LE NOUVEAU RICHE
The project CASA26 is an illustration of the shifting powers:
MONEY, MONEY: Everything can be bought and everything was bought. That is the very symbol of power. The architecture, every piece of art and furniture were put together, purchased from Zurich to Paris, Berlin to Buenos Aires, London to Nairobi. A thorough inventory belongs to the work.
NOMADIC : Next to International Geneva, French owner, Swiss architect, Austrian builder.
SEDUCTIVE: The buzz began with the artistically minded photographers asking to take pictures of the house. CASA26 made the front page of numerous interior design magazines, from Sweden to New Zealand, Berlin to New York. It was chosen as a set for several advertisings (Vacheron Constantin for its anniversary) and music clips.
CRITICISED / RESISTED: Casa26 created bewilderment in the local community. An estate agent thought it was unfinished. No French magazine published it.
NEW SYMBOLS: the Nouveau Riche must have a contemporary art collection, a sustainable home made of healthy materials, a garage for at least 4 cars.
MORE MONEY: CASA26 will be auctioned, as an artwork would be, in June 2018.
Power is changing hands. The bourgeoisie, national governments, humanistic education have lost ground to a tech meritocracy and finance genies, mega borderless corporations that feed on our lust for satisfaction and pop culture.
Le Nouveau Riche is a metaphor of this new order. It is an adventure, a history, a place, an exhibition and an experience that became a work of art.
Its central piece CASA26 in Thonon (F), a sculpture-like iron villa on the shore of Lake Leman, landed as a foreign body among the grand 19th century villas. It was built on Roman ruins. It generated a love-hate relationship with the population. It was published worldwide but in France. It has been a multinational adventure from its conception to its execution. The work started on 7 May 2008, in the euphoric times before the financial crisis, and will come under the hammer of an international auction on 8 May 2018, 10 years and 1 day later.
The experience proposed to the visitor is to drive or take a boat to go visit the house/artwork, walk through the gate and down the path to the house entrance, as a guest to this shocking and enchanted world of contemporaneous architecture. The ground floor – public space of the house – is left untouched, ready to livein, with its furniture, its collection of South American art, its breath taking architecture. The visit continues to the basement, a series of concrete boxes that receive the exhibition of Le Nouveau Riche, about 15 works (photography, mixed media), including an installation telling the story of CASA26 in its historical context.
The form of power and the people who exercise it have been rapidly changing over the past years.
In a society where capitalism has become a religion (Benjamin Walter), the measure of power is money. Power is traditionally conceived as imposing upon the people by force or laws. In the pre-humanistic world, the lord would control the lives of his suzerains. In the humanistic society, Foucault says that the 18th century put in place a system of production, of creation. Bio politics is the power system based on discipline and control of the bodies that takes care of the people so they produce. It is how the bourgeoisie/capitalism reign– and its idealised antithesis, communism. This system became obsolete.
“But instead of falling into communism, industrial capitalism is transforming itself into neo-liberalism and financial capitalism, with post-industrial, immaterial production modes” (Byung-Chul Han Psychopolitik. Neoliberalismus und die neuen Machtechniken, 2014). “Nowadays we think that we are not an enslaved subject but a free project that constantly rethinks and reinvents itself”. But “the liberty of can-do generates even more constraints than must-do”. People increasingly become their own slaves. We observe it with the emergence of the financial and the tech companies (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon (GAFA), Uber, AirBnB, hedge funds, Insurance companies, etc.); a large part of the humanity freely choses to use them “for free” and without noticing that it hands them enormous power. Machiavelli would have given them his blessing, “put your subjects out of harm’s way, out of even thinking about harming you”.
They go beyond the boundaries of states and cultures. They don’t pay taxes, they move around the world. They are mostly unregulated because no state-like institution is global enough to impose rules, some of them even feel strong enough (after just a few years of existence) to deliberately ignore or cheat existing laws. They represent a huge source of power to the point that they can impact on electoral results in the most powerful state of the world, influence people’s consumption (goods, culture or sex), mood and opinions. Their disrupting effect allows them to shift very quickly huge amounts of money from established industries to themselves. One day they will transport us in driverless cars and know where we are, where and how go on what purpose.
Today’s most massive sources of power are private companies to which the population freely accepts to submit to and that bypass the states. “But the cause of liberality, freedom, is too important to be left to the liberals” (Peter Sloterdijk, Stress und Freiheit, 2011)
Who exercises the power? RIP Bourgeoisie and Aristocracy
The neo-liberal society is creating a new meritocracy. It is leaving the traditional bourgeois far behind.
The speed and concentration of wealth creation is unprecedented. Forbes 2017 billionaire’s ranking shows that half of the 50 richest people were not on the map 30 years ago. Some were babies. They don’t come from powerful families. They didn’t even have to finish their studies. An attractive idea and execution skills directed to a market with billions of users sufficed to climb to the highest.
Established powers are not calling the shots anymore in this new globalised world. “It will appear that nations are unable to maintain their standing in the marketplace; because nations will not be able to organize a strong world power by sharing it; because big global companies will soon take power and the world will become more and more nomadic. Individuals themselves will have less and less loyalty to nations.” (Interview with Jacques Attali, 2015, exposition “Une brève histoire de l’avenir”, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Belgium.)
The Nouveau Riche to a certain extent imitates the behaviour of the old one. But it is fair to say that the imitation is only on the surface, like playing the role in a Hollywood movie – yes we all want to live the lives of our Hollywood models. But the Nouveau Riche doesn’t wear a bespoke suit; he is not driven in a Rolls Royce and does not spend weekends fox hunting. He does not refer to the literature classics and the traditional humanistic culture.
CASA26 metaphor of the new power
Firstly, CASA26 is situated in France, the hard core of the classical bourgeois society, cradle of humanism. It is built on the shore of lake Leman, JJ Rousseau would dream on its shores. It was a centre of leisure for the Bourgeoisie. CASA26 is built between the decayed summer villa of the Dupont d’Isigny, and the villa of a Lyon silk dynasty, best friends with the Lumière family. In this series of grand classical homes lands a massive iron sculpture, which at first was completely black and resembled a huge army tank or navy vessel invading the shores and destroying the idyllic landscape.
This invasion was also using and reinterpreting the codes of classical French grand homes (Grand rooms, wood panelling, visible patina/aging, gravel drive, water lilies pond). The aging, which is what in the end in the traditional bourgeois system gives legitimacy to the social status, was accelerated through the choice of materials. In the 21st century, there is no time to wait for time.