Ca­mille Hen­rot l’uto­pie à l’ombre de l’échec

Ca­mille Hen­rot The Dy­na­mics of Ex­haus­tion. In­ter­view par Anaël Pi­geat

Art Press - - LA UNE -

Trai­ned at the École des Arts Dé­co­ra­tifs, over the last ten years Ca­mille Hen­rot has de­ve­lo­ped a dense, tee­ming bo­dy of work, in­clu­ding Grosse Fa­tigue, which won her the Sil­ver Lion at last year’s Ve­nice Bien­nale. Her tools go from ex­pe­ri­men­tal ci­ne­ma to an­thro­po­lo­gy and she uses a mix of eru­di­tion and faux nai­ve­ty to ex­plore no­tions such as be­lief, maps, ini­tia­tion, hy­brids and al­te­ri­ty. Her ini­tial in­ter­est in mo­ving images has gra­dual­ly shif­ted to­wards ob­jects and the ex­hi­bi­tion space, and her la­test show at London’s Chi­sen­hale Gal­le­ry (thru April 13) is in­deed a spa­tial ex­ten­sion of Grosse fa­tigue. Adap­ted ver­sions will show la­ter this year at the Kuns­thal Char­lot­ten­borg in Co­pen­ha­gen (June 20–Au­gust 17), the Westfä­li­scher Kunst­ve­rein in Müns­ter and Bé­ton­sa­lon in Pa­ris (Sep­tem­ber– De­cem­ber).


Your first works are short films whose form and spi­rit harks back to the ex­pe­ri­men­tal ci­ne­ma of the 1960s and 70s. How has this in­fluen­ced your work? Two of my films re­fer spe­ci­fi­cal­ly to Nor­man McLa­ren, Stan Bra­khage, Paul Sha­rits and Len Lye: Cou­rage mon amour (2005), in which hair is stuck to the film stock, and Cou­pé / dé­ca­lé (2010), in which the film stock is cut in two. But it’s not so much film­ma­kers as ex­pe­ri­men­tal ci­ne­ma as a genre that has in­fluen­ced me. My first ex­hi­bi­tion, Room Mo­vies (2005), was about the mar­gins, about what is re­jec­ted from the eve­ry­day and has to express it­self in sub-genres such as hor­ror or porn mo­vies. The ins­tal­la­tion The Mi­ni­mum of Life (2006), com­pri­sing a film and bits of film stock, was al­so a hu­mo­rous re­fe­rence to Freud’s “ma­gic wri­ting pad,” with forms of amoe­ba and loud, un­plea­sant music. Like Art Brut or pri­mi­tive art, ex­pe­ri­men­tal ci­ne­ma is a deep-run­ning cur­rent in the his­to­ry of art.

You were in­ter­es­ted in the work of Ken­neth An­ger, and in a way, too, Grosse fa­tigue re­calls the ci­ne­ma of Mar­tial Raysse, who was him­self in­fluen­ced by An­ger’s col­lages. What was it you saw in these works? I took a lot from the rhythm of An­ger’s films, es­pe­cial­ly the edi­ting of The Dream of Po­li­phi­lo (2011), and I ap­pre­ciate the sen­sual ex­pe­rience they of­fer, as in Fi­re­works (1947). Then I dis­co­ve­red the films of Mar­tial Raysse, no­ta­bly Ho­mé­ro Pres­to (1967) and Mon pe­tit coeur (1995), which I par­ti­cu­lar­ly like. We are both fas­ci­na­ted by myth com­bi­ned with the critique of consu­mer so­cie­ty. And we ne­ver re­ject a film’s visual as­pects or se­duc­tion.

Your Film spa­tial, which shows the world­house of uto­pian ar­chi­tect Yo­na Fried­man seen by his dog Balkis, seems to have en­abled you to move from re­flec­tion on the mo­ving image to ques­tions about the ex­hi­bi­tion space.

Yes, and that’s why the film is cal­led Film spa­tial! That apart­ment eludes all at­tempts at concep­tua­li­za­tion be­cause the ca­me­ra makes er­ra­tic mo­ve­ments, but al­so be­cause it’s a men­tal space that ap­pears in this ac­cu­mu­la­tion of ob­jects— so­me­thing that pro­tects the in­ha­bi­tant of the place, but can al­so make vi­si­tors an­xious. It is not ve­ry far re­mo­ved from Kurt Sch­wit­ters’s Merz­bau. That made me want to ex­plore the ex­hi­bi­tion space as if it were a per­so­nal do­mes­tic space, and I made Le Nou­veau monde, the ex­hi­bi­tion about Yo­na’s apart­ment, a de­cons­truc­tion made up of signs and images.


