November 11th, 2018 - The 100th anniversary of the Great War Armistice
François Chatillon, Chief Architect of Historical Monuments asked the photographer Cyrille Weiner, with whom he maintains a friendly and intellectual complicity, to look at several sites in the battlefields of Verdun which he had the restoration’s charge. In this obsession to understand and interpret the present world, how to integrate the dimension of the past?
This is the meaning they both want to give to their respective work in two distinct areas.
The discovery of the sites of the battles of the Great War
leaves the visitor in a state of amazement.
Despite the nature that takes back its rights,
the landscape permanently bruised, imposes silence.
How to view such sites?
How to look at what escapes the “heritage” codes?
This sites must imperatively be seen, surveyed, felt in the depths of our humanity.
The purpose is not about landscape or architecture,
we must only support the shock of discovery.
And propose very simply supports the necessary explanations, ensure accessibility pathways
We must fade, we must be quiet.
“The Great War” has just been a hundred years old and the world wants to remember.
Remembering to be able to forget, to go from the history of our fathers
to a less painful history, a story that no longer recounts, a story that can be read in books.
From the armistice, the architecture was summoned to freeze places and names.
Steles, monuments, infinite fields of crosses and standing stones
mark the landscapes and more particularly the landscapes of the North-East of France.
The commemoration of the centenary invites us to watch, clean, restore,
make them presentable, representable of what happened
to the address of generations who have not lived.
There are two kinds.
Composed, drawn, engraved, which solemnly recall the names,
the facts, the places and the battlefields.
The architects of the time often used ancient and often massive references probably because they responded to their sensitivity and their background,
but perhaps also to put back a martial order in what was a horrible disorder of things.
As in the Nile Valley of the time of the Egyptian empire,
the entrance pylon of la tranchée des baïonnettes invites us to go into the temple,
to walk the sacred path that leads to the realm of those dead buried alive in their trench
and of which only the bayonets protruded from the dried mud after the battle.
The image is striking, no visitor emerged unscathed from this short pilgrimage.
The restoration of this door does not require any superfluous gesture, here it is the silence that guides the pencil,
it is necessary to just cure the architecture as one dresses a wound so that it heals.
This is the same approach for the “Monument Allemand” of Sedan Cemetery.
However, its status is particular, its name says “German”.
As if to remind us that “the enemy” was only the name given to the victims on the other side.
It is right to repeat it again and to write it in a letter of gold.
Here no monument, no attempt to restore “order”.
At first, we do not see anything, we do not understand anything: embankments, screes.
It takes time and explanations,
not to understand, but to admit the flood of bombs that fell for four years on Douaumont’s fortress
to admit the thousands of victims shredded, buried,
to realize the absurdity of all this.
What is difficult here is to do neither “architecture” nor “landscape”.
We take the needs straight, an elevator so that everyone can access the site, a ramp.
The answer is brutal, the rusty sheet supports themes and explanations
to encourage visitors and especially younger generations
to take away some of this story hoping it will act on them like a vaccine
and the rest,
remains as it is, in the purity of its horror.
Text written by François Chatillon