AGORA – When art interacts with urban vision
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When art interacts with urban vision

Urban planning is not just engineering. It is also a vision of the world, an aesthetic proposal and a cultural and social work. In this respect, art and its practices have a role to play in urbanisation. In Belval and on the current wasteland of Esch-Schifflange, AGORA has not forgotten this.

Art and the city are old friends. They have rubbed shoulders for thousands of years. In Pompeii, which was buries 2000 years ago, were found on the walls... almost 11,000 graffiti As for the modern city, it too does not escape the enthusiasm of the artists. Whether it is street art, in fashion since the 60s, or more formal actions led by the public authorities, it is an infinite field of creation.

Designing an urban complex like painting a picture

How can we explain that art loves the city so much... and vice versa? One element of the answer probably lies in the way in which the two are constructed. The artist and the urban planner actually have a lot in common, precisely because their creative process is similar,” explains Yves Biwer, AGORA’s administrative director.

“Both start with a blank page, on which they develop their imagination, their formal and conceptual research, and grope about to find the right technique, the right vision. And little by little, by hard work, their creations inhabit a space that was previously left vacant.”

Another reason for this wonderful union: art is a vehicle for the appropriation of the city by those who live in it. Firstly, because it is an opportunity and a pretext to walk around the urban space. “In Belval, for example, cultural and artistic events have enabled us to invite the general public to discover the site, to pique people’s curiosity so that they explore the city under construction,” says Yves Biwer.

Secondly, because art characterises a place. “It’s a powerful identification marker,” notes Robert Kocian, Marketing and Development Director at AGORA:

“Because it is intrinsically singular, artistic action marks a territory, gives it its own unique identity.”

A way for city dwellers to know that their neighbourhood is not aesthetically similar to any other. “And to boost the sense of belonging”.

Cultural influence

Since it began converting former industrial wastelands, AGORA has never lost sight of this happy partnership between art and urban planning. Culture marks out the history of the Belval site. Since 2002, AGORA has been bringing the wasteland to life with music. More than 50,000 people will attend the Steelworx Festival. For the public, this is the very first time they will have been into the former temple of the steel industry.

Five years later, in 2007, in the wake of Luxembourg’s European Capital of Culture, Belval is transformed into a playground for artists. The artists then take over the Halle des Soufflantes, while a little further on, the musicians (notably electronic) make the Rockhal vibrate.

For Yves Biwer, this dynamic is virtuous for everyone:

“Each time, it is a doubly enriching expression. The site and its specific features inspire the artists; the artists with their creations inspire our own path. It is a form of interaction that is expressed in a very discreet and subtle way.”

In 2020, when it was time to think of a way to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary in style, AGORA didn’t hesitate: it approached an artist. Of course!

A festival of events in 2022.

The choice fell on the painter Eric Mangen. A prolific creator, the Luxembourg artist was commissioned with the creation of a canvas starting with the various plans drawn up over the past twenty years by the engineers and architects at AGORA. A work of art created directly in the symbolic places of Belval and the Esch-Schifflange site. Enthusiastic from the start of the adventure, he ended up captivated:

“It was exciting for me to invest in these sites. Belval and the Esch-Schifflange wasteland are very inspiring because they are very much imbued with both the past and the future. Here, something has lived and disappeared, a 20th century industry and something else is being born, a 21st century urban project!”

Barely finished, the vast canvas painted by Eric Mangen has been literally cut up into smaller works offered to the many actors whom AGORA has met along the way over the last twenty years. “For AGORA, it was a good way of recognising, by a highly symbolic artistic gesture, that this major urban project is above all a collective work in which each person has a share!», explains Robert Kocian.

A collective, urban and creative adventure, which is not about to run out of steam, since Esch2022, European Capital of Culture, and its procession of artistic and cultural events are already underway. Its HQ is obvious: it is Belval. There, at the foot of the blast furnaces, the interaction between artists and urban planners will continue on a large scale and continue to surprise.

"Il était une fois" tells the history of AGORA through its events and encounters with people who have marked its history.

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