Story and photos by Louis Denson
Claire Nys, and six of her friends were returning home after leaving multiple parties that they didn’t enjoy on a festival evening in Arles when they happened to pass by L’Aire d’Arles. Inside, they saw people happily dancing. “Two girls dressed in long dresses, like two princesses” especially caught their eyes, says Nys, who recalls excellent rock being played on vinyl. Although they were tired, the group of women stopped to join the fun and dance together.
“We were so happy to have found a place that suited us, by chance, in this remote place, away from other parties,” says the long-time Arles resident. “It was a magical, improbable, very joyful, and pretty moment.”
“It’s a place dedicated to the taste and the image,” says its founder, Jonathan Pierredon. Pierredon utilizes the “e” in L’Aire to imply its relation to an aerie or nest. L’Aire d’Arles is “a home for all the eagles and falcons,” he says. L’Aire d’Arles rises from the hill just above the Arles amphitheater and the Roman theater.
It’s a place to party, gather, share and discover as on any day of the week, especially during the opening week of the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, there is something different happening on each of the three levels of this restaurant/bar.
There are many venues in Arles to grab a bite or a drink, but none compare to the versatility and diversity that L’Aire provides. Throughout the year, L’Aire d’Arles rotates both its menu and exhibitions. It presents installations of photography and videography from all over the world, music from Brazilian flamenco to Memphis underground vinyl, and food brought to Arles by chefs from Madagascar and Tel Aviv.
As you find the bathroom on the second floor you may come upon an entirely different performance and forget to return to the floor where you started. The sight of the bartenders mixing cocktails welcomes you inside and the aroma of the kitchen floats you upstairs. You can draw on the chalkboard along the stairs, or appreciate the drawings of other patrons.
The second floor is a velveteen lounge space where you can sit and talk as you dissect the everchanging art installations on both the walls and podiums.
And on the third floor, the sound of music and the breeze of fresh air call you to the dance floor and terrace where you can sit back and watch projections on the ancient walls of the city, dance the night away to music, or refresh yourself at the mini-bar.
L’Aire d’Arles welcomes artists and guests of all sorts and styles as all events are free and open to everyone. Pierredon has no criteria for who can share their work. He welcomes all types and techniques of music, art, photography and creation and works them into the venue’s busy schedule.
Arles is not known for its party scene and can be thought of as a small and sleepy town. It can be difficult for amateur artists to have a place to share their works, but L’Aire gives them a platform. L’Aire also invites the students of MoPA, Arles’ prestigious school of animation, to share projections of their films, and it hosts an annual auction for the student work of the National School Supérieure de la Photographie, with an exhibition floor and gavel bidding.
None of this would be possible without the tireless effort and passion of Pierredon and his staff. “Life is full of time, [but] time goes fast,” said Pierredon, sharing his mentality as a business owner, exhibition facilitator and active father.
Pierredon has worked many jobs, including videography for an advertising agency. The time he spent away from his son did not seem justified by pushing a company’s agenda. He wanted that time to have value, reason and passion. In his current work, Pierredon can share his excitement with his son in hopes of instilling verve for community and creation.
He focuses his energy on things that inspire him and that he can look back on and say that he is proud of. “If anything can inspire me, I’m running and jumping.” He loves what he does, the community he can welcome, and values the opportunities the city of Arles has offered him.
The feelings of appreciation are reciprocated by the Arlesian people as well. Pascal Ansell, a musician and language teacher at Arles à lacarte, says, “Jonathan has a very rare and special energy that is exceptional in Arles. He does things for the hell of it; he promotes so many events and wants to support people in what they are already doing. That is so, so precious in the Camargue as there is very, very little of that energy to go around.”