From the audio of the video piece ‘Somewhere’ echoing throughout the open space on the ground floor, to the strong scent of salt filling the air and welcoming visitors as they enter the exhibition area, Julian Charrière’s works embrace the gallery space on a multi-sensorial level.
The impressive and rather intriguing installation occupying the entire first room immediately catches and holds the viewer’s attention. ’Future Fossil Space’ consists of four columns each a different height made out of white plaster components and salt bricks taken from the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia, one of the largest sources of Lithium in the world. Inspired by one of his journeys to the so-called lithium triangle, the installation refers to the process of extracting the valuable chemical element as well as the massive exploitation this area has succumbed to by foreign companies. The salt – which has been cut into regular shaped bricks and piled up by the artist – is the amassed waste of this digging process, the negative material left over. Porous and crumbly, with a colour ranging from off-white to beige, this salt constellation appears both fragile yet impressive, reminiscent of the texture and tone that ancient buildings acquire through the passage of time. Transversal dark lines mark each brick, akin to marble veining. Adjacent to the conglomerate of salt bricks different coloured triangular pools filled with brine – a solution of oversaturated water containing lithium mixed with other minerals – are arranged. Varying in shades from yellow to light blue, the colour of each solution indicates the percentage level of the various components. Barely visible, almost ethereal light particles of Lithium are floating up to the very surface of the solution.
On a very different scale, the visual manifestation of the passing of time is presented to us through ‘Somehow They Never Stop Doing What They Always Did’. In the immersive space of a small dark room, a glass showcase is well-lit by a soft spot light, which embraces the vitrine creating a theatrical frame. Emerging from the partially steamed glass, covered with water droplets, a small architectural composition can be seen, whose assembly of blocks recalls the building structures of ancient civilisations such as Egyptian, Sumer and Babylonian. Tiny patches of mould dot the stone surface, which appears nubby and coarse. Made out of plaster, these blocks have been composed with nutrients – fructose and lactose – together with water collected from different international rivers. The protection of the glass case creates an environment which allows bacteria and other microorganisms to grow by consuming and corroding the surface of the sculpture. What Charrière has created and placed within a transparent box is a small eco-system, a living, evolving organism constantly changing under the viewer’s gaze. This beautiful miniature in ruins silently symbolises the physicality of the passing of time through natural decay.
In a corner of the gallery, pieces of scrap iron and colourful shattered and smashed car parts are scattered onto the floor, turning the gallery into an abandoned wrecking yard. ‘Monument – Fragment of an Approaching Past’ refers to the dazzling, geometric structures of Drop City, the pivotal artist community that formed in Colorado in the mid 1960s. This experimental, self sustainable community was demolished during the late 1990s. After building his own multi-coloured geodesic dome, Charrière destroyed the construction and left its remains as a symbol of the end of a utopia, which stands also as an inspiring memento of the past for new experimental challenges to be undertaken by our generation.
Turning away from these past ruins, the viewer is invited to look at a futuristic scene, gazing at images which seem to come from an apocalyptic, post-nuclear war scenario. The ‘Polygon’ series consists of three analog photographs taken at the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan, created for scientific purposes during the cold war. The black and white images present the remains of three buildings standing as monuments of the atomic age. The surface of the photographs is marked with black spots, which are the consequence of exposure to nuclear radiation.
Before being developed, the film was placed into protective tubes – now displayed beneath the photographs – together with dust and sand that Charrière collected from the site. Therefore, these marks are the physical representation of the radiation’s effects embedded onto the photographic film. As a result of the double exposure process, the image acquires a mystic atmosphere of a remote and desolated space which paradoxically – because of its dangerousness – is now an exclusion zone, forever preserved from further human exploitation.
While the ground floor is characterised by a sense of materiality, due to the physically imposing character and weight of the works inhabiting this area, the space upstairs welcomes the viewer to the light and ethereal atmosphere formed within. Held in refrigerated display cases, four plants, which have been shock-frozen with liquid nitrogen, stand beautifully untouched by the passing of time. Upon the transparent surface of the glass vitrines, delicate snowflake embroidered patterns frame our vision, recalling a flock of swallows or scattered leaves, decorated by the frost. Including such plant life as an orchid, a cactus and a fern, these plants featuring ‘Tropisme’ belong to the very ancient time of the Cretaceous era, representing a link between our present and the origin of our world. By preserving them from natural decay, Charrière shields into an ethereal present those witnesses of our geological history.
Also displayed in the same room are three photographs composing ‘The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories’ and the installation piece ‘We Are All Astronauts’. The last consisting of 10 pale coloured globes hung from the ceiling, whilst the large scale photographs document another intrepid journey by the artist – this time to the Arctic Ocean near Iceland, where he ventured onto an iceberg for 8 hours to perform the act of artificially melting the surface of the ice.
Presenting the daring and thought-provoking works of this promising young artist, once again Parasol unit confirms its key role in promoting an engaging and pertinent discourse on today’s contemporary art. In this stunning gallery setting with its own history, where the extension overlooking onto Regent’s canal links the inside space to its surrounding nature, Charrière works – involving nature and exploring environmental issues – find their ideal location.
Julian Charrière: For They That Sow the Wind runs from 15 January – 23 March 2016 at Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art.
Alice Montanini (b. 1986, Brescia) is a London-based curator. In 2012, she gained an MA in Philosophy at Alma Mater Studiorum – University of Bologna. She is now engaged in the second year of her masters in the Curating the Contemporary programme at The Cass and Whitechapel Gallery. In 2015 she co-curated Protecht at the Bank Space Gallery, London, Urban Intimacy at the Strand Gallery, London and Dialogues of Space at the Korean Cultural Centre UK, London. She worked as intern at the Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art and she is currently undertaking a six month placement at the Whitechapel Gallery. As part of her master’s degree final project she is co-curating the exhibition Private Exposure at the me Collectors Room in Berlin.