The Crystal World is the first-solo exhibition in New York of French artist Cyprien Gaillard. It is currently displayed at MoMA PS1 and gathers a very interesting collection of films, photographs and artifacts, all of which deserve to spend an important amount of time on. I wanted however to focus on one specific film that occupies the largest room of the exhibit. Entitled Artefacts (2011), this short movie was shot on a phone then transferred to a 35mm film. The cinematographic projector and its mythical sound, placed in the middle of the room, already participate to the composition of a landscape of artifacts both inside and outside the screen. The film itself is a document filmed in occupied Iraq on the tracks of the ancient and the new Babylon. The difference of scale between the gigantic ziggurats and the American soldiers discovering the architectural treasures of the old Babylon is striking. Iraq is somehow anthropomorphizes through its heritage and the occupation soldiers cannot help but to be humbled by its grandeur.
In Artefacts, the ancient ziggurats also dialog with the monumental symbols of Saddam Hussein’s reign. Baghdad looks like the new Babylon and again, brings a scale that is unknown to the spectator of the American militarized spectacle of rockets in the city’s night sky. Similarly C.Gaillard develops a visual correspondance between old Babylonian museum artifacts with a multitude of bulldozers and aggregated broken cars. The repetitive score reinforces the quasi-hypnotic characteristics of the film and adds an ambiguous dimension as the sound is part of the song Babylon by David Gray that U.S. soldiers were using on some Abu Ghraib prisoners as a form of torture.
The fascination developed by C.Gaillard for the ruin and the failure goes as far as challenging the notion of archaeology. As he states himself: “My work starts where and when the archaeologists left off.” Indeed, a film like Artefacts embraces the subjectivity of such discipline as well as the one of history. Indeed, the chronological aspects of the Babylonian artifacts and architectures here, is not as important as the civilizational landscape they compose with their own biotope. This landscape, once blazing, is now wearing the attributes of its decadence and the attacks it had to be subjugated to. The resulting ruins that result from such process are however not any less spectacular and contribute to a testimony of an histoire (histoire in French both mean history and story). This cinematographic process, which uses the subjectivity of the film to both plays with these notions of story and history, as we often saw on this blog, is normally using an enunciated narrative to trigger this ambiguity. In the case of Cyprien Gaillard, the images and their mixing are enough to provide it.
Part of Artefacts is visible on a video online but I highly recommend whoever is able to see it at the museum to do so in order to appreciate the immersive dimension of the film.