Bertille Bak: Faire le mur

Artist's film explores town of Barlin in northern France as part of Factish Field project

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Bertille Bak: Faire le mur

When it was announced that French artist Bertille Bak’s home town of Barlin, in the Pas-de-Calais region in northern France, was to be renovated as part of a programme of urban regeneration, the authorities promised much for the former mining parish. Also included were vastly increased rents for a tightly knit community that was effectively being priced out of what is now described on Wikipedia as ‘a modern and dynamic place that offers its residents numerous amenities’.

Bak’s response was Faire le mur, a film she made in 2008 that charts the residents’ resistance to the proposed changes, yet does so in a way that goes beyond documentary to create a magic-realist meta-narrative that blurs the boundaries of fact and fiction. Unlike Channel 4’s underclass-baiting Benefits Street, Bak has looked at her own community and transformed their protest into something heroic.

‘There’s a real sense of playfulness about what Bertille does,’ says Collective director Kate Gray, who has brought an updated version of Faire le mur (which translates as ‘jump the wall’) to Edinburgh as part of Factish Field, a year-long collaboration with arts organisation LUX exploring the relationship between film-based art and anthropology.

This playfulness manifests itself in a series of self-organised meetings, which, as the community moves from house to house with a collection of collectively sewn tapestries based on paintings by Poussin, Goya and Girodet, become theatrical pageants of revolutionary intent – with all the romance that implies.

‘There’s a real tension there between what you might expect a documentary to be in terms of not trying to influence what goes on,’ says Gray. ‘Bertille is trying to find a way to change and alter that community while working with them.’

Collective Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sun 2 Mar

Bertille Bak: Factish Field | Project 2

Work by Paris-based French artist who explores communities and their ways of dealing with change and disruption. In her film Faire le mur, she looks at the town of Barlin in northern France, a former coal mining community where the residents resisted development and raised rents by sewing tapestries depicting scenes of…

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