Marie-Gabrielle from Saint Venant
A year before he starts his new project, Versailles, Louis Benech unveils at West Side, in exclusivity, the secrets of his future grove ...
Initially a competition launched just a year ago?
Louis Benech: Yes, I won an international competition launched with several garden designers for the restoration of the grove of the Théâtre d'Eau (today called the Rond-Vert grove) located in the center of the northern part of the Garden of Versailles, between the grove of the Star and the Three Fountains. The grove of the Water Theater was created by Le Nôtre between 1671 and 1674. Then it was modified in the early eighteenth century. We know, moreover, that Louis XIV did not use it very much. It was abandoned gradually. Until recently, it was empty, simply used as a logistics space.
So you went on a contemporary grove project?
Louis Benech: It must be emphasized, it is the first time, since the passage of the kings, that there is a contemporary intervention in the park of Versailles. All previous interventions have been conducted in a spirit of restoration; they were in fact written restitutions on the basis of earlier periods (Mansart State). This time, we start on a completely new project, even if, of course, there is no question of obscuring the past. As sources of what was, two tracks available: Jean Chaufourier's plans and archaeological research. The grove is in the form of a 180 m square. We will return to the north, that is to say on the same side as Louis XIV. Enclosed in trees, in the center, a clearing of light and water crossed by a large basin punctuated with islands. At the water's edge, four fountains-sculptures signed Jean-Michel Othoniel. All the grove is imagined on a ternary rhythm (the trees, the jets of water ...). For the sake of ecology and preservation of the basement, all that I proposed is entirely self-supporting. Not a gram of concrete used ... The structures are sheet metal, recoverable ... I worked for the sake of sweetness.
Why Jean-Michel Othoniel?
Louis Benech: Its fountains-sculptures, abstract works composed of golden glass beads evoke the mineral curiosities of the park of Versailles called "gogottes", you know, these sandstones with rounded and foamy, almost Baroque forms, which make think of the foam ... In Jean-Michel's work, there is a part of childhood, his work speaks to all generations. To compose his fountain, he was inspired by choreographic drawings (in three stages!) Made for Louis XIV. The only concession to color, at the base of his compositions, we will find just a few blue balls, blue France exactly. They echo blue glass pastes found in the basement of the grove, which used to come (in addition to shells) to tinkle with the wind and water and add to the rustle of the fountains.
How did you choose the plants?
Louis Benech: Several criteria ... I first wanted, for historians and guides, to indicate the route of the old grove. So I marked the land of yews of Ireland, so that they can use them as landmarks ... Moreover, having kept, deep in the heart, an old superstition gardener, I did not want to completely table shave of the past. So I kept a box and an yew escaping the storm of 99. Chances are they were already there under Louis XVI ... If they could talk, maybe they could tell the day of their plantation ... Voluntarily, they will be set apart, on an island, in the middle of the basin. Overall, the trees planted are all small to medium in size (Le Nôtre allowed no tree more than 17 meters). At Versailles, we still live in the trauma of the storm of 99 and during this kind of climate disaster, the big subjects are the first to fall! The trees will all be evergreen, oaks and worms, with the exception of charms, and maple trees for the finish. But also fastigiated beeches, holm oaks and then a lot of new things in Versailles, because not introduced to the "great century"; angelic trees, catalpas, elms of Samaria ...
What will be the daily life of the grove?
Louis Benech: Unlike the other groves in the park, it will be open all the time. I wanted to make it a rather fragile place, linked to the notion of play and childhood. The place is not mimetic, there is no misappropriation and the presence of Jean-Michel adds to this playful notion. Moreover, at the time, the grove had a theater function, of course, but also a place of surprise, astonishment ...
And you, in all this? How do you feel?
Louis Benech: To be honest, it's pretty scary ... In my work, you can never be completely sure of the outcome. We work on living matter and we are not immune to any disease, cold snap, climatic accident ... It makes modest, softer too! In any case, it gives me perspective. And then, frankly, we'll have to wait a little before seeing the result. The trees will be beautiful in ten years and the grove reached in thirty, hopefully!
As we celebrate in 2013 the 400th anniversary of his birth, you feel the shadow of the great Le Nôtre ...
Louis Benech: First, if I have a taste for the past and history, I really plan for the future. I think I'm escaping any misidentification process. Thinking about it, Le Nôtre was often a digger. He was the first to really open the gardens on the great landscape, with considerable works. Compared to him, I work on confetti!