HOTEL CHARLEROI 2014 took place in November in Ville Basse, the lower part of Charleroi’s city centre. This area experiences heavy transformations since a couple of years through the planned execution of the city’s latter renewal projects, Phénix and Rive Gauche. While Phénix, mostly financed through EU-fundings, focused on creating public and cultural infrastructure, approximately a fifth of the area was acquired by a private investor and is currently demolished to give way to a shopping mall. Between disillusion and hope, the present state of Ville Basse is a field of rubble.
Seen with a bit of distance, the Phenix and Rive Gauche projects fall within the capitalist dynamic of destruction / reconstruction that Charleroi followed throughout the 20th century. The shopping mall responds to an immediate and pragmatic need: there seem to be no other way to bring back commercial activity in the city centre. As aggressive as this project is, we focused on what we believe is the most important for the people: the promise of a change, and the gaze towards the future rather than the past.
In this perspective, we took take the physical location of the construction site as a trigger to think about longer-term futures for Charleroi instead of reacting directly on it. We see the city changing since we started HOTEL CHARLEROI in 2010, but the people stay the same. Big plans for culture are made with little account of the population, its own idea of culture and its own needs. With neither university nor creative high schools, Charleroi has to find new ways to transmit knowledge, and define exciting cultural politics that can also match the actual concerns of the people. It is obvious that changes are indispensable in the city; we wonder about the “how” more than the “what”.
Responding to these questions and to the experimental nature of our structure, we imagined a weekend in which the public as well as our guests could play an active role. Inspired by initiatives like free academies, challenging the academic conception of knowledge, LA FORCE DU CHANGEMENT presented itself as a Winter School in public space, with a dense artistic program including performances, discussions, workshops and interventions proposed by about forty contemporary artists and collectives for Charleroi.