Julien Creuzet lived in Martinique, at the crossroads of African, European and Indian civilizations.
His Caribbean roots result in a recurrent search for identity through his works. Far from anthropocentric in his approach, he integrates aspects of the animal and plant natural environment. He claims syncretism, interwoven concepts borrowed from animist cults, the Christian religion, the French identity, etc. Playing with clichés and features of the Creole story, he draws a rich and artistic approach originating from his roots.
Julien Creuzet, Standard and poors, la coloquette, la prostituée (sculpture)
Julien Creuzet, Standard and poors, prélude d’ensamble
For his Lindre-Basse residency proposal, Julien Creuzet put forward a mischievous system of perspective-reversal between Europe and what the colonial explorers of past centuries wrongly called the “New World”. The Lorraine Regional Natural Park and the area surrounding Lindre-Basse were to be made into a New World to explore, a world that is “unfamiliar and exotic” for the artist, who was born in Martinique and came to study at the fine arts schools in Caen and Lyon, as well as at Le Fresnoy – Studio National des Arts Contemporains in Tourcoing. Now living in Paris, he easily recognizes all the distance that can separate him from this rural area in the heart of Lorraine, made up of wetlands and multiple forests, bordering on a large lake where local flora and fauna are preserved and studied, and which is also home to a colony of white storks.
Like every proposal written in the abstract, this one was enriched over time in the course of meetings, on-site discoveries, and the convulsions of the world. The first video he made is entitled L’île aux oiseaux (les migrants de septembre) in which the artist can be vaguely seen, dimly illuminated by his screen. In the background we hear music and song that he composed. It is about storks nesting in the village of Lindre-Basse and their migratory flight, like a searing echo of current events.
les temps ont changé
les temps du danger
j’ai fait peur au migrant
du mois de septembre
oiseaux massés, Calais
comme ils pouvaient
ils se sont envolé
The white stork becomes a totem figure, a recurring theme in the mythology created out of this Lorraine village with a population of only around 300. In one of the videos produced for the occasion, entitled Ciconia – Anima, a ceremony is activated by dancer Ana Pi, who comes and embodies this slender animal when musician Thibaut Gueriaux reinterprets the bird’s percussive song, with its repeated beak clicks. This rhythm reminds Julien Creuzet of “that ritual music and traditional dance of the Brazilian Candomblé”, a syncretic religion that combines Catholicism, indigenous rites and African beliefs, a legacy of African population displacements in the context of slavery treaties from the 16th to the 19th century.
As is often the case in Julien Creuzet’s work, bodies are affected by surrounding nature (the forest, a lake, birdsong) just as much as by an array of machines and digital technology (a surfeit of special effects, ubiquitous screens, references to social network culture…). In this web culture saturated with communication, Julien Creuzet endeavours to opacify the pseudo-transparency produced by the never-ending presentation of the self. Night is often thick, barely pierced by the pale light of the screens haunting his videos. Scoffing at the codes and customs of immaterial sociability, in his work, status and profile turn into “profile statue”.
Adhering to a resolutely inclusive principle, Julien Creuzet summons multiple actors, participants and co-authors from other arts and disciplines, involving a range of voices and ways of doing things. If the terms “archipelic” and “Creolisation” are repeated like mantras in his vocabulary or in articles written about him, this is because it is a way of doing and being in the world, one that is fragmentary and infused with multiple identities.
Je t’écris de ta terre natale, dans le 93, tu l’as vite quittée pour grandir dans les archipels et tu es revenu. Tu as passé plusieurs fois des océans, des bras de mer, des routes, des chemins, des rails, des branches, des tunnels. De ces traversées, tu gardes le rythme des mouvements intérieurs, une façon de relier les choses entre elles, de passer entre ici et là-bas, entre toi et l’île ou la ville que tu habites, entre ta main et les objets que tu saisis, entre toi et ceux à qui tu adresses une oeuvre avec cérémonie. Ici aussi tu ramasses des coquillages, des bois flottés, tu tailles des shorts, tu graves des poèmes dans le bois, tu filmes et montes sur ton téléphone, tu te couples avec des madones, tu dissous les images de l’univers auquel tu t’adresses de ta fenêtre, du train, du chemin.
