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Reading Rämistrasse #118: Marilena Borriello on Julien Creuzet at Luma Westbau - Akademie - Kunsthalle Zürich

Reading Rämistrasse #118: Marilena Borriello on Julien Creuzet at Luma Westbau

At first sight, it may seem that there are no real correlations between Gertrude Stein and Julien Creuzet. Stein, an experimental modernist, is renowned for her poetic and dramatic works that utilise essential words and phrases, repeated and varied to produce a distinct rhythmic and musical effect in her prose, attempting to capture the essence of the human experience. Meanwhile, Creuzet is a visual artist whose artistic practice encompasses poetry, sculpture, performance, installation and video art. Creuzet is also celebrated for his eloquently expressive use of organic materials and found objects, often combined with technological, sonic and visual elements to create pieces that delve into Creole identity and champion decolonial thought. Furthermore, his points of reference encompass André Breton and the Surrealists, along with the perspectives of French Martinican writers Aimé Césaire and Édouard Glissant on creolisation and migration. Yet, despite belonging to different times and artistic contexts, a common point of interest can be identified. In their respective artistic research, a conceptual constant resonates, that of the landscape. It is a term that both use with extreme precision to indicate their concerns with the aesthetic structure of their artistic practice and to explain the relationship between the process of production and reception of the work. For Stein and Creuzet, landscape serves as a metaphor through which they invoke the need to align the temporal aspects of the performance – as Stein argued in her Plays (1922) – or the exhibition installation – as in the case of Creuzet’s work – with the observer’s temporal aesthetic experience. In essence, Stein and Creuzet possess an anti-theological perspective on the aesthetic experience, which can be described as a sympathetic alignment of the observer's emotional experience with the temporality of the event or installation.

Stein believed that plays should emulate landscapes in that they should inherently be dynamic and constantly undergoing transformation and movement. According to her, to observe a landscape was to perceive the coexistence and evolution of numerous elements within a given space and to experience the very space itself as an unfolding process. For Creuzet as well, the concept of landscape involves constructing a spatial dimension with no centre that traverses different places and times. In other words, it is the coexistence of hybrid elements and moving images, but also a process that defamiliarises what is familiar. His landscapes act upon that 'gaze' generally used to consolidate the narratives of dominant Western thought.

Installation view Julien Creuzet, Orpheus was musing upon braised words (...), Luma Westbau, Zurich, 2023

Courtesy the artist and Luma Foundation. Photo: Joana Luz

In Orpheus was musing upon braised words, under the light rain of a blazing fog, snakes are deaf and dumb anyway, oblivion buried in the depths of insomnia, the exhibition conceived during his residency at Luma Art and now presented at Luma Westbau, Creuzet has constructed a suspended and fluid environment that holds the potential to become a space of resistance, turning the act of ‘looking’ into an oppositional gaze that challenges dominant perspectives.

The exhibition showcases a combination of diverse bodies and elements connected by a mutable and ever-evolving relationship. The interweaving of sounds, skeletal sculptures, video projections, moving holograms and shifting lights creates a landscape with a disorienting depth reminiscent of an intricate labyrinth. As the viewer immerses themselves further into the exhibition, they realise the need for a reference point to navigate his journey. Even the marine and terrestrial landscapes projected on screens within the exhibition space, reminiscent of Aimé Césaire's trip to Croatia, do not define a specific location and offer a landscape in constant flux. The absence of a stable reference point compels the observer to construct and deconstruct his thoughts and, consequently, his gaze. As the observer moves through the exhibition, everything perceived becomes constantly questioned. The substance and contours of what is being observed incessantly change as one moves between opaque panels, transparent screens inhabited by dancing Nkisi sculptures and the sound of Creuzet's voice reciting an enigmatic poem.

Installation view Julien Creuzet, Orpheus was musing upon braised words (...), Luma Westbau, Zurich, 2023

Courtesy the artist and Luma Foundation. Photo: Joana Luz

Creuzet's decentralisation of meaning reflects our fluctuating and dynamic relationship with the visual environment and the impenetrability of our immediate reality. The exhibition thus takes on the role of a temporary inversion of dominant aspects of time and space, linearity, and the development of civilisation. To achieve this, the artist employs the potential of creolisation, a key concept introduced by the Martinican philosopher and writer Édouard Glissant to describe cultural mixing as a creative force capable of bringing forth new forms of expression and thought.

The exhibition thus appears as an expansive terrain where losing oneself can be seen as a means of liberation. Indeed, Creuzet's decolonial stance is an interstitial thought, in that decolonialism is not solely intended to critique colonising ideologies but also as an invitation to reclaim one's existence. Furthermore, it endeavours to disrupt power hierarchies and dominant narratives by crafting spaces that foster interaction and dialogue among varied experiences and pluralities. The spatial arrangement of the exhibition invites an engaging reading, unleashing a discontinuous play of intersecting formations and interrelations among its diverse elements. Much like Stein, who argues that landscape embodies a vast expanse that vehemently resists historicisation or confinement within a fixed identity, Creuzet similarly reveals that landscape, as both a phenomenon and a representation, transcends being a static, isolated entity, instead existing as a dynamic composition in constant flux. Perceiving it becomes an active experience, immersing oneself in a space that actively unfolds, ultimately serving as a starting point for creating new ways of relating to the world.

Julien Creuzet, Orpheus was musing upon braised words // Under the light rain of a blazing fog // Snakes are deaf and dumb anyway // Oblivion buried in the depths of insomnia, 10 February–21 May 2023, Luma Westbau

Reading Rämistrasse

Geht der Raum für Kunstkritik verloren, müssen wir handeln. Deswegen schaffen wir diesen Ort für Kritik – Reading Rämistrasse – auf der Webseite der Kunsthalle Zürich und veröffentlichen Rezensionen zu aktuellen Ausstellungen in Zürich. Diese geben nicht die Meinung der Kunsthalle Zürich wieder, denn Kritik muss unabhängig sein.

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