Le CentQuatre: Stephane Couturier & Alain Bernardini

From the avenue de Flandres we walked west across the 20e to Le 104 (Centquatre), once the home of the SMPF (le service municipal des pompes funèbres.) Built in 1873 by the chuch, the premises were taken over following the law of 1905 which gave the city a monopoly on providing funeral services; this ensured that everyone, regardless of sex, religion, marital status or cause of death could receive a dignified ceremony, whereas the church had previously discriminated against various groups.

At its height, 1400 people worked there for, including trades such as seamstresses and cabinet makers, working as a team to provide a complete service, transporting bodies from home to cemetery. It had its own footbal team, and even an orchestra. In May ’68 it kept going for 15 days working as a co-operative.

The city’s monopoly was abolished in January 1993, and the SMPF soon ran down its services, closing in 1997.

Considerable redevelopment work has taken place on this 39,000 square metre site, and although it opened in October 2008, much was still unfinished, and the vast building is still largely empty space. There will be a continuing programme where around 200 artists from around the world come to work on about 30 projects each year, and three festivals to show the finished work.

When I was there a few very large prints of pictures by  Stephane Couturier who was photographer in residence during the development work – you can see  3 of his pictures on the web site.

In the terrace of the cafe (opening 2009) was a set of pictures by
Alain Bernardini (b France, 1960) Stop / Tu m’auras pas, (literally ‘You won’t have me’ but perhaps here means ‘you won’t take my photo’)  pictures of workers on the site posing for their pictures, along with some where there are no workers, perhaps because they didn’t wish to be photographed.

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