Monchecourt History(ies) – Monchecourt

Workshops and exhibitions | April 2014 | Point Ecoute Jeunesse and Société d’Histoire Locale | Monchecourt (59)

In the framework of the Community of Communes’ cultural programme Coeur d’Ostrevent, Histoire de savoir(s) has been asked to organise an intergenerational project about the industrial past of Monchecourt (in the mining basin of the North). Two members of the organisation and photographers of the Gueules Noires/Black Faces project, Nicolas Leblanc and Matthias Crépel, have led two rounds of workshops which ultimate goal was an exhibition in the urban space.

En haut du terril de Monchecourt lors d'un atelier photo avec les jeunes du PEJ. © Nicolas Leblanc

Up on the heap of Monchecourt, during a photography workshop with young people from the PEJ. ©Nicolas Leblanc

A few words about Monchecourt – located at the heart of the Ostrevent, Monchecourt has a peculiar particularity. Having a rich industrial history, once focused on three large complementary hubs: a mine, a coke plant and a brickyard, the city still marked by its past activities.

At a first glance, this past is not very visible on the city’s territory but is still however very present: a heap hidden by vegetation, with some wall sections at its base, seemingly those of the coke plant and of the brickyard, 2km from there…

Photography workshops

Called Monchecourtois History(ies) (Histoire(s) Monchecourtoise(s)), the project was divided into several parts…

Vue aérienne de la mine et de la cokerie de Monchecourt. Après la seconde guerre.
Aerial view of the mine and coke plant of Monchecourt, after WWII.

Local History Society – with the help of the Local History Society (Société d’Histoire Locale), the first part consisted in searching for archive images of the little town of Monchecourt in connection with its industrial past. After launching a gathering of documents, thanks to the members of the association and to the precious help of Xavier Botte (author of the book Histoire de la fosse Saint-Roch) and of Jean-Marie Minot, key figures when it comes to keep the memory of the basin safe, a series of images have been selected following these working sessions. The core material of the final exhibition was mainly composed of ancient postcards.

Point Ecoute Jeunesse The second part of this cultural action took the shape of photography workshops, with groups of young people from the PEJ. This time was more dedicated to creativity; youngsters age 12 to 18, were asked to focus their attention on the city they are living in. The Saint-Roch Park (Territory of the mine and coke plant), the cité St Robert (workers housing estate), and the still visible former brickyard, were the places selected to lead the photography workshops and stroll. The goals of these workshops were diverse: what vision do young people have about the mining basin? What do they know of the traces that are still visible? How is the memory conveyed in the mining basin? These were questions youngsters from the PEJ had to face.

Here is one the photographic movie created during these workshops.

Exhibition in Monchecourt, a scenography suited to its geography.

© Matthias Crépel / Visite des groupes scolaires sur le site du parc St Roch.
©Matthias Crépel / Location of the pit no.1. Visit of school groups on the location of the St Roch Park.

Conveying information from the workshops – these two collaborations, with the Société d’Histoire Locale and the Point Ecoute Jeunesse, enabled to put in place an exhibition path in the open, and in several places of the town.

The St Roch Park – 25 archives images were exposed in the St Roch Park and in former train station of Monchecourt. This choice results from a reflection on the notions of memory and landscape; namely, in the case of this little town from mining basin, traces of the past do not exist anymore, only the heap has been preserved and will certainly be part of the geographical areas at the UNESCO world heritage. Printed on tarps, the archives photos constituting the exhibition were “dug up” and then put back in the current landscape, according to the point of view of the photographer of that time. This scenographic enables to plunge into time the history of this territory, modified by passing times and weather, and to raise questions about local and collective memory.

Vernissage en plein air de l'exposition Histoire(s) Monchecourtoise(s). © Matthias Crépel.
Vernissage in the open of the exhibition Histoire(s) Monchecourtoise(s) ©Matthias Crépel

The brickyard – The outcome of the photography workshops organised with the youngsters from the PEJ has been exhibited on the location of the brickyard, property of Vignacourt-Mercier family. With their precious help, seven photographs printed on tarps have been placed along the field. Located approximatively 2km from the St Roch Park, this exhibition was also part of the stroll.

Former train station – Home of the Gavériaux family, the former train station has been used to screen the photographic movies of the young people of the PEJ, and end the exhibition path of the archives photos.

Visits for school groups as well as a pedagogical path have been launched around these two parts on the memory of Monchecourt. 110 persons attended the inauguration of the exhibitions, to discover the archive photos, the photos took by the youngsters of the PEJ, the screening of the short movie. All have been invited to share and exchange their impressions around a friendship drink following the celebrations.

This workshop was realised by Histoire de Savoir(s) in the framework of the project “Black Faces of Europe”. It has been ordered by the Community of Communes from the Heart of Ostrevent.

Artists/lecturers: Nicolas Leblanc et Matthias Crépel.