In Meyzieu, Nicolas Daubanes is revisiting his first decisive project experience, co-constructed at the juvenile detention centre (EPM) in Lavaur, southwest France, in 2008. Since then he has regularly immersed himself in singular environments such as disciplinary institutions and places, which enable him to explore the fragility of the human condition in its most troubling but also most remarkable aspects.

After each experience – often carried out in situ, up close to the people who live in these spaces – they have an undeniable glimpse of freedom on the horizon, despite their constraints. Nicolas Daubanes’ artistic processes typically consider specific situations that the artist chooses to address for their commemorative or emotional charge, their antagonistic and conflict-charged potential, or their capacity to shape the contours of a landscape of communal living-places and the subterranean revolution taking place there.

After his first visit to the EPM in Meyzieu, and to the Mathiolan district in the town, the artist decided to focus his project on collectively assembling a codex. The ancestor of the modern book, made by assembling first wooden tablets and later parchment sheets bound in sections, the codex was invented by the Romans to remplace the papyrus scroll. Codices were used to log details of financial accounts and inventories, history chronicles and sets of knowledge – and this latter category corresponds to how the term is used today, referring to collections of pharmaceutical formulae, medical manuals, or books of laws (codes).

Nicolas Daubanes picks out two core themes of this history: handwriting, by inviting participants to become copyists; and the compilation of knowledge, which the same participants will be invited to share. The group workshops he will run to do this are designed as universities of the people, showcasing the technical, human, social, artistic, ordinary and extraordinary things each person knows. Each contribution will take the form of a handwritten page presenting each shared gesture, action or piece of knowledge. The running order of the workshop, which is titled Université de (lieux d'interventions à Meyzieu) and all the gathered pages will then be assembled into a single, precious “University Codex”. It will never be printed, so that it keeps its aura and can only be viewed on a visit, by request, to the collection where it is held.

As part of the Culture Justice programme supported by the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes regional directorate for cultural affairs (DRAC), the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes regional council, and the juvenile justice service (PJJ).

In partnership with social landlord Alliade Habitat.

Visual: Secret diary from Eysses prison, 1943 (extract)