True to its commitment to deliver challenging and thought-provoking exhibitions, Parasol unit has started 2016 with one of its most ambitious shows to date, For They That Sow the Wind by French-Swiss artist Julian Charrière.
Presenting a selection of works that ranges from photographs and videos to sculptural installations and frozen plants, the exhibition reflects on the inevitability of becoming and transformation, whether this is due to the passage of time, the recklessness of human actions, or the interrelationship between mankind and the natural surroundings.
In the downstairs gallery, we are confronted by Future Fossil Spaces, a large installation that comprises four hexagonal columns made out of salt bricks from the so-called “Lithium Triangle”, a region spanning between Chile, Bolivia and Argentina that has long been plundered by Western companies (lithium is in fact a key component in batteries powering a range of technologies, from mobile phones to laptops). Reminiscent of the cold war period, the film Somewhere and the photographic series Polygon document the devastation of Semipalatinsk, which was the primary testing venue for the Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons for almost forty years. Inspired by the Utopianism of the 70s, Monument – Fragment of an Approaching Past echoes the end of utopian communes that emerged in the USA to oppose prevailing consumerism and militarism. Held in a glass case and recalling a stepped pyramid, Somehow They Never Stop Doing What They Always Did is a small sculptural installation made with plaster bricks covered in fructose, lactose and water that Charrière personally collected from different international rivers to create an eco-system that symbolises the physicality of the passing of time through decay (the interaction between bacteria and nutrients set off a mould-growing process progressively and inexorably changing the surface of the sculpture).
In the upper gallery we find The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories, a series of large photographs where the artist is seen trying to melt an iceberg with a blowtorch; We Are All Astronauts, an installation made of various globes floating over a large table, each of which has been sanded to erase continents and any geopolitical division between countries whatsoever; and Tropisme, comprising four shock-frozen office plants kept refrigerated at -20° C to reflect on our notion of temporality and the not always harmonious relationship between humans and nature.
For They That Sow the Wind is your first solo exhibition in the UK; can you say a few words about it? And how has it been working with Parasol unit Founder/Director, Ziba Ardalan?
Yes, indeed, it is not only my first solo but my first exhibition ever in the UK, so I´m pretty excited about being able to show my work to a new and, for me, unexplored public. Because of this, the show unfolds on both floors of the gallery, working as a kind of introduction to my work to the UK audience. The ground floor has a distinctive material quality to it. It contains pieces like “Future Fossil Spaces” which deals with a sense of landscape, territory and transgression. As we continue our way towards the second floor a new sort of materiality arises, one closely linked to a more abstract approach to similar topics which manifest through an ethereal and crystalline atmosphere.
Working with Ziba has been truly demanding and always a pleasure. We have had many conversations regarding my work, my approach and the way in which the exhibition should be carried out, and although we do not always agree on everything, we always arrive at common ground. In the end, it is because of this that every detail was always thoroughly discussed, contributing to a great collaboration and exhibition.
I read you have an eclectic range of interests spanning geology, physics and archaeology. May I ask what your background is?
I think this is a difficult question. Most probably because there is no real answer to it. I don’t have any particular background but have always been an extremely curious individual since I was a kid. Everything from collecting rocks, plant exhibits, bugs, bird watching around lake Geneva and even playing survival games with my friends to see who could last longer without food in the middle of the forest. There is a close link between place and knowledge and I think this is the reason why I always feel the need to experiment and sense landscape not only as an abstraction but physically. It is through this interaction and relationship that these topics start to emerge. Later in life, I had the opportunity to participate in the experimental educational project, Institut für Raumexperimente (Institute of Spatial Experiments), a collaborative work between the Einstein Foundation and Olafur Eliasson. It introduced me to new methodologies and individuals, all interested in similar topics, but dealing with them from very distinctive perspectives. This is when this child-like curiosity began to take the form of art and I found in this medium a new and very personal form of expression, one where all my interests could collide and result in transformation.
