press release

The term “nature” is controversial, its use complex. It is employed mostly in contrast to culture and humankind. Nature creates an umbrella term for something that has not been produced by people, something that has been created by itself, that renews itself in an eternal cycle. Generally speaking, only “indigenous” peoples experience nature in a manner which is harmonious and appropriate. For everyone else, the collision between the two spheres results in scars.

Julian Charrière’s oeuvre takes these scars as his starting point; he discovers them, makes us aware of them once more or opens them up, and allows their component parts to grow together again. Rather than viewing people and nature as adversaries, he sees people as part of nature. As a consequence, he regards the effects of human intervention in the universe as new manifestations, indeed almost as variants on nature. In his videos, sculptures, photographs and installations he connects art with science, land art with archaeology, romanticism with science fiction, and history with the future, while finding new ways to present people and their thirst for discovery – but also their destructive egoism – as part of nature. Julian Charrière gets the ideas for his works while travelling to other countries, and one expedition often leads to another. After collecting scientific discoveries, materials and historical facts about places and events he then conducts extensive research which draws in experts, researchers and practitioners. And it is precisely this, in combination with experience of the place in question, that forms the constitutive element which will become the genesis of a new work.

This was the process behind his new group of works "An Invitation to Disappear". The idea first formed while trekking through Indonesia with Dehlia Hannah on the way to a volcano called Tambora. Its eruption in 1815 affected the global climate and had disastrous consequences around the world. It is still the largest recorded eruption in human history. The ash cloud spread around the globe and led to the temperature falling as far away as Europe and North America. The following year went down in history as the “year without a summer”. The volcanic winter extended until 1819, leading to failed harvests, floods, and starvation. But on his way to Tambora Julian Charrière noticed something else: thousands of oil palms which had been densely planted in a repetitive, seemingly unending rigid pattern. He was simultaneously shocked and fascinated by the man-made seriality of a plant which has existed since the Cretaceous period. Palm oil is contained in countless foodstuffs, cosmetics, cleaning agents, and is used to produce biodiesel. That requires a huge number of trees, which are grown as monocultures in regions that once displayed great biological diversity. As a consequence, entire swathes of land, primarily in Malaysia and Indonesia, have changed their appearance – not merely with respect to the decrease in biodiversity, but also aesthetically: the trees are planted in a rigid pattern which creates a completely unique visual rhythm. Seen from the air, what seems to be an endless interwoven network of lines is actually the closely planted star-shaped crowns of the palm trees. Paths dissect and connect the land. Under the treetops a barren landscape extends with scattered fallen palm fronds, partially covered by grasses and floor-covering plants.

From time to time a smoke machine powered by palm oil not only spits out a cloud of cool and damp condensation but also periodically rumbles. A large part of the exhibition space is taken up by tall industrial shelving which is filled with luminous cuboids – palm fat in various nuances of orange, repeatedly compressed into the same shape. The temperature becomes gradually warner, the light is more subdued. A film on a loop shows tree after tree being felled in the virgin forest. Warmth and light radiate from a large lamp with its calming, floating bubbles. The liquid is emitted slowly, as fiery as lava, its viscose nature courtesy of the palm oil it contains. A black-and-white wall-hung piece dominates the space, its image composed of millions of tiny volcanic ash particles. We negotiate our way through Julian Charrière’s exhibition in Kunsthalle Mainz. The Swiss artist has developed a dramatic narrative for "An Invitation to Disappear" which introduces the visitor to the world of “palm oil”, making it possible for us to experience this universe at the intellectual and sensual levels. The more we progress, the louder we hear the rhythm which was already present in the first room as a distant boom-boom. We make our way through to the heart of the exhibition: colourful lightning illuminates the dark night in a densely arranged field of palms. Hard, electronic rhythms played in a loop intersect the infinite calm of the field of trees. A palm-oil plantation shudders, shaken by the light and sound. The scenery oscillates between enticing and threatening. The visitors find themselves in a rave once more. The rhythms and sounds of electronic music are superimposed over a setting enshrouded in wisps of fog: a film which has been shot in a palm-oil plantation in the Far East. It accompanies the excessive overexploitation of nature with intoxicating music. At the same time it stands for a collective experience which is expressed both in consciously “absorbed” music and in the unknowing consumption of palm oil as a material. Its ubiquitous nature is analogous to our lack of interest in the way it is produced; the flip side of the physical absence of people is the omnipresence of their actions. Picture and sound are condensed into metaphors for the human belief in progress, for short-lived interests, and the massive consequences that these have. At the same time they conjure up collective trance-like states and shared experiences beyond space and time.

Just as a volcano eruption linked continents two centuries ago, so do raves – events which have now become a mainstream form, far beyond being limited to a subculture – and palm oil – which virtually everybody ingests, applies and uses. An Invitation to Disappear is hence not only the literal translation of Tambora, but also represents secret and obvious process, materials and developments. It refers to the ambivalent relationship between people and nature. This is where Julian Charrière comes in, who calls himself an “archaeologist of the future” and humans in general the “greatest erosive power in nature”. Equipped with pressing questions for our time, as well as an inquiring mind and considerable audacity, while on his travels to distant lands he studies the timelessness of human intervention, reveals the utopian content of the present day, and turns raw materials of the future into materials for his work.

"An Invitation to Disappear" in Kunsthalle Mainz is Julian Charrière’s most comprehensive solo exhibition so far in a German setting. It consists of his new series of works "An Invitation to Disappear", which is set in relation to two older works.

In cooperation with Le Musée de Bagnes, Roma Publications will be bringing out a publication in two languages to accompany the exhibition.

The exhibition is supported by Stiftung Rheinland-Pfalz für Kultur, Pro Helvetia, Ernst & Olga Gubler-Hablützel Stiftung, Mainzer Volksbank eG and The Shifting Foundation.