Ta marraine proche et lointaine.
Attends je dois courir là, à toute…
Michela Alessandrini: What’s your definition of “exotic”?
Julien Creuzet: Exoticism, or exotic, is whatever is something else, extraneous to the id: for example, while posing this question to me, you are somebody else, you remain a stranger, you are external, therefore you are exotic.
MA: And in your work?
JC: In my work it means always paying attention to what is happening, to new forms. Exoticism, for example, is something that is continuously reinvented, that cannot be univocally defined: it’s something that changes continuously. I love women wearing typical African dresses (boubou) and coats as black as winter, I see them on the RER platforms (ed: regional rapid transit system): they have faces are streaked. Some remains, some Ife bronzes highlighted by pirate, they have red have Chanel lips. To me this is a beautiful declination of contemporary exoticism.
MA: How do Édouard Glissant’s concept of mondialité and the idea of archipelago influence your work’s structure and nature?
JC: I was born in France, in Le Blanc Mesnil, in the Paris banlieue, and I grew up in Martinique. Martinique is an island where colonial history has a significant role because it caused many cultures to meet on the same territory. This is particularly true for the language, which is Creole, a language that was born from colonization and connects French, English, Portuguese, Spanish, Caribbean, Arawak and all the African dialects of the men that came on slave ships and created a new history.
This concept is close to my heart because, according to Glissant, mondialité as a way of thinking applies not only to Martinique or the Caribbean but to the whole world (tout-monde). A world that is always connected: for example through migratory flows, river or air transport, or by the ease of communication allowed by mass media, by the Internet.
This is something I pay attention to, because there’s a story in everything. For example, this coffee I’m drinking here at your place has a story that brought it to Lyon, to this neighbourhood close to Vénissieux, and I find it interesting. Often, such attention to stories is what enables me to produce forms.
MA: How do you stage these forms at an exhibition? Has the concept of archipelago got anything to do with it?
JC: I believe that an exhibition represents the very concept of archipelago.
It’s often a set of forms connected one another within a space to be defined. Starting from this hypothesis, I think of an an exhibition as a set in itself, because it is a whole. Let’s consider for example the exhibition’s title. A title should encapsulate all the works of the artist or artists, or the set of forms selected for an exhibition. In my artistic practice I like to consider the whole, the totality; I don’t consider forms separately – a sculpture, then a drawing , then a video… I always try to have a global idea of what it could be. The concept of archipelago is interesting because there’s relief, movement, because it’s not not all linear or vertical. An archipelago is a set that includes verticality and linearity. To Glissant, it’s especially about horizontality. What I call verticality is what forms offer in space and in the way we lead them to interact. I am thinking of opaque forms that endure the viewer’s look and that need another form or a text for such endurance. Forms often need support by a text. I love the idea of producing forms that are capable of clarifying opaquer ones. When I talk about this, I often think of the island of Martinique and of the Diamond Rock, a rock off the coast. When you reach this rock on a boat you feel small close to it, but if to turn to look at Martinique, it seems immense! When creating an exhibition, thinking of an archipelago allows an overview.
MA: You were mentioning the importance of the title of an exhibition and of the works. To what extent are words and poetry important for you?
JC: They’re tools and also forms. Poetic writing allows one to speak more freely, at least when compared to academic writing. You can associate images, sensations, colours and forms with poetic writing. Poetic writing can be a form, just like a sculpture, an installation or a painting. To me it’s a way to achieve an overview and perpetuate the storyteller’s culture and tradition. Sometimes I feel I’m a storyteller myself! I think of stories to think of forms. I could read something to you…
Julien Creuzet, Onde du nouveau monde (…), 2014