Alexandre Silberman: Differences & Repetitions

  • Photography  Alexandre Silberman

Established in 1968 for the purpose of fragmenting the Île-de-France’s “red belt,” the Seine-Saint-Denis district was formed in a way that simultaneously attached it to and isolated it from Paris. Ideologically split from the concomitant capital, it was also demographically, economically, and culturally so, all while still being “the periphery of.” In opposition to Paris’s immutable heritage, the area asserted its own identity through its heterogeneity, the plurality of its voices, and the radicalness of its mutations.

As the 2024 Olympic Games loom, of which it is one of the biggest beneficiaries, the Seine-Saint-Denis finds itself caught up in monumental building sites, whose scope contrasts with the reality on the ground. Former vast agricultural plains that have become the most extensive industrial area in Europe; it is now suffering from its early urbanization. The most cosmopolitan district, but also the poorest in mainland France and one of the youngest. Facing a prominent past and a difficult current situation, Seine-Saint-Denis is entering the 2020s with lofty ambitions for the future. At a time when an army of cranes are working the ground just as much to build a shiny future as to bury an annoying present, it is an entire territory which makes its strata appear before our eyes. Agricultural and industrial, natural and urban, poor and opulent, all these asynchronous layers make up a complex landscape, both spatial and temporal, crossed by a constant balance of power. A landscape that opposes the morbid repetition of the identical and established order, and that re-establishes the vigorous repetition of the differences. A landscape that represents life that disappears and springs again. Here, the latter has never seemed so beautiful. But it has also, unfortunately, never seemed so fragile.

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