“Dance, unite, think, act”
Young people’s awareness does exist today… And so what it doesn’t work out? At least we tried, and it felt good!
Created by Lionel Bensemoun, Le Consulat de la Gaîté closed its doors on October 31st after “180 days of celebration”. With a varied program of exhibitions, parties and concerts (such as the Numéro Art party with Perrotin), as well as artist residencies, this 3,000-sq.- meter ephemeral living space has attracted, day and night, a great number of people who wouldn’t have otherwise ventured in Paris’ 14th arrondissement. Le Consulat is part of the action of G.A.N.G, the Neo-Green Action Group, which aims to raise awareness on environmental issues through arts and culture. This new Consulat was the project’s second physical iteration, and it seems to be constantly expanding. Inseparable from Paris’ cultural life, Lionel Bensemoun talked to Say Who about the oh so important notion of solidarity and consciousness, the meaning of sustainability today, and about his credo: “dance, unite, think, act.”
First things first. Can you talk about the genesis of G.A.N.G?
G.A.N.G is an organization I created about 4 years ago. I wanted to find ways to use my background in communications and event planning and apply it to bringing people together. G.A.N.G stands for “Neo-Green Action Group”, it is a place to talk about the environment, nature, but also to act on our consumer behavior and reflect on how to change this ultra-liberalist, anti-sustainable system we live in.
Would your say there is a desire to convince people who don’t think there is a real issue?
I just wan to show that you can be committed to a cause and still be joyful about it. Which is not what we know in our society today. You don’t have to sacrifice everything to live in a sustainable way and be environmentally friendly. You can commit with joy, happiness and encouragement without going on lecturing people about it. Our objective is to raise awareness by showing all the positive alternatives that exist today.
Le Consulat’s slogan (“dance, unite, think, act”) really shows this desire. Did you put “dance” first on purpose? Do you put action before thought?
Dancing is what we’ve always done, and it does matter a lot. Dancing is unifying, it is joyful. To say Le Consulat is about taking action is completely true. It is a place where you get things moving, where you can think. It is a place where people meet and share. It’s really encouraging to know that you are not alone. In this manner, we were influenced by the Colibris organization, as well s by Cyril Dion. Each of them bring their little drops to extinguish the fire. In my opinion, it is essential to have a place to gather around these ideas.
The Consulat keeps on growing. The first venue was 500 sq. meters big, the second one had a 3,000 sq. meter space. Do you see it expanding even more?
The third Consulat is going to be an in-between, I hope. 3000 sq. meters was a lot. We have worked day and night for six months, but we were not enough people to manage everything. Still, the experience was incredible.
Your approach if far from being dogmatic. It almost seems like you are guided by your emotions.
Of course emotions drives us, but also the pleasure, the intuition! The Consulat is something emotional. We seek to reach people’s imagination through beauty, music, exhibitions in order to show that there is a place in culture for those kinds of creative, imaginative experiences. And that they can be eco-friendly and committed to a cause at the same time.
Would you say Le Consulat has its own aesthetic? Many of your contributors come from a street culture background (see the graffiti on the walls). Is Le Consulat open to contemporary art, to fashion?
This is a mix of everything. Le Consulat is a hybrid place. There is street art, but not only that. Everybody has a different way of expression. We had resident artists who created scenography, photography, installations, paintings, videos… Samuel Boutruche took charge of programming and production for six months. We approached beauty through contemporary art, but also through mysticism or outsider art. Samuel did everything from A to Z, and it was great!
Do you consider it a “reward” to have welcomed major names in fashion and art like Numéro magazine and Perrotin for their joint party? You’ve also hosted fashion shows…
I wouldn’t say it is a reward, it is only proof that our message is coming across and that entities from the “corporate world” are listening. If Perrotin had come to the 14th arrondissement, in a venue that can be considered “unhealthy and cold”, it’s because he wanted to support an idea.
You look like a “family”-oriented person. Are there people you’ve always worked with over the years?
I’d call it an extended family, friends. I’ve been close to André for 15 years, and we’ve always worked together. For Le Consulat and G.A.N.G, I have worked with Gypsy for years, and he is the true founder of the projects. My sister Chloé, Samantha from Nature Right, Xavier, Stefan de Freitas with Indigo are also close collaborators. We have been a small team for three years, and we remained loyal and highly motivated.
What’s most surprising is your ability to always reinvent yourself.
I like to observe, to see what is happening around me. I am very curious in that way. It’s not so much that I reinvent myself, but I always find things that I like and I invest myself in them. And, above all, I cant bear to be bored, be it day or night!
Does Le Consulat allow you to stay in touch with a younger generation, as opposed to Le Baron, which was meant for a more “insider” clientèle?
It does. Le Consulat is a real mix, considering what we offer from morning to night. We have yoga classes, round-table discussions, concerts or rave parties with 3000 people… “Fusion” parties, for example, gather many people from very different age groups! Many organizations took part in Le Consulat and participated in our common message. “Les Éveillés”, for example, are a collective of artists and DJs who organize parties and redistribute funds to help refugees. GAF, which stands for “Give A Fuck”, is a new association initiated by my friend Allegria who has a fashion background and organizes the Cicciolina parties… It’s the coolest thing! She is active and brings together many personalities from those spheres in order to empower people and change our consumer habits. Her message is powerful, and very much contemporary. This diversity of cultures and ambitions allows to get out of strangleholds and stereotypes… You eat less meat, you ride your bike, you dress with vintage clothing, and yet you are not a alter-globalist hippie. You’re just a someone with a sense of responsibility, someone who thinks of their children. All those generations, who no longer believe in our system and who are tired of being a product, are still minorities but more and more people are taking action.
Do you feel like the new generations are more aware than we are?
New generations are aware of the problems facing our civilization today, they know that our system is not sustainable. What I experienced at Le Consulat is certainly a reflection of today’s youth, or at least a part of it. There is the “no future” movement, which alternative is to enjoy life as much as they can without questioning. They want to share a moment, music, drugs, trance in a total escape. But I have also seen so many very active and voluntary young people who do not accept resignation and are fighting for a different future, another way of living together. It shows through meditation, yoga, feminism, activism, showing solidarity to others. Everybody does with what they’ve got. This awareness from young people does exist today… So what it doesn’t work out? At least we tried, and it felt good!
Interview and photos: Michaël Huard