December 19, 2018

Nuit des Idées, Thursday 31 January 2019 - CNES’s Observatoire de l’Espace arts and science laboratory invites the public to Terra Incognita, an investigation of places that have marked the history of France’s space programme

For the Nuit des Idées (Night of Ideas) event organized by the Institut Français, CNES’s Observatoire de l’Espace is inviting the public on Thursday 31 January 2019, from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the agency’s Head Office in Paris, to a session of investigations on some the enigmatic places that shaped the early years of the space adventure, led by the GRACE space art and culture research group.

During the course of this evening put on by the Observatoire de l’Espace, CNES’s arts and science laboratory, and featuring often never-seen-before audiovisual, photographic and documentary archive material, the public will see the first results of GRACE’s research into the secrets surrounding two space facilities that today no longer exist: the Hammaguir base, lost in the sands of the Algerian desert, where the Diamant rocket was launched and enabled France to become the world’s third space power; and the LRBA ballistic and aeronautics research laboratory, nestled in the forest of Vernon west of Paris, where German scientists trained by Wernher von Braun during the Second World War worked to develop the first French Veronique rockets.

During this first public event, the members of GRACE—author Michel Beretti, science historian Jérôme Lamy and plastic artist Elise Parré—will combine archive material with their literary creations, sociological meditations and art to compose, in the words of Gérard Azoulay, the head of CNES’s Observatoire de l’Espace, “a mind map of these territories, taking us on a journey of the senses to the nooks and corners of historic places.”

This investigation, fuelled by exchanges with the public, aims to provide a fresh perspective of ‘space places’ through multidisciplinary approaches. It will be three parts. During the first part, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., GRACE will look at these territories through the prism of exoticism; the second part, from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., will focus on lesser-known stories highlighting the key moments of the space adventure; and the last part, from 9:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., will pose the question as to whether the fantasy of secrecy isn’t sometimes the filter through which we interpret the history of these infrastructures. By exploring this distant past, GRACE encourages us to reflect on how we think about and represent the invisible, the gaping emptiness of history that the current vision of these sites offers.

In 2018, CNES’s Observatoire de l’Espace set up the GRACE space art and culture research group. This programme closely combines human sciences and artistic creation, bringing together an author, a historian and an artist. Michel Beretti, a trained philosopher and linguist, today writes for the theatre, producing numerous texts, plays, adaptations, translations and opera librettos. Jérôme Lamy is a science historian, sociologist and research scientist at the French national scientific research centre CNRS working on the history of space practices, from the reconfiguration of scientific research to the most diverse sociocultural effects. Élise Parré is a plastic artist whose sculptures, installations, drawing-collages and writings aim to spark shared mental images.
GRACE’s ambition is to implement an original work protocol to analyse how the space adventure has fashioned spaces on Earth.

CNES’s Observatoire de l’Espace
Since 2000, CNES’s Observatoire de l'Espace arts and science laboratory has undertaken a range of multidisciplinary research projects. Its current focus is engaging it in producing collaborative working models and content concentrating on human sciences, while continuing to support artistic creation.

The 2019 Nuit des Idées at CNES is being organized in partnership with ECPAD, the defence communication and audiovisual production unit, and with the support of the Daniel and Nina Carasso foundation.

Nuit des Idées at CNES, Thursday 31 January 2019
CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales)
2, place Maurice Quentin - 75001 Paris
7 to 8 p.m. / Entrance free
Learn more at

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