L'Atelier de l'Europe

Discovering the Council of Europe’s art collection

This podcast gives you a chance to discover the Council of Europe through its art collection. You will learn how the Council of Europe, which was founded just after the Second World War, has traversed the ages and fashioned the Europe of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

From the Palais de l’Europe, the Council of Europe’s headquarters designed by the architect, Henry Bernard, past the bust of Winston Churchill, a section of the Berlin Wall and some more contemporary works, l’Atelier de l’Europe leads you through the secrets behind the most emblematic items in a collection of some 150 works made up of paintings, tapestries and sculptures.

In a unique dialogue, the podcast combines the accounts of artists and historians with testimonies of diplomats and political leaders and all those who have shaped the history of the Council of Europe..

12 episodes

Back The Messengers – Avenue of thoughts (in French)

In his dreamlike world, Jean-Michel Folon brings mysterious figures to life and transforms everyday objects. These emblematic sculptures of his seem to be watching the visitors go by. This committed European was wont to say that “Sculpture is a dialogue.”

Avenue of thoughts by Jean-Michel Folon

Group of 12 bronze figures

Height: 80 cm

Donated by the Principality of Monaco (where the Belgian artist lived) in 2006


With: Stéphanie Angelroth, director of the Folon Foundation

Sound archives: Jean-Michel Folon

Authors: Charlotte Roux, Antoine Auger, Anne Kropotkine

To find out more:

Jean-Michel Folon, Renzo Piano, Stéphanie Angelroth, Marilena Pasquali, Allison Michel, Marie Resseler, Isabelle Douillet-de Pange, Folon, la sculpture, Fonds Mercator, 2020

Guy Gilsoul, Folon, Sculptures, Gand, Snoeck, 2008

Folon Foundation website


Opening titles: L’Atelier de l'Europe, discovering the Council of Europe’s art collection.

Avenue of thoughts by Jean-Michel Folon. Group of 12 bronze figures. Donated by the Principality of Monaco in 2006. With Stéphanie Angelroth and from the sound archives, the voice of Jean-Michel Folon.

Sound archives - Jean-Michel Folon: Who looks up at the sky when they’re in the street? I really want to look up at it – at the stars at night and at the transparency in daytime – and into that infinite distance, that immense space. Perhaps sculpture is simply a dialogue [between artists] and the space around them. It’s just a way of loving life.

Stéphanie Angelroth: Here we have Jean-Michel Folon’s famous Thoughts, a series of sculptures he created in the 1990s, which are emblematic of his world. He made them in a range of different sizes and these ones are somewhere in the middle. The 12 sculptures are about 70 to 80 cm high and arranged in a circle. Obviously, these 12 Thoughts evoke the stars in the Council of Europe flag. And the sculptures are figures with different heads.

Sound archives - Jean-Michel Folon: Anything can become a head.

Stéphanie Angelroth: There are heads made of a ball of wool, a sun, a question mark, a fork, a spoon ... And when this Avenue of Thoughts is put together, there is a real sense of mystery. You get the impression that they’re very much present and that they’re watching you. And at the same time, there’s this dialogue with the visitor, with the viewer.

Sound archives - Jean-Michel Folon: Marcel Duchamp said works are made by viewers. But I believe that in the end it’s the viewers, the spectators who make the show, I mean, make art itself. I think they transpose their thoughts on to someone who’s completely anonymous, totally ordinary, who’s perhaps only there to relay people’s thoughts.

Stéphanie Angelroth: Folon began making sculptures in the late 1980s. He was very shy about this turn in his career because as he said himself, he wasn’t a trained sculptor.

Sound archives - Jean-Michel Folon: Everything around me was metamorphosing into an object, and I didn't even know what I was inventing.

Stéphanie Angelroth: He transformed objects, giving them a new life, a new function. He turned them into totems, birds, little figures and heads. Bit by bit, he would mould them in bronze, each with a different patina, as he worked with this aspect in his art. César used to say that he played with the patina like an Impressionist.

Sound archives - Jean-Michel Folon: They’re totems, yes, they’re like idols. They are inspired by their kindred spirits, my true loves, if you will, from the Cyclades and the Etruscans to totem poles in North America, and in Mexico too. That’s what really influenced my work. Contemporary people, like Magritte – they weren’t my influences. I was inspired by eternal things.

Stéphanie Angelroth: The first sculpture in the series was made in 1996 and the last in 2003. The 12 Thoughts you can see here are just a selection of the more than one hundred that were produced by the artist. The first has a question mark for a head. Folon’s world is always enigmatic. Raising questions but not providing answers. I think that’s pretty true of his work in general. The spoon and the fork come next. As you can see, he quite often used tools to make rather comical little heads. There’s one made from a ladle and ones made from masks. This one, I think is a drain cover, but it looks like a sun, a celestial figure. It almost looks like something from the Aztecs. The artist enjoyed playfully transforming everyday objects. By putting them under a magnifying glass, they become something else. Buildings, cities and the importance of urban landscapes were also part of Folon’s work from a very early stage. People are often shown wandering around dehumanised cities in a quest for identity. One of the figures has a bird’s head. Birds feature heavily in the artist’s work and symbolise freedom, escape and travel. This makes perfect sense because throughout his career, Folon defended human rights, his own freedom and universal freedom. In 1988, Amnesty International asked him to illustrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the cover, he drew a hand from which a flock of multi-coloured birds takes flight, representing the diversity of the world. A committed European, Jean-Michel Folon was regularly called upon for his ability to pack a punch through his work. He fought for all the great causes: defending human rights and opposing racism, war, injustice, extremism, totalitarianism and so on.

Sound archives - Jean-Michel Folon: The decision to do this really wasn’t down to me. I mean, Monsieur Badinter, before he managed to abolish the death penalty in France, had asked me for a poster condemning capital punishment, so I made one. Then one day he phoned me up and said, “Folon, your poster has become obsolete. This afternoon, I abolished the death penalty in the Assembly”. That was one of those life-changing moments.

Stéphanie Angelroth: And despite all the battles he fought and the commitments he made, Folon always wanted to highlight the world’s beauty, the poetry of it all.

Sound archives - Jean-Michel Folon: It’s two sides of the same coin. Some days you want to love, some days you want to shout and scream. Then there are days when you want to love again, more often than not actually. In fact, we want to love every day.

Closing credits: That was the Avenue of thoughts by Jean-Michel Folon, a Council of Europe podcast, created by Charlotte Roux, Antoine Auger and Anne Kropotkine. With the director of the Folon Foundation, Stéphanie Angelroth, and from the sound archives, the voice of Jean-Michel Folon. Other episodes are available on the Council of Europe website.

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6 min 18 28 may 2024
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