In King Kong Ad­di­tion (2007) you su­per­po­sed three ver­sions of King Kong da­ting from 1933, 1976 and 2005. Did your work on al­te­ri­ty come from this idea of the re­make? In a way, but al­te­ri­ty al­so means al­te­ra­tion. It has of­ten been said that the sto­ry of King Kong was the sto­ry of sla­ve­ry. The film is al­so about man’s re­la­tion to threa­te­ning na­ture, but the dan­ger here does not come from na­ture but from tech­no­lo­gy, es­pe­cial­ly the bom­bers that we see for the first time on the screen in King Kong. The fact that the film, which shows a tur­ning point in the his­to­ry of hu­ma­ni­ty, was re­made at in­ter­vals of twen­ty-five years

with ve­ry few changes is fas­ci­na­ting. It is the first spe­ci­fi­cal­ly ci­ne­ma­tic myth, in­ven­ted by an­thro­po­lo­gy and not by li­te­ra­ture. King Kong raises the ques­tion of the re­la­tion bet­ween the fil­ming sub­ject and an exo­tic sub­ject, the way the one al­ters the other (King Kong is put in a cage on the boat) but is in turn chan­ged by that other (New York is des­troyed by King Kong). This is an­thro­po­lo­gy re­flec­ting on it­self and sta­ging its guilt.

Your trip to Egypt was the first time you made films ba­sed on your tra­vels. How did you start to com­bine the two? Cy­no­po­lis (2009) star­ted with fa­mi­ly ho­li­days. I was thin­king of Flau­bert’s Voyage en Égypte, and at the same time I was un­com­for­table be­cause of the acute so­cial ten­sion—this was two years be­fore the re­vo­lu­tion. So, I went back to Sa­q­qa­ra. I wan­ted to show the si­mul­ta­nei­ty of dif­ferent time frames: the lame dogs, the flying crisp wrap­pers, all the things that in­ter­fere with the ro­man­tic vi­sion of an eter­nal Egypt, so that, for example, a dog lying on a heap of stones can be­come a sphinx. It’s the fan­ta­sy of the eter­ni­ty of time coming back in a cy­cli­cal way.

Is your sculp­ture Te­vau (2010) the image of a dia­logue bet­ween East and West, so­me­thing which runs through all your work? Exact­ly. Made from two fire hoses and ins­pi­red by a Me­la­ne­sian ob­ject, the te­vau re­pre­sents mo­ney—”fea­ther mo­ney” in En­glish. It evokes the pos­si­bi­li­ty of reins­ta­ting an equitable re­la­tion bet­ween in­di­vi­duals af­ter pre­ju­dice of some kind. Its func­tion is to make up for a loss or in­jus­tice.

The dog (or wolf) as in­ter­me­dia­ry is ve­ry pro­minent in your work, as in Wolf Eyes (2008), Film Spa­tial, and Cy­no­po­lis. Does it al­so stand for the ini­tia­ted ar­tist? The dog af­fords access to the two worlds, es­pe­cial­ly in Cy­no­po­lis, near the py­ra­mids, which are tombs, but I don’t real­ly use the term “ini­tiate.” For the In­dians, the dog is too close to the world of men to be a to­tem. It is a concep­tual tool, an al­most me­to­ny­mic one, which en­ables us to think about ani­ma­li­ty be­cause for us it is not quite an ani­mal. As for the fi­gure of the ar­tist and crea­tion, be­fore Grosse Fa­tigue I hadn’t trea­ted the sub­ject di­rect­ly. But it is ve­ry much present in the film, and in the ex­hi­bi­tion I ’ m wor­king on f or t he Chi­sen­hale Gal­le­ry.


Your jour­ney to In­dia re­sul­ted in the film Songe de Po­li­phile (Dream of Po­li­phi­lo). In this mon­tage of scenes sho­wing pil­gri­mages, tran­qui­li­zer fac­to­ries, sculp­tures, pain­ting and car­toons, you j ux­ta­pose dif­ferent kinds of be­lief sys­tems and means of de­fense against fear. Here the snake, dis­cus­sed by War­burg as an image of death and fer­ti­li­ty, re­places the dog fi­gure. What role do you see it as ha­ving? The snake is ve­ry far from hu­man beings, and it’s dif­fi­cult to an­thro­po­mor­phize. I like the fact that it’s both a dangerous ani­mal, a si­gn like a let­ter of the al­pha­bet, and a sym­bol. In the film, the ser­pent is like a th­read run­ning through and lin­king dis­pa­rate images.

