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Camille Henrot: “The Pale Fox”

Mousse Magazine
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I recently stumbled upon an intriguing anthology of short fantasy stories edited by Ray Bradbury. Published in 1952, “Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow” features words by, among others, Cheever, Steinbeck and Kafka. In the book’s introduction, Bradbury writes: “We are billions worlds on a world here, each of us sees a different elephant; instead of seven blind men on the road to Delhi, we are multitudes of the seeing who do not see because each of us is himself.” Instantly, I thought it could have been an appropriate epigraph for an essay on the work of French-born, New York-based artist Camille Henrot. Yet it is equally apt for this brief review, which will introduce, in a few words, the multitude of endeavors that the artist will embark on in the forthcoming year.

With solo shows from Paris to New Orleans, a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship in Washington DC and the Silver Lion for promising young artist at the 55th Venice Biennale, 2013 was a productive and rewarding year for Henrot. 2014 sustains this momentum, with numerous projects and exhibitions already on the agenda, spanning from Berlin’s Schinkel Pavillion to the Sculpture Center, and the New Museum in New York City (which in May will provide an overview of her work from the past several years, curated by Massimiliano Gioni and Gary Carrion-Murayari). Most upcoming is a new touring show, “The Pale Fox”, which opens at the Chisenhale Gallery in London at the end of February. It will proceed to Bétonsalon – Centre for art and research, Paris, followed by Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen and finally, Westfälischer Kunstverein, Münster.

This new body of work aims to create a correlation between the construction of knowledge and its relationship to tactual experience, and to connect the history of the universe with the universe of the artists’ studio. It is an extension of the “desire of encapsulating all of human knowledge” which formed part of the premise for “Grosse Fatigue” (2013), the video-work presented and awarded in Venice last year (which will be screened, in partnership with Chisenhale, at the Tate Modern on February, 28th). It also constitutes another step along the road mapped out over the years by Henrot’s thoughtful investigation into human beings and their culture, and a continuation of her intensive research into various national museum archives, as part of her residency at The Smithsonian.

The Washington DC institution, with its diverse collection of over 130 million items, embodies the will to “increase and diffuse the knowledge among men” that seems to animate Henrot’s practice. The interest in systems of knowledge and organization of information is evident in the presentation of her work, adapted into the diverse media of sculpture, drawing, photography, video, and animated films (that is, a body of work almost as eclectic as The Smithsonian’s collection). It is even more explicit in her loosely “anthropological” approach, which allows the artist to tie together bequeathed myths and notions of identity, to capture the eternal human obsession to catalogue the world and blend it with interferences reflective of our current digital era. For example, this is expressed in “Grosse Fatigue” through the use of multiple windows opened at the same time on a desktop.

Like a timeless and tireless explorer, Henrot breezes past borders and across cultures. She moves elegantly from the Japanese tradition of the ikebana (chosen to explore the connection that exists between the languages of nature and of culture in “Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers?”, 2012), to ancestral rites of passage in the South Pacific Ocean (reversing the normal course of colonial influence in “Coupé/Décalé” ,2010). Further, she models pieces of car engines to create objects inspired by African art (a reference to the migration of symbols as well as to the economic circulation of objects, in “Endangered Species”, 2009), and even brings to light a legendary submerged city (to draw a parallel with the disappearing wetlands occupied by a tribe of Indians in Louisiana in “Cities of Ys”, 2012).

It is her hope that, by browsing through traditions and ideas with the curiosity of the amateur and approaching cultures through their partial connections rather than their differences, one could increase a sense of global empathy. “Art and anthropology are the venues for examining and integrating the fantasy and subjectivity of the researcher,” the artist told Mousse’s New York Editor Cecilia Alemani in a 2012 interview. Once again, her words seem to echo those of Bradbury in the thought-provoking introduction to his anthology. Writes the American fiction writer: “For all its reality, life is still a fantasy. For it is not only what life does in the material world that counts, but how each mind sees what is done that makes the fantasy complete.”

 

From: Mousse Magazine #42, February 2014