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The New Patrons
of Blessey, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, France

The Washhouse of Blessey

Photo: Andre Morin

The Washhouse Of Blessey

Auftraggeber: Residents and council members of Blessey,
Auftrag: Create a sculpture for a restored washhouse.
Mediatoren: Xavier Douroux (Le Consortium),
Künstler: Remy Zaugg,
Kooperationspartner und Förderer: Fondation de France, Conseil Général de la Côte d'Or, Région Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, Programme européen Leader II, Fonds Européens FSE, Direction Départementale du Travail de l'Emploi et de la Formation Professionnelle de Côte d'Or, DRAC Bourgogne, Sivom de Venarey les Laumes, Commune de Blessey,
Duration: 1997 – 2007
Budget: 266,847 €

After restoring their community's historic 1836 washhouse, the residents of Blessey, a shrinking village in Burgundy with a population of only twenty people, decided to erect a sculpture to commemorate the achievement.
Through their mediator, Xavier Douroux, the residents commissioned the artist Rémy Zaugg to complete the sculpture. But Zaugg, who himself had grown up in a small village, was loath to prettify the washhouse while the rest of the village fell apart. He wrote the residents and convinced them to embrace a more ambitious plan. Dilapidated buildings were torn down, and old paths and walls were rerouted to a new pond dug out behind the washhouse. The new layout made the washhouse the focal point of the village while linking it to the beauty of the natural surroundings. The ten-year project proved to be a turning point for Blessey, which, equipped with a new image, soon began to grow again.

“We didn’t know what to expect at all, we just had a vague idea of what we would have liked, but it had nothing to do with what Rémy Zaugg did.”

Christine Lacombe, Farmer, Patron

Today, we have washing machines. Everyone does their own laundry, in their own space. Restoring the washhouse would suggest that it has a future. But that is an illusion. Never again will peasant women walk down the paths that lead to it. Never again will it be a place where they meet and converse before hauling their clean laundry back to their homes. Restored, the washhouse appears silly and grotesque. Instead of recovering its former dignity, it has become a novelty item. It is meaningless, absurd.

Sensing the awkwardness, you called in an artist. Did you expect him to paint a fresco in a semicircle like Leonardo da Vinci? Or he would dress next to or in front of the wash house a nude woman in bronze a la Maillol?

Singling out the washhouse for restoration only highlighted the physical and perhaps mental, or at any rate cultural, dilapidation of its surroundings. This environment makes the restored washhouse appear all the more grotesque as, no matter how well restored, it will never again serve its purpose. In its present context, restoration is a costly luxury. It's unjustified, useless, anti-social, thoughtless, and therefore harmful.

To give meaning to the act of restoration could be the artist’s task. Since the washhouse took center stage in everyone’s selective perception, let us now take the restored washhouse as the center of the world and reorganize the world around it to realign this senseless restoration with reality.

Letter from Rémy Zaugg to the citizens of Blessey


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