Mars First Landing

I arrived on a Sunday at L'Embobineuse  on Boulevard Boues in the Belle de Mai area of Marseille to find circa 20 experimental music and performance artists mainly from Toulouse and Brussels and Marseille, relaxing after a long weekend of activities to celebrate the life of departed friend. Amongst them was Marseille based Tomagnetik, photographer and video artist who we had met 5 years previously in Mars as part of a Grundtvig adult learning project.


Saturday: Marseille still resists gentrification and there are many poor and marginalised people living in the centre of the city, giving it a unique and vibrant atmosphere. We were lucky to catch the legendary French punk band La Fraktion with charismatic frontwoman Magali at the venue La Machine A coudre, which exists since 30 years, in the lively and unpretentious downtown area La Plaine, with lots of street art and small, inexpensive cafes, bars and culture initiatives.


Sunday: Meeting with Blandine and Elsa to talk about organisational issues concerning the upcoming SATB plan of activities coming up in March. Then I returned to the La Chasse area and the Chez Gildas Cafe, 13 Rue des Trois Mages where I again met the visiting artists from Saturdays L'Embobineuse event ...networking non stop and everyone wants to know (pick my brain) about the culture ship Stubnitz in Hamburg.


Monday: I met with the German experimental photographer Alfonz Alt and print master Pakito Bolino (le Dernier Cri) both based at the art complex Frische la Belle de Mai and both of whom are participants in a muliti media exhibition there in the context of “Vendetta” - an annual graphic, music and performance festival, which is also in coop with the L'Embobineuse location. The exhibition is a multi media spectacle  “Viva Revolucion Grafica”  and includes Mexican,Belgian and French artists, some of whom with special needs. The exhibition crosses many borders between naivety, trash, mex-mystik, beauty, horror and humour. Its very dense with a lot to excite the senses, drawing a lot on iconic Mexican culture such as masked wrestlers, super heroes, and Day of the Dead. The mixed media presentation includes short films,paintings, drawings, a wide range of  printing formats such as linoleum/wood cuts, screen prints etc, as well as  large format colour photographic prints by Alfonz Alt which document the artist exchange process between the 3 participating countries.


Later, i went with  Elsa, to the harbour to visit the Mucem complex (Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisation)charting historical and cultural cross-fertilisation in the Mediterranean basin, it takes an interdisciplinary approach to society through the ages up to modern times.” (Wikipedia). The centre piece is the impressive J4 building, clad in a striking fibre-reinforced black concrete web, designed by architects Rudy Ricciotti and Roland Carta for the 2013 European Culture Capital programme.




By chance we met Marlène , soon to be studying sound engineering in Hamburg, she suggested we meet up with social worker Sonja who works for Marseille community social housing network Emmaus: an international solidarity movement founded in Paris in 1949 by the Catholic priest and Franciscan friar Abbè Pierreto to combat poverty and homelessness (Wikipedia).

The four of us sat for a coffee at Place Reforme (a.k.a. Place Stalingrad) where every morning at 8.30 , a truck arrives fitted with showers as well as a free food distribution truck for the cities homeless. Sonja pointed this out and had many other observations and insights into various Marseille social initiatives including La Bagagerie on Boulevard de la Libération, which is run by volunteers and is a place where homeless people can safely leave their belongings, blankets etc  during the day, allowing them more autonomomy and the chance to be able to socialise and integrate freely. The La Bagagerie initiative addresses a universal problem for homeless people, who have to carry their worldly possessions around with them, which often makes them vulnerable (standing out from the crowd) and sometimes targets for abuse in the streets. Video here:

The Emmaus organisation offers accomodation on both temporary and long term basis. Organisation is  non hierarchical and is managed horizontally, incorporating the idea of people cooking and eating collectively whereby, people with a myriad of existential and psycho social issues can come together, socialise, empathise and help each other without necessarily having to resort to institutional intervention (e.g. social workers) These factors also resonate with the Unter Druck principle of “Helping People to Help Themselves”.