And how does this scientific approach to art, if you like, inform your work and practice?
I think artistic and scientific practices are very similar and require similar processes to arrive at an end result. In the end, both look to answer questions through the manipulation of established realities and like the laboratory and field excursions, the studio and my own expeditions constitute the primary source for my own production of knowledge. It is our common love and excitement for the unknown that pushes our practices forward. Nevertheless, nowadays there seems to be a general tendency in science to have a more specialist and precise approach, making it difficult to understand where one endeavour begins and another one ends. In this specialization of knowledge there is often a loss of general coverage, sometimes pushing this knowledge from general audiences. I believe that artists are able to break free from these constraints and become bridges between large clusters of ideas and fields, acting as links to a much larger knowledge framework.
Much of your work focuses on the relationship between humanity and their natural surroundings. Where does your interest in environmental issues stem from?
For me, it is of up-most importance to experience my surroundings and by this I mean a physical and psychological exploration of space. The introduction of technology as a common denominator of social life has largely affected the way in which we perceive and the way in which these explorations can now be carried out. I think it is important not to lose the materiality implied in the landscape that surrounds us and I believe that it is necessary to know what these things also physically consist of, how they were created, transported and transformed into the cultural property that they’ve become within society today. A lot of the things that fascinated me as a child seem to be a sort of inheritance from the romantic era and this way of thinking. A sentimental rationalization of science perhaps, which reflects on my work and the approach I take within the artistic process.
Your artistic endeavour has taken you to some of the remotest regions of the planet; which have been your most memorable expeditions?
The one that affected me the most was actually a failed expedition. We set out in search of the “new ocean”, a remote fault in the middle of the Danakil triangle in a remote region of Ethiopia. The road was very difficult and due to the political unrests in the land, we were forced to travel with Federal Police and soldiers. Their sole presence created a strange mood. We never reached the place but instead we hiked to the Lava Lake of Erta Ale in 45°C heat. On the way back from this crater we encountered some rebel forces. At that point the expedition had made a completely different turn and our priorities changed. Standing there in the night in front of someone with a machine gun, ready to use it, in the middle of nowhere, really puts a couple of things into perspective. The soldiers eventually let us get back to our families and nothing happened but I still hold the memory as one of the most vivid.
Do you have any travel plans currently in the pipeline?
Yes! I’ll be heading up to Mexico for a residency right after the opening at Parasol unit. I have already had the chance to visit the city and a couple of other interesting places but Mexico is so big and its natural environment so diverse that it is difficult to say that you truly know it by just visiting it once. This time I hope to be able to go to Baja California and El mar de Cortéz, where the only living coral reef on that side of the Pacific ocean can be located. This small strait is considered to be one of the most diverse seas in the planet and one of the longest peninsulas in the world. Ever since I had the chance of embarking on one of these research trips on the Pacific ocean led by Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Foundation, I became fascinated with diving. And Baja seems like the perfect place for some underwater explorations. Not only this, but maybe, just maybe, I will be able to fulfil one of my life-long dreams of diving with whales.
As a last question, what do you have lined up for 2016?
After Parasol unit and Mexico, my plan is to go to the United States for a while to prepare for the Armory show in New York and the collaborative exhibition that I will be a part of, along with two good friends and colleagues of mine, Julius von Bismarck and Felix Kiessling at the Steve Turner Gallery space in Los Angeles. The other next big project is an exhibition at Krefeld Kunstmuseum after which I will prepare a solo show in my Berlin gallery Dittrich & Schlechtriem for the Gallery Weekend. Following that is another solo show in Düsseldorf by Sies & Höke, also during Gallery Weekend in September. A couple of exhibitions will also take place in between, for instance an exhibition at Despacio in Costa Rica and Kunstmuseum Solorthurn.
For They That Sow the Wind will be running until 23rd March at Parasol unit, 14 Wharf Road London N1 7RW.
Words by Jacopo Nuvolari @jacopo982