Universes in Universe / Nafas Art Magazine / Hermitage Park in Casablanca
(Published: March 2008, print version)
Hermitage Park in Casablanca
Concern about rehabilitation concept
By Helen Adkins
In August 2006, we reported on Casablanca’s "Passerelle Artistique V". This art project initiated in 2002 by the art group La Source du Lion has ever since been dedicated to environmental awareness and most specifically to the rehabilitation of the derelict 17 hectare Hermitage Park, located in a densely populated area of Casablanca. In May 2003 the project was boosted by a detailed maquette of the park (scale 1/100), which enabled the visualization of its state of dereliction. Hence, La Source du Lion developed an international artist network to refurbish the park in close consultation with the local inhabitants.
In 2004, town officials commissioned Atelier Vert, a landscape design agency based in Casablanca, to provide the necessary garden expertise to the artists. In 2006, many artistic interventions were realized and gained enthusiastic support by the local inhabitants and officials alike. The scheme focused on reintroducing life and leisure activities to the park and was successful in transforming Hermitage from a high-danger public tip into a peaceful green lung benefiting most particularly women and children and setting an example for similar issues throughout Morocco. Thus, the park is gradually being reclaimed to its original designation.
Now, the agency’s new planner, Bertrand Houin, has developed a masterplan in seemingly total ignorance of the accomplishments of the past six years. I contacted Bertrand Houin directly, in order to obtain his personal view of things, but when I informed him that I was writing on his controversial plan for Hermitage, he declined to send any material!
Whereas the plan of 2005 thrived from giving the park back to human life, the grid of 2008 takes us back to French formal gardens laid out for the leisure of the French upper class. A comparison of both ground plans provides straightforward visual evidence to this effect. Houin even proposes to change the name of the park’s café from Unesco to Guinguette, the word for a typical popular cabaret found in the suburbs of Paris in the 18th century.
Supporters of La Source du Lion see the grid design as an aesthetic and graphic abstraction, as the bars of a prison even, far from the needs of the local population. Houin, a Frenchman, is accused of tracing the history of Hermitage back to the "glory" of colonial times.
Adding insult to injury, Houin proposes to replace the children’s play areas – to be developed by national teams involved in the rehabilitation scheme since the beginning – by a procession of metallic animals created by a costly emerging artist from Paris, Quentin Garel.
In a public talk in Tanger, Hassan Darsi, founding member of La Source du Lion, asked landscape designer Gilles Clément, an authority in his trade, for his opinion on the new project. Mr. Clément was saddened to hear of the controversy. He criticized the plan as a formalist solution of the past that has nothing to do with the state of society today, or with life in Casablanca.
Hassan Darsi is not prepared to give up his artistic vision of social and political participation and is fighting to get back to the lines of 2005, involving national and international partners from the arts, in collaboration with the inhabitants of Casablanca. He is hopeful that Mr. Sahid, the current mayor of the city, will act in favour of the original scheme of 2005.
Independent art historian and exhibition curator based in Berlin, Germany.
La Source du Lion
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