Interview for HOLD residency about my 2019 solo show
by Duncan Herd
Charlotte Heninger - Introduction
A vision of Earth in a century and a few decades’ time from now. Most humans have been decimated by a fungus. The air has deteriorated. Oceans have become sourer, warmer, their level has risen. Many lands have sunk underwater. The omnipresent fungus then ended up being wiped out by a volcanic eruption of great magnitude. The 51 kilometers-high eruptive column was the highest ever recorded. Similar to the eruption of Mount Samalas in 1257 of the human era, one of the largest explosive eruptions of these last ten thousand years. It devastated the Earth’s whole atmosphere, thus completely destroying the remnants of some civilisations and disrupting the climate. The last inhabited areas are the vicinities of the six lava lakes of the planet. The very narrative deals with the day-to-day of a colony of serpentine life forms living near a giant volcano. We shall assume that these beings are the reincarnation of several animal species and of some humans.
Hold Residency: How has your practice led up to this point and are there any particular themes recurrent in your work?
CH : My work focuses on the interactions between the different species - in a large scale in their environment - that form an organic system and how those interactions evolve over time. My practice relies on the creation of entities and their landscapes using sculptures and installations as main media. It all started with long and thorough observations of a growing number of industrial wastelands around me. I have been fascinated by the creation of those urban jungles which live by their own rules; completely self-suficient, they contrast with the heart of our metropolitan hubs with their slow temporality and their ostensible simplicity. At the same time, the legacy of our industrial society and truly organic brownfield lands tell us something about what could be the next step for our civilisation. They narrate potential futures yet to explore.
Suspended in time and space, built structures and industrial legacy combine with native species to create an alternative space time continuum. One in which plant, animal and mineral can establish themselves in a unique way. Going deeper into this analysis, my interest went to another kind of abandoned place, a more ancient and desolate version of our modern terrains vagues: the ruins. Ruins have a wide history - it is one of our strongest traces in the environment. I have been particularly interested in how those landscapes have crystallised and collected memories through their evolution. It was also a new form of links between the mineral and the livings. It leads me towards geology and mineral sciences, just as wastelands have driven me to botanic. Witnesses of previous civilisations, ruins, led me to question the sustainability of our current system - which already contains ruins in its present time - and what would be left after us.
My focus has then been on the links between human beings and their environment. We left a lot of buildings behind us, echoes from the past. Having worked on creating an environment built, transformed, and abandoned by humans, my research then focused on ecosystems that have remained out of the human sphere of influence. Luxurious jungles, desertic areas, uncharted territories - harsh environment for non-indigenous population. I have in particular tried to understand how endemic species find an equilibrium and how landscapes are shaped by geological and climate forces. It leads me to continue to push my knowledge in biology, geology (especially volcanic fields) but also in paleontology and botany.
The Earth in its globality is our primary habitat. Nature cannot have ruins; organic systems just disappear. That’s why my work goes in this direction. With the database of pictures, drawings and feelings I gathered while studying those different landscapes, I now develop in my practice my own ecosystems. I design new potential interactions between species, create new languages that blur the boundaries between the kingdoms - plant, animal, mineral and the new ones we discovered. My collection of landscapes explore potential timelines: their intrinsic concept but also their narrative. It works by cycles of exhibitions. Every cycle is an evolution of the previous one.
HR: You use elements of the tropical within your work, how do feel the forms and symbolism within those forms help inform your expression towards ecology?
CH : You will most likely be referring to the tropical species of plants that are parts of the exhibition. Growing in a family of landscapers, I have, as far as I can relate, always had a particular interest for plants and botany. I consider them as living forms not just decorative things. Plants have been part of my work since the very beginning. First as drawings and then in abstract shapes. They are now directly parts of my installations. Plants play a vital role in ecosystems. They generally ensure a good part of the processes that lay ground for a sustainable life. As I have been trying to build complete and enclosed ecosystems through my recent work, you will always find plants playing an important role in my work.
In En Dehors des Limites du Lac Futur, different plants - mostly Chamadorea Pochtulensis - set up the atmosphere of C. Auris: the environment I imagined for the exhibition. It is mostly a tropical species as the colony of snakes, key forms of life in this universe, is located near an Hawaiian volcano. The species you can find in the exhibition are among the oldest ones on Earth. The Arecaceae, palm trees family appeared some days during the Cretaceous era, 120 millions years ago. So, having them as part of the ecosystem I create brings a sense of a double timeline: first, at the exhibition level, as one can come everyday and see something different as the plants are drying up, changing in both forms and colours; but also at a more macro level, where their presences interrogates on the ability to adapt to changing ecosystems. Those plants have survived and evolved during 120 millions of years. They also live in a particular environment which is not the one I exposed them to : species under the wrong latitudes, forced to adapt to survive. I imagine that it is our most important challenge for decades to come: adapting to a new environment and climate.
