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Le Capitole

In 1972, the Institute of the Environment in Paris presented a Space-Media exhibition produced in the newspaper Le Monde and invited Fred Forest in a seminar for art school teachers to carry out an educational action on local TV including he is one of the promoters.
This action, which will take the form of an installation-animation, highlights and prefigures with notions that have become major today, what will be the permanent interest of Fred Forest, from the 70s: those of networking and remote action, in original and unique communication configurations.

Communication  Criticism and Ethics 

Paris (FR)

Theme: Echanges

Typology: Dispositif

Medium and media: Vidéo

#Participation  #Pédagogie 

Cette vidéo diffusée avec l’aimable autorisation du service du cinéma de la SNCF et de Lucien Censier.

1972 Le Capitole

An attempt by Fred Forest to create local participatory television.

In 1972, a multidisciplinary research institute existed in Paris on rue d'Ulm, called the Institute of the Environment, around which several leaders revolved, including Alexandre Bonnier, inspector of artistic creation, Manfreid Enseinbeis, future creator of the School of New Media in Paris. Kôln, Jacques-Emile Bertrand sociologist and professor. In 1972, the Institute presented an exhibition of Space-Media, a participation space created in the newspaper Le Monde and invited Fred Forest in a seminar for art school teachers to carry out an educational action on local TV of which he was one of the promoters.

The system created by Fred Forest has 25 people who are distributed in groups of 5 people in work cells equipped with a landline telephone connected to the network and a TV monitor which connect them in a closed circuit to a control room occupied by Fred Forest.

Each cell has a series of daily newspapers for the day and a sheet providing them with instructions. The object for each group will be to invent a fictional story for each of them based on three names (two men and a woman) whose respective first names and telephone numbers are communicated to them...

They will discover during the telephone call to these people required to respond, that the common point between the three is that all three (who do not know each other in principle!) take the same train which goes to Toulouse . A train whose name is: LE CAPITOLE and which the SNCF launched at the time with a lot of advertising...

The game for the participants was also to remain locked in their cell until the end of the experience, that is to say until the moment when the group had collectively produced its story and was ready to transmit it to the collective of the seminar gathered.

Of course, according to Forest's predictions, the story that connects these two men and this woman must take place in the Capitol...

From his management, Forest will communicate to them throughout the five hours that this animation will last, either individually or collectively, essential information which conditions the content of the fiction that each group is required to invent from these communicated elements. Including a film on the Capitol that runs on a loop.

Of course the three telephone correspondents are all accomplices that he set up in three different locations in Paris for the purposes of his action.

Finally, they will have to find in the pile of today's newspapers provided to them a credible element linked to the news of the day, to link to the story they are telling. As Forest brings into play, in his action, with his telephones a part of contingent reality, the use of the press of the day responds to the same intentions.

This experience, unfortunately without follow-up, to the regrets of the artist, demonstrated how works of art can and must leave their rigid and somewhat sclerotic forms to move towards new forms playing on a fiction which feeds itself to the sources of an ever-present contingent reality and to the imagination of the participants. However, Fred Forest had proposed to the Ministry of Culture that the model of this experience be generalized in the Schools of Fine Arts. Proposal remained unanswered...

During his interventions through the closed television with which he constantly communicates with the groups, Forest will at one point make a provocation. By addressing them and posing as one of the participants who had grabbed his microphone, he made them say:

“You don’t think Forest is exaggerating; he’s the only one who can intervene in the action. I invite you to come out of your cells and grab the microphone like I did myself.” No one will react to this proposal showing our too great passivity in front of those who have the power of the media in their hands. His critical intervention aims, with a clearly educational intention on his part, to break this excessive passivity.

Concept and purpose

This installation-animation highlights and prefigures what will be the permanent interest of Fred Forest, from the 70s, for notions which have become major today, such as those of networking and action at a distance, in original and unique communication configurations.


  • A central closed circuit TV control room + telephone equipment.
  • 5 autonomous cells equipped with reception monitors + extensions and telephone lines.
  • 15 external assistants distributed in 15 departments on French territory, responsible for answering questions from the 25 people occupying the participation cells at a rate of 5 participants per cell.


The artist who designed the system and led the game invites 25 volunteers to occupy the cells in groups of 5. He tells them that they will be “locked in” there for a maximum of one hour. Based on the images which are then broadcast on the monitors and the information they receive, each group's mission is to develop, in consultation, a "fiction". The context of the images and that of the activity of travelers in a Parisian station departing from the “Capitol” train which serves Toulouse. The artist intervenes in real time using a closed video circuit, giving participants successive information which leads them to collect other overlapping information from telephone correspondents waiting for their calls. The plot of each fiction is developed in real time, gradually, according to the choices of the participants and involves the characters who are supposed to be the very ones who are... the protagonists. The place of their meeting is that of a train compartment where their existences intersect. Secondly, each group will use the day's newspapers made available to them to connect the "heroes" of the fiction developed with current events. Finally, thirdly, the groups will be called to meet; and each of them will stage, in turn, their own "fiction" to communicate it to the other groups, after having chosen the means chosen as narration supports (oral, scriptural narration, theater, video, mixmedia, etc.).

During the animation Fred Forest will carry out numerous "provocations", intervening live on the network of cells in place, as if he were someone else (presence in sound and no longer in image). Interventions aimed, pedagogically, at making participants understand that they are the object of a programmed "manipulation" in which it is the artist, and once again alone, who, holding the means of information, is the true master of a supposedly free creative game. Calling them to “rebel” by transgressing the imposed rules; and to storm the central control room from where he operates to seize the means of communication, that is to say… creation.

1972 Le Capitole, Institut de l’environnement

As part of a seminar bringing together art school professors.

At the initiative of Fred Forest, three imaginary people (two men and a woman) meet on a train which takes them to Toulouse and form a relationship between them. A fiction in 6 hours contracted in 6 minutes here in the Capitol which connects Paris to Toulouse the fastest train at the time... Each group is responsible for collectively imagining the relationship of the three people who take it, and in the end for each group to recreate the experience lived in this collective creation, before transmitting the story to the other groups gathered for the closing of the seminar.

  • La télévision en partage dossier N° 3, IDERIV-Institut d’Étude et de Recherche en Information Visuelle, sous la direction de Jacques Monnier-Raball, École des Beaux-Arts de Lausanne, 1973


Fred Forest has a special place in contemporary art. Both by his personality and by his pioneering practices which mark his work. He is mainly known today for having used one by one most of the communication media that have appeared over the last fifty years. He is co-founder of three artistic movements: those of sociological art, the aesthetics of communication and ethics in art.

He represented France at the 12th São Paulo Biennale (Communication Prize) in 1973, at the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976 and at Documenta 6 in Kassel in 1977.