Julien Creuzet was born in the Paris banlieue in 1986 and grew up in Martinique, a crossroads of diverse and effervescent cultures. He attended the Post-Diplôme course of the Lyon Academy of Fine Arts and Le Fresnoy (the National Studio for Contemporary Arts). Following his solo exhibition Standard & Poor’s, on the Way, the Price of Glass at the Turin’s Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation, he has been living in Paris and is a resident artist at Noisy-le-Sec’s La Galerie.
This interview was recorded in Lyon, with closed shutters, the only light being that of our smartphones and computers. With long dreadlocks loose on his shoulders in front of a”magical” deluge of images, Julien told me of what exotic, technology, poetry and the concept of archipelago mean to him.
Pondering on exoticism, poetry and creolization: A conversation with Julien Creuzet
by Michela Alessandrini
Conversation transcription below
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…
By the bus stop,
Lise was half naked beside me
I was rather cold
She had red underwear
And a lace mask
Hiding her face
She was hanging
Behind the glass
In the middle of the road
“Les allumeuses” by Céline Duval
All these girls getting creased
Crackling beside the fireplace
She was chewing, her mouth open
Drawn with an eye-liner
I could hear the noise of her chewing gum’s bubbles
Popping on her teeth
The slow chewing
At the next stop
Lise is still here
But now she’s in front of the JCD billboard
She came to sit beside me
With her wide black dress
Her coloured shawl
Her plate fixed by a piece of traditional fabric
That she placed in a plastic bag
In the bus
All crowded together
I think of tomorrow
When I’ll dance
When I’ll launch gestures
When I’ll wear my kerchief
When I’ll mix the lot
When we’ll move
We’ll move our pelvis
MA: Finally, Julien, can you say something about the images running on the screen? Also, concerning your fascination for technology, how do you use it in your work?
JC: The images you can see come from the video Opéra Archipel, Scroll Infini Septembre/Décembre. I shot them with my magic wand, my black oracle, my phone:
All the people
The tactile images
Go find evening clouds
To me the telephone is as much a mean to stay connected – as it is for everyone – as a tool that’s easy to use and own – a camera, a computer, Internet, all the applications you can think of. The telephone keeps me productive, always. I can be aware of a situation at any time and be inspired by it. For example, I love the telephone because it allows me to jot down notes of what I have in my mind, or shoot photos of moments that draw my attention. At the same time, it’s a way to show forms, images. I find new technologies stimulating because they go beyond me, they change me, they influence me. This being said, we are human and obviously there are things that we miss, and I like this.