Julien Creuzet’s current exhibition at Document appears on Chicago’s radar just in time to find the country and its people profoundly exhausted and divided. Creuzet, a French-Caribbean artist who lives and works in Paris, writes poetry with equal fervor to his art-making practice—molding, bending and sewing fragments of materials that find their origins in diasporic or migrant lives and landscapes. It is hard to not consider the context of the COVID-19 pandemic when a migrant (like myself) experiences Creuzet’s sculptures and installations. The multiple spatial expanses of the exhibition enrich the process of viewing works in relation to one another, as the artist contours ideas of colonialism, geographic displacement and the psychological implications of diaspora communities, specifically for the Western world. Titles of sculptures present his poetry:
“The dust these days is our history, locked in our skulls, cavities, never let your hair drag, never eat red beans, never turn around, the night was restless, we knew, not to open our eyes fruits, rotten, empty cavities.”
“Distant, the oral songs of youth buried in the DNA of the bones, a little remnant, a little pain, we remember when walking slowly in the field of old ravaging reeds. The smell is imprinted in the most ancestral dreams”
In the latter, a composition of what seems to be a toucan or tropical bird’s beak hangs from the ceiling with fresh pineapple leaves at the center. Yellow plastic fibers draw the body of the absent fruit while blue fishing net binds the tip of the beak. Metaphorical and literary devices tease out new ways of seeing in the complete experience of Creuzet’s work. A soundtrack emits from a video playing on the floor. Titled “cloud, cloudy glory, doodles, on the leaves, pages, memory, slowly the story, redness sadness, bloody, redness on the skin,” the video features a twelve-minute incantation that imbues the space and deconstructed ancestral material with memories of a universal, shared time. Each person’s pain is shared, each person’s joy is too. Limes spill across the gallery floor, aging and browning. The voice from the video is soft, strong, and rhythmically whispers in a way that can assault non-native listeners. The eye moves across a screen which persistently morphs visuals of photographs from an anthropological archive, ornithological drawings and paintings by the artist, along with a simulated video-game avatar of an army man who appears dressed in camo print, floating in a cosmos of emojis. A chain of new meanings flood the exhibition as the artist’s unresolved questions of how we relate to “discovery” and the project of naming and categorizing the world persist.
Creuzet’s sculptures are scrumptious when viewed in detail and read at first as gestural drawings in space. To examine the disparate and seemingly discordant compositions of the sculptures that coexist within this exhibition is to sit in comfort with the non-contemporaneous. This is not the first time Baudrillard can be read in the exhibition. Baudrillard often referred to Derrida’s idea of deconstructivism, eloquently touched upon by Line Ajan in an essay accompanying the exhibition. For Baudrillard, postmodernity is “the characteristic of a universe where there are no more definitions possible. In reality, there is no more reference to forms. It has destroyed itself. It has deconstructed its entire universe so all that are left are pieces. All that has to be done is to play with the pieces.” (Kellner, 1989) In ceiling- and wall-mounted sculptures, the artist plays with materials and textures of coated metal and numerous plastic fibers repeatedly, abstracting the origins of material from their utilitarian counterparts in developing countries. But what would happen if Baudrillard or Derrida were to visit the tropics?
It is less important to read this show through lenses of postmodernity, as these concepts still largely situate themselves within the West. Creuzet’s practice latitudinally expresses social and anthropological histories that come to us at a time when we are seemingly living in a deconstructed world. As an Indian from the subcontinent, it is still not clear how, but different orders of simulacra begin to perform in parallel in the colonized mind. This may be because of the simultaneity of ideas like progress, and development that exist alongside acts of deep-rooted corruption and violence against women. It would be a great disservice to the artist to attempt to tease out all the meanings of the exhibit, as each sculpture is an endless play on difference and our experience of the material world. The coexistence of differently ordered things (such as the equal importance of the news in Bollywood and in politics) in formerly third-world, once colonized countries, is of the nature of our lived reality. To parse through and categorize these is an act of violence. Instead, our resilience insists we “play with the pieces.” Much like the West has had to do over the past few months of self-isolation. We are steeped in the hyper-real where the developed and developing worlds coexist, even if just for a moment. (Pia Singh)
Julien Creuzet: cloud cloudy glory doodles on the leaves pages, memory slowly the story redness sadness bloody redness on the skin is on view at Document, 1709 West Chicago, through December 30.