gardens and posters makers, architects are often not local, but the sponsors are, while users compose a self-grouping very satisfied with these extraterritorialities. In an elsewhere of happiness, the wealthier classes of the Gulf have also their gardens, and we’ll finish this quest for ideal natures with them...

© Anie Montigny



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Vincent Battesti , "In North Africa and the Middle East, To build, to dream and to anticipate his nature ... in order to escape the environment " (online), Anthropoasis |, page published 2 December 2011 (consulted 19 May 2024), available on: