Luca Frei – The so-called utopia of the centre beaubourg, an interpretation

Appearing under the pseudonym Gustave Affeulpin in 1976, and coinciding with the inauguration of the Centre Beaubourg in Paris, Albert Meister’s fictional text La soi-disant utopie du centre Beaubourg imagines a radical libertarian space submerged beneath the newly erected centre-piece of French Culture. In a world turned upside down, the 76 storeys submerged beneath the official centre for culture provide a platform for alternative modes of work and creation. Reporting, in sometimes hysterical, sometimes more poetic language, and with tongue firmly in cheek, the narrator recounts the vacillations of free organisation, in a satire that never takes its eye of the main target: state-sponsored culture.

This is the first translation and publication of La soi-disant utopie du centre Beaubourg in English, a project undertaken by the artist Luca Frei as an attempt to both revitalise a significant cultural treatise incorporating many elements of Meister’s sociological thinking, and to reflect upon the subjective role of the artist in transferring ideas from one cultural framework and era to another.

I really enjoyed working on this with Luca. Himself Italian Swiss, and his French good, but his English certainly not fluid, his translation of the entire text was an interesting basis to start with. We worked in chunks of several chapters at a time. Him sending me a draft, me sending an edited version back, and so back and forth. My attempts at editing something that should on the one hand be really legible for the reader, while on the other hand also retain the sense of being slightly off-kilter – conceptually, in time and linguistically – really highlighted the fact that translation is not something that is purely a literal act. It is an utterly engaged activity, where the sense of how it is being said can be equally as important as what is actually being said, and how it is therefore sometimes fine to not make it ‘perfect’, or slightly ‘deviate’ from the original.

Co-published by Book Works and CASCO, Utrecht. It was the second in a series of co-publishing partnerships initiated by Book Works, entitled Fabrications, commissioned and edited by me. Interpretation and design by Luca Frei.

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