Report on the latest archaeological digs carried out at the Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire in autumn 2009 and winter 2010
After studying numerous documents from the archives, which were often of a poetic nature, regarding the Grounds and Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire, some historians deduced that there was a link between the design of the Domain and the collection of tales in A Thousand and One Nights. In fact, we know about the relationships linking François I and Soliman the Magnificent and how fascinated the French monarch was with the Ottoman world and the pomp of the Orient, leading him to ally himself with the Turks against Charles V.
Some precise soundings led to a certain number of places being identified, and meticulous digs on the 8 chosen sites yielded some material traces and some troubling clues, which mean we can reconsider the hypothesis of the connections between the poetic nature of the Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire and that of the famous Persian tale.
The researchers are now sure that there is a guiding thread, which they still need to find amidst these discoveries. They are still looking at the clues and the elements the various sites have in common, and have undertaken to publish their conclusions in the near future.
By searching around in the library’s archives, the archaeologists discovered a very old text with coloured graphics and complicated drawings describing a wonderful aviary, which had a circular shape intended to evoke both the geometrical perfection of the universe and the internal sphere of the human psyche. This admirable aviary, which was home to a collection of birds of all kinds, said this document, was organised into a certain number of sectors, corresponding to the various functions of the psyche, determined by coloured words and connected together by a huge number of links. These brilliantly coloured links created an aerial network in space, with the birds flying around in the middle of it, like thoughts or states of mind. An adjoining apartment enabled the collector to go inside the aviary at balcony level and to spend time amongst the flutterings of wings and the birdsongs. By comparing this description to the area of the “Pony Riding Ring”, which has the same architectural characteristics, the archaeologists thought that this architecture had been diverted away from what was originally dreamed of. They attempted to recreate the aviary by following the instructions in the ancient document.
In the chapel, or rather in the tiny room next to it, the archaeologists discovered fragments of two black metronomes made of lacquered wood, along with two large boxes that belong to a sound technology that is already past. After reconstructing and restoring these finds, they noticed that the metronomes were adjusted according to rhythms corresponding to the frequency of the heartbeats of two different people, sometimes beating in unison, then moving apart, before coming together again. As for the sound boxes, they allow a pre-recorded music to escape, a sort of long complaint, sometimes broken by the beats of the metronomes. In addition, they discovered a calvaria that seemed to be made of silver, inside which a tiny ruined landscape had been built that seemed to have been blackened by a fire. Did this involve, as is often the case in artistic and religious themes, an ancient reliquary or a Vanitas of a new kind, denouncing the irreversible passing of Time and the fragility of everything?1
On the way out of the chapel, thanks to the low-angled light coming through from the entrance into the courtyard, the archaeologists made out an almost invisible rectangular shape inlaid in the wall. After taking a sounding as a precaution, they managed to reveal, in perfect condition, the large image of a sort of white dome or cranium inlaid, like a tattoo, with one large enigmatic word: ETERNITY
On 7 January 2010, hidden behind a large tapestry and a huge chest, archaeologists discovered the access to a small angular room with an irregular shape, which was quite different from the precise geometry of the Château. This dark room, whose walls were painted dark red, had some light shed on it in a muted way by a radiant and enigmatic maxim: A WORLD THAT IS BLOWING ITSELF UP DOES NOT ALLOW ITS PORTRAIT TO BE PAINTED. Spread all over the floor were the remains of a large model of a city, completely black, with a rather futuristic appearance, seeming to have been destroyed by some forgotten disaster, or one still to come.
In the rich archives on the subject of the Grounds, the researchers had found several documents, which vouched for the presence of a MAZE on a site overlooking the Loire. The soundings they undertook were complicated by the fact that numerous ornamental gardens had regularly been created in this area of the Grounds, and by the ephemeral and fragile nature of the plants. But, by carefully uncovering the various layers of earth during core sampling carried out at various points in one plot, the archaeologists identified the maze. Its plan was like the geometrical convolutions of a brain, inside which the walker could wander and lose himself... At the centre of the excavation site they unearthed a large eye. The eye of the Minotaur? The Management of the Domaine decided to recreate the Brain-Maze for visitors to the Grounds, on its former site.
Anne and Patrick POIRIER
Anne Poirier was born on 31 March 1941 in Marseilles and Patrick Poirier on 5 May 1942 in Nantes. They now live at Lourmarin in Vaucluse. After studying at the Paris Decorative Arts School, they were resident artists at the Villa Médicis from 1967 to 1972. Right from the start of their time there, they decided to work together and to pool their ideas and sensitivities.
Anne and Patrick Poirier are true travellers through memory, which they consider to be the basis of all intelligence between human beings and societies. They explore sites and remains from ancient Greek, Roman, Mayan and Indian civilisations and bring them back to life through models and reduced scale reconstitutions. They are sculptors, architects and archaeologists, all at the same time. They are interested in the psyche and continuously strive to understand its structures through a variety of metaphors.
Their installations of models of ruined archaeological sites, the gigantic collapsed sculptures, the herbariums and prints, and the photographs establish paradoxical fictions, which have won these artists international recognition since the start of the 1970s. In 1984, they carried out a public commission for the Suchères service area on the Clermont-Ferrand - Saint-Etienne motorway, The Great Black Column. This monumental column, collapsed on the ground (100 metres long by 15 metres high) is in fact an anti-monument, a vast Vanity, which denounces the derisive nature of powers and the fragility of empires. This was followed by numerous anti-monuments spread all over the world, in the form of proud monuments reduced to a ruined state: in 1992, another broken column in Toronto, Canada, Memory of the Future, in Prato, Italy, a dislocated column was frozen as it fell: in 1996, they were invited by the Research Institute of the Jean-Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles to organise an exhibition which they called The Shadow of Gradiva, where they blended their personal creations with the Museum’s collections, an exhibition where they highlighted their interest in archaeology as a metaphor of psychoanalysis. In 2007, they exhibited Reflections of the Soul at the Alice Pauli Gallery in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Using mythological tales as an inspiration and by exploring real or imaginary cities, the work they create together is a metaphor for time and memory. Past and future are closely intertwined, giving us a picture of the fragility of cultures and human beings.
1 This sound composition is the work of their son, Alain Guillaume Poirier, filmmaker and musician, who died in 2002..