On the way to Compostela, art as a refuge


How hadn’t we thought of that before? This is the question we ask ourselves when discussing with the vibrant Julia Steiner and Fred Sancère, from the Derrière le porthole association, which likes to invite artists where they are not expected. In this case on the paths of Compostela.

What could be more logical, however, than these trails, dotted with 71 buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, hosting refuges designed by renowned visual artists or architects? “These paths are prime terrain to feed the imaginations of artists and visitors, pilgrims and GR 65 hikers alike, because they are part of the construction of Europe’s cultural identity”, considers Fred Sancère, at the origin of the Windows on the landscape operation which wishes to create “spaces of astonishment to awaken the chosen places”.

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A cistern-bed in the hollow of a valley in the Lot, a false rock sheltering a golden room in the Aveyron or a vernacular construction in dry stone that looks like a thousand years old not far from dolmens near Figeac: the first achievements have something surprise.

Anchored in the territory, the refuges, made from local materials and know-how, have been built on sites selected in complicity with the Agence française des chemins de Compostelle and local elected officials who are fighting to awaken their small towns. through culture.

Three other artistic shelters are to be inaugurated by the end of the year: one of them is topped with a covering of thousands of shells. Saint-Jacques, of course.

1 – “The Golden Room”, in Golinhac (Aveyron)

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In a small perched village in the north of Aveyron, the French artist, for his part, wanted to bring back to life a place where an old woman once came, “between the witch and the hermit”, to graze his goats. Follower of motionless journeys during which he locks himself in a confined space (giant bottle or rock), Abraham Poincheval wanted to “to create a sort of ‘madness’, like that of the gardens of the 19and century, in the shape of a large pebble, echoing the granite rocks that rise from the ground in the corner”.

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Inside the concrete frame worked to give it the patina of time, there is a simple bench as if cast in the mass and golden walls on one of which a scallop shell has been drawn displaying the evils of medieval times. “For me it is a chapel, a spiritual space where one turns towards oneself, where one takes care of oneself. »

2 – “Living alone”, in Livinhac-le-Haut (Aveyron)

On the way to Compostela, art as a refuge

“Hikers run away from architecture, observes the architect Elias Guenoun. By adding a construction, aren’t we going to break this momentum towards nature? » Hence the idea, formulated by this specialist in traditional wooden assemblies without auxiliaries (neither screws nor dowels), of a banal hut “to disturb as little as possible while meeting the minimum of necessities”.

On the heights of the commune of Livinhac-le-Haut, near the mining basin of Decazeville, the small parallelepiped is placed in a meadow with wild grass. Inside: a bed, books and, of course, a window to the landscape. The only coquetry: the work is covered in black-tinted oil to give it a Japanese touch.

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But its apparent simplicity hides an ingenious design, using materials salvaged from a deconstruction site for two nearby houses. The architect also asked that the meadow not be mowed, that the shoots grow until the refuge disappears under nature…

3 – “The cistern-bed”, in Felzins

On the way to Compostela, art as a refuge

At the edge of a small pond, in a verdant valley of Ségala Lotois, a rust-colored cistern placed horizontally on wheels seems to be waiting for its load. Water, oil, wine? Nothing of the sort. Approaching, the team reveals itself to be more singular than an ordinary agricultural vat.

A small staircase leads to a convex porthole which opens onto a cozy room paneled in light wood. We are closer to Twenty thousand leagues under sea that of the little house on the prairie ! ” Like these cisterns often tinkered with by farmers, ours comes from the reuse of materials “, explains Fred Sancère, who imagined it with the collective of architects Encore Joyeux and craftsmen, including his own father.

Three windows arranged at the head of the bed allow you to light up, cool down or sleep under the stars by placing yourself under the zenithal opening. A cozy taste of the star field (stella campus in Latin, which became Compostela) where a hermit found the trace of Saint-Jacques.

4 – “Super-Cayrou”, in Gréalou

On the way to Compostela, art as a refuge

“All the local mayors are asking for their Super-Cayrou, but I hope there won’t be any others! », exclaims the mayor of Gréalou (Lot), who jealously watches over his stone treasure. Erected on an exceptional site on the Causses du Quercy offering a superb panorama of the Célé valley, this refuge is the first to have been inaugurated as part of Windows on the landscape by the collective of architects Encore Joyeux, with a building specialist ancient.

A tribute to the vernacular constructions of the region, caselles (dry stone houses with conical roofs) and gariotes (alcoves in a wall serving as a shelter), this very beautiful construction was designed “like two barely visible stone tents that you can tell have been there for a very long time”, explains the architect Julien Choppin.

High place of meditation, the site, very close to three dolmens, hosts wedding celebrations under the century-old oak tree as well as many weekend hikers who come to see the sun set in the axis of the window separating the two wings of the refuge.

“Windows on the landscape” of Compostela

350,000 hikers of 177 nationalities criss-crossed the Compostela routes in 2019, including 20,000 departing from Puy-en-Velay.

One in eight walkers (12%) is a pilgrimaccording to a recent study by the Agence Française des Chemins de Compostelle.

As part of the “Windows on the landscape” operationafter the first seven refuges built in 2022, three others are planned: in Haute-Savoie, in the Monts du Pila and near Puy-en-Velay.

Ephemeral initiative, “singing nesting boxes” retransmitting recordings of birds, walkers or local residents will be installed at seven points along the paths.

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