Invisible Bordeaux first encountered the sculptor François Didier in 2014 when researching the three bronze plans-reliefs which have bee...

Revisiting Neanysa, François Didier’s imaginary ancient city

Invisible Bordeaux first encountered the sculptor François Didier in 2014 when researching the three bronze plans-reliefs which have been positioned in central Bordeaux. At the time, the investigation took the blog to the village of Bages to see further 3-D maps, and down to Lugos, at the northern tip of les Landes, to visit the artist’s workshop and gardens.

This time, the François Didier trail led me to the renowned Musée Georges de Sonneville in Gradignan, to visit an elaborate exhibition that is currently showcasing his work (it runs until April 12th), entitled “Neanysa, ville antique”. The concept is simple but the execution is both surprising and impressive in its scale: François Didier has created his own imaginary ancient city, Neanysa, and the exhibition enables visitors to discover the city-that-never-was by viewing a whole host of items and documents that pay testimony to how things were, or might have been!

The centrepiece of the exhibition is a substantial scale model of the city itself in ruins, in which François Didier has taken his model-building techniques to new heights. Touring the exhibit with the artist, he notes that he “had always loved building models of towns, and also worked as a designer of theatrical sets. This combines the two skills, as what I’ve designed is like a miniature theatrical set where visitors can imagine their own scenarios”.

The other sections of the exhibition include museum-like glass cabinets displaying small statues, ornaments, cooking utensils and even coins, all of which resemble items which have been recovered from the fictional city of Neanysa, and yet have all been hand-crafted by François Didier over a period of several years: “Some of the pieces are copies of genuine archaeological finds as seen in museums or elsewhere, others have been created from scratch, but everything is in some way inspired by ancient cultures.”

To add an extra dimension to the handiwork, François has even gone so far as to create mock artefacts including books and intricate maps of the city, all of which have been doctored to look like bona fide archive documents. Many of the exhibits can also be seen in framed photographs taken by Christian Commarieu either at the artist’s workshop or at Palais Gallien in Bordeaux, adding a credible historical setting for the various pieces. 

If this all sounds like an artistic flight of fancy, the exhibition is in fact being taken very seriously by historians and the archaeological community, and the next time it runs will not be in an artistic venue but in an archaeological museum! All of which is very well, but… where is/was Neanysa?

François responds that “it’s a mix and match of various places. It could be in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Greece or a bit of all of them and more”. In an amusing twist, the Gradignan organisers of the exhibition have added their own little map showing where Neanysa is located: the city is positioned in the centre of a country which is the distinctive shape of a human brain. The reference is apt; when leaving the exhibition, there’s a little bit of Neanysa lodged in the minds of all visitors.
  • The Neanysa exhibition runs on until April 12th 2015 (open Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons) at Musée Georges de Sonneville, Prieuré de Cayac, 1 rue de Chartrèze, Gradignan. Admission is free of charge.
  • Photos of the artwork by Christian Commarieu reproduced here courtesy of François Didier.
  • Cet article est également disponible en français.

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