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Exhibition “We, the Rivers”: interview with Cédric Lesec, director of external relations and diffusion of the Musée des Confluences

The exhibition “We the Rivers” opened at the Musée des Confluences, in Lyon on 21 October. Conceived in collaboration with IFGR, it invites visitors to follow the course of an imaginary river. We interviewed Cédric Lesec, the museum’s director of external relations and diffusion, to understand the universal and immersive approach offered to the public.


How did the idea of the exhibition “We, the Rivers” emerge?

The idea of the exhibition “We, the Rivers” seemed obvious to us for many reasons, whether due to the museum’s geographical position, its architecture, the public for whom our exhibitions are intended or the subjects we deal with. As suggested by its name, the Musée des Confluences is situated at the confluence of the rivers Rhone and Saone, in Lyon. Its metal and glass structure was designed by its architects like a cloud that floats over the water. The subject of water stood out in particular because the Museum focuses on numerous subjects in an interdisciplinary way: anthropology, history, philosophy, the natural sciences, etc.


How was the partnership between the Musée des Confluences and the IFGR organised to prepare this exhibition?

We exchange regularly with the IFGR. Don’t forget that IFGR was launched at the Museum in 2015. The association was founded at the initiative of Erik Orsenna and the Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR), a member of our endowment fund. Thus, we have close ties. Erik Orsenna, a great admirer of rivers, contributed to collecting information intended for the exhibition, alongside the experts who composed the scientific committee. It’s the polyphony of their approaches that allowed the project manager to write the narrative of the exhibition.

“We try to evoke the rivers of the world by presenting an imaginary river that,
from its source to its mouth, is born, lives and then vanishes.”

What was your aim in organising this exhibition and how does it belong to the museum’s programming strategy?

We wanted to speak about all rivers and not just the Rhone, which has already been the subject of exhibitions. We wanted to make them understandable and accessible to the general public. Rivers are not simply bodies of water: they have fashioned the history of cities all over the world, they evoke uses and trades, the people that live around them, human beings, as well as the flora and fauna. That’s how the scenography was organised around an imaginary river to allow understanding the nature of rivers in general. This exhibition fits perfectly in the museum’s interdisciplinary approach which, from the outset, has been based on the diversity of the collections we conserve.

“The scenography makes the river visual, enveloping,
understandable from within and above all, like a living organism.”

The exhibition alternates between everyday objects and works of art, documentary films projected in small booths and on large video screens, educational texts  and captivating visuals.

What were you aiming at with this varied and very aesthetic scenography? How did you determine the themes?

Speaking about the river from its source to its mouth, from its youth to its destiny in the ocean, was logical: the themes imposed themselves on us. We opted for a fluid scenography, without an angle, transparent. At the centre of the exhibition, with a large map of all the world’s watersheds*, one can see the capillary actions between tributaries, in the image of vascular and pulmonary systems. Seeing this map is like seeing the Earth breathe. We also present very beautiful collections that give body to the message: paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries, crest masks from Mali, basket ware, etc.


A month after opening, do you have the first figures on the number of visitors, and feedback from the visits?

It’s too early to obtain figures but we’ve observed that the public is very interested in rivers. We have a public of regular visitors, notably families, who appreciate the variety of subjects and the way we treat them. By visiting the exhibition ”We, the rivers”, they rediscover the spirit of the Musée des Confluences: they learn as much about inland navigation as about fishing, about the spirit of rivers as about geopolitical issues and the ecological challenges linked to them.

“We wager that the astonishment felt by the public
will make them more aware of the challenges.”


This summer, Europeans became more aware of the problem linked to water shortages. Do you think that the exhibition will help the public to be more aware of the role played by rivers in the global ecosystem?

The uses to which water is put represent a shared challenge. We can, I believe, all of us, be actors in ecological transition. The exhibition contributes to elucidating geopolitical and ecological situations. We want to bring these issues to the fore in an informed way and by acting as a place of reference. This is what drove our partnership with the IFGR, which has worked on these questions for a long time and wants to associate the general public more closely with them. Thus, the museum hosted the closing ceremony of the international action it launched, Living with Rivers, which was part of the programme around the exhibition.

Can we hope that the exhibition “We, the rivers” will travel to other countries around the world?

We really hope so.


Exhibition “We, the rivers”
Musée des Confluences

86 quai Perrache – 69002 Lyon, France
From 21 October 2022 to 27 August 2023, from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Closed on Mondays

For further information

* The map of the rivers of the world was produced by Robert Szucs, Grasshopper Geography.

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