In Cou­pé / dé­ca­lé, which you shot in Va­nua­tu, and in which the film stock is cut in two, there is al­so a line run­ning through the image. It’s not ser­pen­tine and doesn’t con­nect images. On the contra­ry, it casts doubt on them and un­ders­cores the film’s per- va­sive am­bi­gui­ty: seeing young people lea­ping out of a bam­boo to­wer, we won­der if this is an au­then­tic ini­tia­tion or sim­ply a tou­rist at­trac­tion. The two films al­most form a dip­tych to­ge­ther: one is about be­lief, the other about doubt. That’s quite right. One is the an­ti­the­sis of the other. Cou­pé / dé­ca­lé is a re­turn to ex­pe­ri­men­tal ci­ne­ma and the conscious­ness of the ci­ne­ma­to­gra­phic image as a pro­cess. I was in­ter­es­ted by the re­ver­sal of the car­go cult, by the idea of an al­te­red ri­tual. The Me­la­ne­sians trans­for­med this cus­tom in­to a tou­rist at­trac­tion but the in­ven­ti­ve­ness of the people has tur­ned this “ri­tual for tou­rists” in­to a real per­for­ma­tive crea­tion which raises the ques­tion of the way two cul­tures coming to­ge­ther pro­ject on­to each other. In the film, the fee­ling of au­then­ti­ci­ty comes from the sen­sa­tion of dan­ger, from the dir­ti­ness of the film, which I cut. At the end we see a di­gi­tal ca­me­ra but we know ve­ry well when the film dates from. This work calls in­to ques­tion the genre of the eth­no­gra­phic do­cu­men­ta­ry, which fas­ci­nates me, and raises the big ques­tion of the image.


What did New York give you, this new world? Le Nou­veau monde was the title of my ex­hi­bi­tion about the apart­ment of Yo­na Fried­man and, in the end, se­ven years la­ter—se­ven is a ma­gic num­ber—I was there! I wan­ted to leave Pa­ris and I was at­trac­ted by New York be­cause it is a world-ci­ty.

The Iké­ba­nas, the se­ries of flo­wer ar­ran­ge­ments sym­bo­li­zing the books on your shelves, which you star­ted ma­king in New York, seems to cor­res­pond to a per­iod of me­di­ta­tion, al­most a kind of per­so­nal re­vo­lu­tion. Its title, Is it pos­sible to be a re­vo­lu­tio­na­ry and love flo­wers? comes, in fact, from a book by Mar­cel Lieb­man about Le­ni­nism. Mi­chel Leiris said that we have to “ap­ply the no­tion of per­ma­nent re­vo­lu­tion to our in­ner life.” I need change and, at the same time, it makes me suf­fer. For Yo­na Fried­man, col­lec­ting ob­jects from all around the world is a way of kee­ping him­self from mo­ving. His apart­ment is a time where all times come to­ge­ther. In New York I mis­sed the ob­jects and books I left in Pa­ris, so I thought of Zen as a conso­la­tion. That was the star­ting point for the Iké­ba­nas. In that se­ries the flo­wer is both conso­la­to­ry and re­vo­lu­tio­na­ry. It ex­presses a plea­sure. That is not the case with Je­wels of the per­so­nal col­lec­tion of Prin­cess Sa­li­mah Aga Khan, a her­ba­rium of flo­wers sto­len from the beds of an ups­cale neigh­bo­rhood in New York and flat­te­ned—like the ani­mals in Grosse Fa­tigue— and then dried in the ca­ta­logue of the prin­cess’s je-

wels, which were sold when she di­vor­ced. These wi­the­red flo­wers are images of the riches that must be blown, spent on use­less things, to re­fer to Georges Ba­taille’s no­tion of ex­pen­di­ture in La Part mau­dite.


To me there seems to be a con­nec­tion bet­ween there vi­deos which are an at­tempt at a visual en­cy­clo­pe­dia: Film Spa­tial, Psy­cho­pompe (2011), ins­pi­red by Ma­ry Shel­ley’s Fran­ken­stein, and Grosse Fa­tigue, the sto­ry of the crea­tion of the world. Yes, it’s true. In­deed, they will be shown to­ge­ther at Tate Mo­dern this spring. They are three ex­haus­tions: in Psy­cho­pompe, phy­si­cal ex­haus­tion: at Yo­na Fried­man’s place, the sa­tu­ra­tion of space; and in Grosse Fa­tigue, the ex­haus­tion of na­tu­ral re­sources, an en­cy­clo­pe­dia wi­thout glo­ry, a melancholy vi­sion of fai­lure.

