dUCKS scéno is a multidisciplinary scenography agency founded by Michel Cova in 1991. They combine scenography with innovating thinking and technical culture with a great awareness of the context of the project and architecture.
They are also theatre consultants and specialists of stage engineering and have worked with a variety of places from theatres, modern music concert halls, and exhibitions to urban spaces, libraries, teaching centres, foundations, and more. As the most active agency in all areas of scenography, they have stood out in the industry in the past few years and have collaborated with some of the most renowned architecture agencies and young emerging talents.
This week, The Artling had the opportunity to interview Isabelle Serré (Shanghai office supervisor, board member) of dUCKS scéno on the scenography industry, contemporary art and scenography in China, and their projects.
Lafayette anticipation, Photo © Delfino Sisto Legnani and Marco Cappelletti, courtesy of OMA
What was the inspiration behind dUCKS?
The inspiration for dUCKS comes from the curiosity for all art forms.
From the desire to create places of inspiration, exchange and sharing for artists and the public.
The pleasure of sharing this intimate knowledge of performance venues with talented architects to design exceptional buildings.
Tell us about your perspective on scenography and its importance in spaces.
The scenography is the only way to bring a cultural building to life, so that it becomes more than a beautiful shell, but a real place of performance where the audience will live strong and varied experiences in physical, visual and acoustic comfort. Where artists will want to come and create in a flexible and technical space. And where technicians will be safe to meet increasingly complex requests.
The scenography begins with the definition and organization of the scenic spaces necessary for the operating requested in the program, in close collaboration with the architects, the acousticians and the building consultants. The scenographic concept will be developed mainly according to the expectations of the program, the architectural concept, and the acoustic recommendations. These variables are different for each project and we have to invent and innovate each time to propose a singular and strong scenographic design. The beauty of the building, the comfort of the public and the technical possibilities offered, will be sustainable means of promotion which will make the reputation of a place.
Auditorium of Louis Vuitton Foundation., Photo © Louis Vuitton Foundation
What was it like opening an office in China?
dUCKS sceno was brought to China 20 years ago by architects we used to work with around the world. Plenty of colossal projects that have made us change scale. But the installation of an office in China was clearly the desire to get closer to the local culture, to know the needs, the desires, the issues… Because if dUCKS makes cultural buildings, we must understand all the meaning of "Culture". Because a space of performance which does not mean nothing to the surrounding audience does not do its job.
This office has allowed us great encounters with ambitious clients, new issues and rich collaborations with fantastic architects.
Could you tell us about your projects in China and Shanghai?
We arrived in China with projects for performance venues such as CCTV (OMA) or Jinan (Paul Andreu), we have just finished the Shenzhen Convention Center (Valode and Pistre). We work in scenography for performance venues but also have extensive experience in exhibition scenography and museography.
Museum projects are underway with the Atelier Jean Nouvel, West Sea Art Bay in Qingdao, and Pudong Art Museum in Shanghai. We are very happy to start teaming up for competitions in China, with exciting Chinese architects.
Pudong Art Museum, Photo © Ateliers Jean Nouvel
What are the differences between your experience with projects in China and the rest of the world?
Chinese projects force us to review our modus operandi because expectations are different and the project organization is different. China has spent the last 15 years building quickly and in quantity, it now has enough experience to introduce into this reflection about construction, the operational issues that are essential in a cultural building because everything evolves very quickly, with rules of game constantly changing, according to artistic trends. Technology is not the only alternative to innovation, flexibility, the design of spaces is also part of it, but we always lack the creative time to manage to make these projects innovative and inspiring for Artists and Audience.
In your projects, tell us about how art fits into scenography?
The projects on which dUCKS is working must be able to open up new possibilities. It is certainly not a question of claiming to make places where everything is possible but of systematically questioning the program to draw from it what is possible according to its urban location, the audience expectations, the essential requests of the program and the allocated budget. We always try to make buildings suitable for the present, ready for future transitions, and scalable in the future.
Art forms must also be able to question the building at each exhibition. This building should not be limiting but inspire the Artist facing of all the possibilities offered to him.
Shenzhen World Exhibition & Convention Center, Photo © Shenzhen World
What is the most challenging museum project you’ve worked on to date?
Each new museum, each new project is a challenge in itself because we have to find the scenographic logic that will make its singularity and its functional reputation. Each Client confides in us their expectations and desires, each architect presents his vision, his personality, and we try to work for the greatest number of artists, technicians and audiences ... We love challenges and we are never satisfied to simply fit equipment into a concrete box!
We had difficult but wonderful challenges on the PAM project (AJN) with the viewing galleries and their walls of screens, facing Huangpu River. On the Lafayette anticipation (OMA) project with motorized platforms transforming the exhibition space. But challenge is not only in museums, the incredible flexibility of the concert hall in the Philharmonie de Paris has been a crazy challenge for all the consultants and stay an international reference!
Philharmonie de Paris, Photo © Beaucardet
Tell us more about your exhibition projects. What are the differences between working on exhibition spaces and museums?
The historic heart of dUCKS’s work was performance halls, but very soon we realized that the boundaries between the arts were falling and some contemporary art installations seem like dance or theater. We therefore started to make proposals with more technical exhibition halls, which would accommodate these performances.
Exhibition spaces, like performance halls, must be a solid support for artistic creation, or even a source of inspiration, such as the Louis Vuitton Foundation, which we worked on with the architect F. Gehry.
Most of the time, museum projects come with a permanent collection, around which we use to work. A museum must be educational, captivating, surprising and the design method will depend on the type of collection (size of the pieces, materials, real or digital ...). Our work should make it possible to offer an exceptional experience to all audiences, whatever the reason for their visit.
West Sea Art Bay, Photo © West Sea Art Bay
Could you share your experience of working with well-known architects in China?
We work with a lot of western agencies based in China, which has given us a better understanding of Chinese expectations which are very different from the expectations we are used to.
About ten years ago we teamed up with architect Zhu Pei for incredible projects in Dali and Xishuangbanna. We are also teaming up with other generations of architects like Li Hu (Open architecture) with whom we really like to collaborate, and very young agencies like Urban-Plot which was born a year ago!
Beyond project collaborations, we like to be able to discuss and share our experience with future clients, future decision-makers so that today's cultural spaces inspire and prepare the artists and audiences of tomorrow!
What’s in store for dUCKS in 2021?
For 2021, many museum competitions in Shenzhen, many projects in Saudi Arabia, music schools in Vietnam, performance centers in Russia, and venues in Paris!
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