Culture Versus Culture

by Amie Beaton

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When my husband first suggested that we pack up our lives in Vancouver and move to France, I was full of excitement. I was thrilled with the idea of living in a place full of culture. Culture, however, is a word that has, for me, changed its meaning throughout the eight months that we have been here.

The Bordeaux lifestyle: it is life where one drinks wine everyday, has cheese and baguette after every meal, and considers every Sunday a sacred day (however, not at all for religious reasons). Work is important, but family comes first… always. Bordeaux is a city where going to the opera, a ballet, or a wine tasting is considered normal and where no one is ever found under-dressed. Women and men sport business suites while riding their bikes, a baguette visible in the bicycle’s front basket. Although stereotypical, it is true. We have relaxed into our French lifestyle quite easily, as this type of living is something we have dreamed about, and which only seemed possible in place like France. With the French culture held in such high esteem, something to be proud of, what could be missing?

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As an artist, I find the charming city of Bordeaux full of inspirations: the buildings, the people, the music, the food, the wine… However, as charming as Bordeaux is, the art scene is quite small. Where was the art scene that I had expected? I wondered if it was my poor French or the fact that I simply did not know where to look. I found a possible answer to my question while walking through the garden one day. There was a poster advertising for a 24 hour art exhibition called, “Enquête en Quête.” With it’s witty play on words, this French statement translates to “an investigation of looking.” My curiosity was sparked, so I visited their website to find the curators statement. I found that this exhibition was more of a collective, one time experience, that questioned the very thing that I thought I would find in Bordeaux— culture.

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Along with my husband and a few friends, we went to the 24 hour exhibition, which was held in one of the public garden’s historical buildings. The interactive path to the front door made the exhibition goers stop and take a moment to “make their mark” before entering. I stopped before a large white board that various people were writing on. There were comments about art, human nature, names, and questions. I have seen this type of interactive art project done various times, but seeing it in a new language and in a new city made the experience completely new. This piece influenced me to question my views of the French culture or, more specifically, the Bordeaux culture. Why did the Bordelais feel they lacked culture? I wondered whether or not I understood what culture meant at all. After all, I am living in France, the place where so many foreword thinkers lived, artists created, and new movements were made.

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We entered the building to find four stories and numerous rooms filled with live music, artist talks, debate forums, reading lounges, and of course, art, namely performance and installation. I like to think that I am regularly exposed to various types of art making, especially performance and installation. I love the feeling of being a part of the work, giving meaning to something or contributing to it. This idea seemed to be new to the exhibition goers and organizers. As I understood it, this type of exhibition is a new wave that is rippling through Bordeaux. People are starting to question their culture, what it includes and more so what it is lacking. The exhibition helped me to investigate my own way of looking and to seek out my role in my own culture

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I found myself wondering why it was that I thought Bordeaux had more culture than Vancouver in the first place. Was I romanticizing about the things I saw and read? I realized that I was in the same position of many Bordelais. I even questioned my own culture enough to move to another country.

Since visiting the exhibition, I no longer view “culture” as a term referring to sophistication and refinement in the arts, but rather as an intellectual, artistic awareness, a lifestyle choice even, that transgresses the levels of society and, for lack of a better word, culture.

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