the abode of chaos
A different kind of museum
« The Abode of Chaos is a reflection of our world » says Thierry Ehrmann, the owner of the house on which the Abode was built, in an interview. It is an intriguing threshold in between two distorted realities: one is that of art, a prism through which to look at the world, the other is that of modern societies, medias and their ability to make and break information.
The Abode is a fascinating place, and one that is very hard to qualify, let alone describe. So to do it justice, I decided I’d share this video Thierry Ehrmann shot for Arte TV.
Some of it is in French, but you really don’t need to read it to understand the video, especially since I’m going to cover everything in the article anyway 😉
ehrmann & the Abode of Chaos
In the late 90’s, Thierry Ehrmann, a businessman trading art, is looking for a house to lodge himself and his growing company. He finds one in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-D’Or, a small village only 10km away from Lyon. He buys the 17th-century « Domaine du Lac ».
He moves in and install the servers of his trading company in the cellar of the house, but one day, around 1999, he gets into such a terrible administrative cluster-fuck that he goes through some sort of existential crisis and decides to mend his ways to dedicate his life to art.
Ehrmann puts his knowledge of art and of steelworks into use and starts making one of the thousand piece of art in the house. He burns some of the walls with thermal lances, draws glyph and symbols all around the place. In short, he turns the place upside down with the help of his assistants and other artists, giving birth to the Abode of Chaos.
What is the Abode of Chaos About
The Abode of Chaos was formerly known as the « Spirit of the Salamander », but Thierry Ehrmann (its owner) changed it to better indicate the subject of the open-air museum: chaos.
Ehrmann distinguishes between three types of chaos (that’s where it gets artsy and confusing but stick with me for just a second): alchemical, mathematical and human chaos.
Alchemical chaos refers to the matter of the universe, the substance everything’s made of. The artist takes matter and through his work, gives significance to it.
Mathematical chaos refers to Chaos Theory, a branch of mathematics concerned with seemingly random phenomenon that are in fact very precisely determined by the situation they originated from. The butterfly effect (« a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane in Texas ») is a way to illustrate how tiny differences in a situation can lead to a great deal of change at the end of the day.
Finally, the one that ties them all together is human chaos, the great mess that History is.
Together, those three types of chaos invite us to question our world through art:
How did we get to where we are now ? Is the world like I’m told it is ? What course of action should I choose ? Such are the questions the Abode exist to raise.
Struggle with the Law
It isn’t difficult to understand why Ehrmann’s neighbors aren’t very happy with the Abode of Chaos, its scorched wall, giant skull-statues on the roof and the shrills sound of iron being cut into pieces. What’s more is that Saint-Romain’s landscape is protected by law because of its historical significance.
As Ehrmann never asked for any permission when he started transforming his « Domain » from the ground up, the Town Hall filed a complaint against the Abode of Chaos, asking for the removal of the modifications. The case was presented to the Court multiple times but the owner of the Abode of Chaos kept appealing in higher courts and has never yet been forced to destroy the open-air museum.
To the best of my knowledge, the case is now being examined by the European Court of Human Rights for the second time, after Ehrmann’s first attempt was rejected. This long-lasting legal struggle somewhat reminds me of the controversy that had existed around Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace before André Malraux, the Minister of Culture, inscribed the monument at the list of French Heritage, albeit in a more complex situation where Art is opposed to History.
Paradoxically, the construction of the Abode helped uncover the ruins of a protestant temple that had been lost for ages.
In the 17th century, France was going through troubled times as tensions between Catholics and Protestants were building up, the latter violently rioting for official recognition. To avoid a bloodbath, Henri IV drafted the Edict of Nantes, giving the Protestants rights to pray and build their own segregated temples. Around 1630, a Protestant community fled from Lyon and settled in Saint-Romain where they built a temple.
In 1685 though, Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. Catholics from Lyon marched into the countryside, slaughtered the Protestants of Saint-Romain and the temple was lost after it was burnt down.
Fast-forward two solid centuries and Thierry Ehrmann is trying to free up some space in his Domain by clearing parts of a mountain that sits on a it. Doing so, he discovers a salamander, a rare amphibian specie that usually lives near water springs and burial sites, which the Domain both comprises. Ehrmann gets the hint and carefully digs deeper, eventually uncovering the lost temple where protestant families flocked to pay tributes to their ancestors.
how to visit
The Abode of Chaos is situated in Saint-Romain-au-Mont-D’Or, a small village only 10 minutes away from Lyon.
The museum is totally free and will even provide you with copies of its manifesto. Ehrmann prides himself in the fact that his museum is one of the rare ones where you can touch the art (even punch it, if you wanna hurt yourself).
Whilst you’re in Saint-Romain, I suggest you have a look at the Abode of Eden, a colorful counterpart to the Abode of Chaos that was created by a playful neighbor..
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