When you see those pink fla­min­goes fol­ded in four and those flat­te­ned pen­guins, you un­ders­tand that the act of clas­si­fying and na­ming is al­rea­dy a form of des­truc­tion, ma­king things ap­pear and di­sap­pear. At the Smith­so­nian, which is the big­gest group of mu­seums in the world, the Smith­so­nian Mu­seum of Na­tu­ral His­to­ry in Wa­shing­ton is em­ble­ma­tic, es­pe­cial­ly its ve­ry rich and ve­ne­rable col­lec­tion of In­dian ob­jects. My spon­sor for ma­king Grosse Fa­tigue was the Na­tio­nal Mu­seum of the American In­dian, ano­ther mu­seum, de­di­ca­ted ex­clu­si­ve­ly to In­dians but crea­ted much la­ter, with a dif­ferent ideo­lo­gi­cal ba­sis. The ob­jects in the na­tu­ral his­to­ry mu­seum were col­lec­ted main­ly during wars against the In­dians, as were the re­cor­dings of songs and nar­ra­tives: while Ame­ri­ca was killing off its in­di­ge­nous peoples, emis­sa­ries were sent out to pre­serve their he­ri­tage. The awa­re­ness of this des­truc­tion mo­ti­va­ted this col­lec­ting, but it’s hard not to conclude that this conser­va­tion has­te­ned the di­sap­pea­rance of these cul­tures.

One of the Iké­ba­nas re­pre­sents À la Re­cherche du temps per­du. For me there’s so­me­thing ve­ry Prous­tian in Grosse fa­tigue. When I made the film I had just mo­ved to New York. My things were all in crates. My dog had died. The contrac­tion of my work space ins­pi­red the form of the film. This ten­sion bet­ween the do­mes­tic space of the com­pu­ter desk­top and out­side space. I star­ted a col­lec­tion of images which I clas­si­fied by theme: road­kill, ano­rexia, wri­ters wri­ting stan­ding up, ar­tists wor­king lying in their bed. In La Re­cherche, a text that I real­ly love, so­cie­ty is chan­ging around Proust, who wrote this en­or­mous work in a po­si­tion of wi­th­dra­wal, in his bed. Grosse Fa­tigue, too, has that as­pect: the hea­vi­ness of a wi­th­drawn, flat­te­ned time. Fur­ther, the com­pu­ter al­so has a ba­roque di­men­sion, in the sense that eve­ry­thing in it is fol­ded up, as in a book, and in old pieces of pa­py­rus.

There is of­ten sound in your films, but not so of­ten words, as in Grosse fa­tigue. In that film I wan­ted to show the ca­pa­ci­ty of non-ma­te­rial forms such as oral culture to sur­vive in our writ­ten and mu­seo­lo­gi­cal culture of in­ven­to­ry. La­ter, I thought of the spo­ken word, which is the ori­gin of rap. Then I wor­ked with a wri­ter to put these bits of my­tho­lo­gi­cal nar­ra­tives to­ge­ther. The per­for­mer is Ak­we­tey Or­ra­ca-Tet­teh. I chose him be­cause his voice can go from the vul­ne­ra­bi­li­ty of a child to the au­tho­ri­ty of prea­cher gi­ving a ser­mon in his pa­rish.

You took an in­ter­est in the Hou­ma, a tribe of In­dians in the sou­thern U.S. who speak a lan­guage mixed with eigh­teenth-cen­tu­ry French, whose land is being ero­ded by the Gulf of Mexi­co. You com­pa­red their his­to­ry to the town of Ys. That flui­di­ty, it see­med to me, is ra­ther close to your way of thin­king. This pro­ject with the Hou­ma at the New Or­leans Mu­seum of Art was ve­ry ins­truc­tive for me. Be­cause of their par­ti­cu­lar culture and his­to­ry, and par­ti­cu­lar­ly their friend­ship with the French, the Hou­ma make the tra­di­tio­nal ca­te­go­ries and sys­tems of in­ter­pre­ta­tion re­dun­dant. They are hol­ding on to their he­ri­tage but re­fuse to make a fe­tish of the past. The traces of their iden­ti­ty are not ne­ces­sa­ri­ly visual, or what one might ex­pect. Their culture stays alive in a more un­der­ground way.