Unlike Germany or the UK, France has a universal emergency hotline telephone number which promises to find a homeless person a place to sleep for the night. This goes part way to dealing directly with the homeless issue, however, as one person pointed, these emergency sleeping places are not always easy environments in themselves and some prefer to sleep in the outdoors and also , as we know from the situations in Calais and Paris, this offer does not necessarily extend to refugees.


Tuesday: visit to la Cantine du Midi "Popular Canteen" together with the lEmbobineuse booking and coordination team: a three course organic menu for 8 euros! VIDEO:  The cantine, which also has a bio-regional food shop next door, serves as meeting point for socio cultural exchange including initiatives such as Mot à Mot which is a literacy organization helping migrants learn French in a familiar and informal environments such as co-working in the canteen.

We arranged that the SATB staff will run the kitchen there for one day during our meeting in March, which will allow us the opportunity to talk with the organisers as well as meet people from other socio cultural organisations who eat there.

Afterwards, we met back at L'Embobineuse together with Julius, to discuss websites, social media, press, flyers and translation in the context of promoting the SATB event, as well as promotion of the project in general. In the evening i visited La Frische de Belle Mai and the Radio GALERE  studio, whereby i participated in a live, analogue radio show, together with Jens from L'Embobineuse. radio host Damien and experimental musicians from Marseille and Spain.


Wednesday: Compagnie Peanuts   runs a weekly workshop at L'Embobineuse with Magdi, Felix and Ana, together with a mixture of circa.10 men  and women people from the neighborhood, mostly from Comores island, an ex French colony near Madagascar . The French constitution grants people from its colonial past, citizen rights, however, in the case of the Comorand islanders, the law was changed whereby those that who did not sign up before a certain date are excluded from normal citizen rights  and given a restricted entry into France. Health insurance and lack of employment are existential issues and helping these people in this context is a perhaps a universal European priority. One member of the theater group is able to help at lEmbobineuse as security guard which helps to favour his chances with permission to remain in France.

This was my first meeing with L'Embobineuse co-founder Felix who, together with Magdi, (who I had already met at the first SATB meeting in Berlin) is the “other leg” of theater group Compagnie Peanuts. Together they both navigated the 3 hour workshop, which at first seems disarmingly playfull, however the structure is quite specific, using a journalistic technique of posing direct questions on various social topics. Questions or statements are offered up to the group as proposals which can be discussed, perhaps modified or even rejected by the group. Participants have the chance to tap into their conscious and subconscious, to freely associate in a theatrical way “imagine an audience looking”. The ongoing theme for the workshops is “Scapegoat” which relates to issues facing migrants in France.

I felt very privileged to be accepted to participate inside this intimate, three-years-in-the-making, group process and, despite language barriers and my European citizen entitlements, there was a powerfull social and creative connection. After the workshop we talked within the group about when the SATB participants come in March and the possibility for some of (us)  to share their homes for a night as part of a cultural exchange. LINK: Comoro Islands

I also had the chance to talk with Magdi and Elsa about them  re-visiting Berlin in the near future; Blandine plans to set up a new theater group partnership in Berlin together with the Villa Kuriosum cultural location, where the SATB team visited at the first partnership meeting. Magdi has the idea to make a project together with African migrants who, without permission to work, congregate and socialise in the Görlitzer park which is situated close to SATB project workspace Premarts, in the Kreuzberg “Bizim Kiez” quarter. Recently i visited a remarkable and ground breaking exhibition "Anderer Heimaten" at the Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg Museum: "Origins and Migration Routes of Berlin Park Drug Sellers"  which has totally re-ignited the passions of the German tabloid press .The exhibition includes a press archive spanning  over fifteen years which clearly shows, how this complexed issue is instrumentalised and over simplified by media and politicians to present all African migrants in a constantly negative light. The exhibition, as well as other information events surrounding the exhibition, shows by way of  serious research, that press use the issue as a populist tool   to rally and focus societal anger and disdain: Scapegoating. "Drug dealers count among the most hated people in our society. No other group garners such uniform condemnation across all party lines. Scarcely anyone else has to live so demonized by racist and criminal stereotypes.”



All in all, lots of new inputs, nice people and the plan is in motion ... Marseille here we come !





Saturday, January 20, 2018 - 11:15 to Thursday, January 25, 2018 - 11:15