How to mobilize around a catastrophe’s invisibilities: on Eric Baudelaire’s work

We are witnessing the emergence of something radical in the art world, a shifting that’s shaping not only contemporary art but our times. I am referring to the awakening of a social conscience. It might sound inaccurate to write such a statement as many artists have devoted their artistic practice to social causes and have always denounced situations where there’s abuse of power. However there’s certainly a refreshing perspective, as if suddenly we became more aware of our environment leading us to finally see social mobility as a forgery. 

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PRIX MARCEL DUCHAMP 2019, Eric Baudelaire, Un film dramatique, Vue de l’exposition/Exhibition view, Centre Pompidou 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Greta Meert Brussels, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Galerie Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid

Photo : Philippe Migeat, Centre Pompidou

This partly explains why the political can no longer be dissociated from the realm of art, when worlds collide, the resistance has to gather together. Artists such as Hito Steyerl, Kara Walker or art collectives like Forensic Architecture understand this and want to have an impact – a factual one – in people’s lives, they envision art as a vehicle of change and a way of “rendering justice for the flaws of history”. This year’s Marcel Duchamp prize has been bestowed to Eric Baudelaire, a Franco-American artist whose work examines the representation of political ideas, memory and social context. 

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PRIX MARCEL DUCHAMP 2019, Eric Baudelaire, Prélude, Vue de l’exposition/Exhibition view, Centre Pompidou 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Greta Meert Brussels, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Galerie Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid

Photo : Philippe Migeat, Centre Pompidou

 

Political structures are recurrently put under scrutiny, questions like nationhood, politics of memory and the regime of truth arise from his artistic practice. When nations and their institutions fail to represent oppressed minorities, a counter memory and counter mythology has to be built to reassert them in order to make them visible to the public eye. But how to represent minorities without aestheticizing their misery? For Baudelaire, the answer was on fûkeiron or landscape theory. First used in Masao Adachi’s film A.K.A Serial Killer, this theory hypothesizes that our social context – architecture, sounds and other components of our social life – have an immediate impact on our actions. Systems of power are thus revealed through architecture and landscape, the filming process revolves around places and not faces. In the same vein Also Known as Jihadi follows the steps of a man from the Parisian suburbs who decides to join ISIS, leaving his past and so-called identity behind. The film is in no way intended to be read as legitimizing the young man’s decision to join the terrorist group, it’s merely a set of images trying to decode Aziz feelings of alienation and despair. In a country where most of its muslim community feels rejected, outbursts of social discontent are not uncommon. France’s solution for this increasing problem is to push further this minorities making them yet more invisible. Urbanisation is not thought as a means of improving people’s lives but as a form of seclusion. 

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PRIX MARCEL DUCHAMP 2019, Eric Baudelaire, Un film dramatique, Vue de l’exposition/Exhibition view, Centre Pompidou 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Greta Meert Brussels, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Galerie Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid

Photo : Philippe Migeat, Centre Pompidou

 

To tackle down systemic invisibility, Baudelaire’s latest project A dramatic film, followed a young group of teenagers from the Dora Maar high school for 4 years. Located in one of Paris supposedly most dangerous districts, the film shows the kids everyday life. First filmed by Baudelaire, he then taught them how to use cameras and filming equipment so they could later do it by themselves. Representation is not made solely by the artist, by offering them the possibility to represent themselves, Baudelaire gives them the power to create their own memory and become actual constituents of a reality ignoring them; image-making becomes a process permitting to fight a stigma that follows and defines them in the long run. Film is seen by Baudelaire as a way to question reality and mass media, a militant act against corporate economics fighting tirelessly to shut down those who abuses. In a society with a lack of shared objective standards – in what some like to call a post-truth era -, we can no longer rely on power structures, individuals must challenge institutionalized histories and offer counter-narratives. It might seem absurd to have to fight invisibility as we are constantly over exposed to images, nevertheless governments and big corporations’ efforts to hide images are to be taken into account to understand Baudelaire’s mobilization around invisibility. In 2001, Bill Gates bought one of the most comprehensive photography archives in the world and decided to store it in a limestone mine in Philadelphia. The seclusion and secrecy of such an extensive visual archive – the archive is not open to the public – can only be compared to the endeavor of the United States government to conceal photographs and video footage from its last interventionist wars in the Middle East. We are over poured by images, and nonetheless so many catastrophes pass unnoticed due to their lack of representation. Baudelaire is disputing these attempts by creating a counter images that are indistinct in the infinite scroll system. 

 

But what comes next though for an artist who has entered the institutional circuit? How to fight for equality and visibility without falling in the same diagram in which minorities are just vehicles of someone’s project? How to make a real and lasting impact through art? 

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PRIX MARCEL DUCHAMP 2019, Eric Baudelaire, Prélude, Vue de l’exposition/Exhibition view, Centre Pompidou 2019
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Greta Meert Brussels, Galerie Barbara Wien, Berlin, Galerie Juana de Aizpuru, Madrid

Photo : Philippe Migeat, Centre Pompidou

 

 

 

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