Doesn’t this pro­ject of­fer a kind of map of your work, as in those pages of notes where you ar­ti­cu­late no­tions as if they were is­lets? It’s true, the ae­rial view of the Hou­ma ter­ri­to­ry looks a bit like the men­tal map of my work, with bits that are vi­sible and hid­den chan­nels. My films don’t fol­low a nar­ra­tive or gra­phic lo­gic. That’s how I work.


Your ex­hi­bi­tion at the Chi­sen­hale Gal­le­ry puts in­to prac­tice the idea that a mu­seum col­lec­tion re­pro­duces the func­tio­ning of the uni­verse. What you’re doing there is un­pa­cking Grosse fa­tigue, right?

Vi­sual­ly it will be ve­ry dif­ferent, but the ex­hi­bi­tion will in ef­fect ex­tend the un­der­lying ideas in Grosse fa­tigue. I wan­ted to exa­mine the role or or­der and di­sor­der in our lives. Sym­bo­lic struc­tures bring us to­ge­ther but the rea­li­ty is that there is no or­der. In Le Renard pâle by Mar­cel Griaule and Ger­maine Die­ter­len, which was a great ins­pi­ra­tion for me on this pro­ject, each new fi­gure is al­ways the sum of the two pre­ce­ding fi­gures—it’s a se­quence, a mo­del of me­ta­phy­si­cal ma­the­ma­tics. The pale fox is the one that in­tro­duces di­sor­der. For me, the name al­so evokes the si­ck­ly cu­rio­si­ty of the fox who rum­mages through dust­bins. This ex­hi­bi­tion will be a representation of the world through dis­pa­rate ob­jects and art­works, or­ga­ni­zed in a space orien­ted by the car­di­nal points, as­so­cia­ted with Leib­niz’s four great prin­ciples, an age of life, a si­gn, and one of the four ele­ments. I al­so thought of Wal­ter Ben­ja­min’s ana­ly­sis of “ca­ta­lo­guing psy­cho­sis” in “Books by the Men­tal­ly Ill.”

Ca­mille Hen­rot

Née en / born 1978 à Pa­ris Vit et tra­vaille à / lives in Pa­ris et / and New York Ex­po­si­tions per­son­nelles ré­centes (sé­lec­tion) 2012 Est-il pos­sible d’être ré­vo­lu­tion­naire et d’ai­mer les fleurs ?, ka­mel men­nour, Pa­ris ; Je­wels from the per­so­nal col­lec­tion of Prin­cess Sa­li­mah Aga Khan, Ro­sas­cape, Pa­ris 2013 How to live to­ge­ther ?, Slought Foun­da­tion, Phi­la­del­phie ; Ci­ty of Ys, NO­MA, New Or­leans Mu­seum of Art 2014 The Rest­less Earth, New Mu­seum, New York ; mu­sée du châ­teau des Ducs de Wür­tem­berg, Mont­bé­liard ; Le Renard pâle, Chi­sen­hale Gal­le­ry, Londres ; Bé­ton­sa­lon, Pa­ris ; Kuns­thal Char­lot­ten­borg, Co­pen­hague ; West­fa­len Kunst­ve­rein, Müns­ter.

Which brings us back to the to­tal art­work idea present in ex­pe­ri­men­tal ci­ne­ma.

Ab­so­lu­te­ly, but, once again, with the sha­dow of fai­lure and un­re­sol­ved pro­blems, which elude the sys­tem.

Trans­la­tion, C. Pen­war­den

« Ci­ties of Ys ». 2014. Vue de l’ex­po­si­tion au New Or­leans Mu­seum of Art, New Or­leans, 2013

« The Pale Fox ». Chi­sen­hale Gal­le­ry, Londres, 2014. Vi­déo, cou­leur, son. (Court. Jo­hann Kö­nig, Ber­lin). Vi­deo (co­lor, sound)

« À la re­cherche du temps per­du ». Mar­cel Proust (Sé­rie « Est-il pos­sible d’être ré­vo­lu­tion­naire et d'ai­mer les fleurs? »). 2012. Pa­vot, li­sian­thus, cat­tleya, lys, la­vande de mer, dal­hia, vase en cé­ra­mique 80 x 110 x 80 cm. (Ph. A. Ser­ra­no) From the se­ries“Is it pos­sible to be a re­vo­lu­tio­na­ry and love flo­wers.” Poppy, li­sian­thus, cat­tleya, li­ly, sea la­ven­der

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