HR: Some of the matter making up the exhibition express impermanence in their state, such as leaves drying up or liquids dripping, what was your intention in allowing for these in-flux materials to play out in the space?
CH : Impermanence is one of the key basic properties of any organic system. I worked the C. Auris ecosystem to have its own cycle of life, notably with the living leaves and latex puddles that have seen their colors changed as time went by. It creates an unique atmosphere in which visitors can have a different experience depending on their date of visit. This cycle of life is particularly important in the central pieces of the exhibition: Les Nouveaux Fouisseurs. Metal and vegetable scraps imperceptibly snake and sway from the ceiling to the floor. Indeed, those hanging incomplete ellipses of copper on which palms and serpentine shapes are living, put different organic processes into play.
In the space, we see those snake-life forms hanging like lianas with a yellowish liquid dripping from them. Are they feeding? Moulting? Or simply sleeping? In this cycle, the figure of the snake is central: either a line with a beginning and an end which glides and curves, or a form biting its own tail, then becoming a concentric and endless motion. The question remains open as the liquid, which is forming puddles on the floor, is like nothing else on Earth. I personally see it as the primordial soup, the cradle of life of C. Auris. Over the surface of the ground flows a skin, a lake of intertwined remains. But at the same time, I wanted visitors to be able to think about the puddles as sap, blood, seed, or even as poison. Its presence clearly contrasts with the general dry atmosphere and notably with the dryness of the leaves. Lights, a breath, particles, an intelligence.
The copper ellipses also allow the visitors to stand inside them, to enter into this new world and become a part of the ecosystem. This part of the installation was a way for me to discuss the inextricable nature of life, that is to say, different life forms create one cycle from which they cannot escape. Life is never an alternative : that’s why it constantly reinvents and transforms itself. Entities perpetually mutate. Overall, all those biological processes are put on stage through the different pieces of the exhibition that were there to suggest an alternative to the Anthropocene. A more balanced organisation in which every living and non-living entity forms a part of the whole.
HR: The entire installation is saturated in a warm yellow hue, what prompted this decision?
CH : Since the very beginning of the process of creation, I have wanted visitors to be immersed in a sensory experience : visuals and installations on the ground, the walls and hanging from the ceiling, odorous materials, sounds and music from a video and a global vibrant light. The light pervades the entire space. This yellow orange radiance comes from the atmosphere we imagined in the short story that contextualises the exhibition. In this story, serpentine forms of life evolve under the ground in some old empty lava tunnels. There, close to the lava lake, stones are translucent and the light - produced by the energy of the lava - irradiates across the tunnel. The colour is also a reference to sulphur which is omnipresent in the C. Auris atmosphere. Besides, the light was the way to give the exhibition a warm climate but also a mysterious vibe in which one would not feel completely at ease. Just like in the exhibition’s narrative, light gives life to the different entities but also represents a threat. The exhibition space begins to look like a tropical greenhouse, disturbing. Invaded by elongated snakes, actually motionless, like insidious reptiles. The materials and the bodies are cold, yet you could swear that, after nightfall, they awaken and swarm about.
Finally, the light was also key in delimiting the boundaries of the exhibition’s ecosystem. Here, it had two roles. First, it brings harmony within the ecosystem that is to say, creating a link or a flow between all the different entities but also between the visitors and the built environment. Secondly, it helps in creating an isolated environment, no more linked to Earth’s day and night cycle; an environment with its own temporality. The visitors will have to reconstruct a probable past and to imagine the incredible future that could result from it. Narration is in the sensation and the inference.
Communiqué de presse pour l'exposition En Dehors des Limites du Lac Futur
Laëtitia Toulout, commissaire de l'exposition
W, Pantin, du 18 au 25 juin 2019
Immersion et suspensions : des bribes de métal et de végétaux serpentent et se balancent imperceptiblement du plafond vers le sol. Sur la surface coule une peau, un lac de débris entremêlés. Des feuilles en céramique poussent de part et d’autre, pendues à des chainettes ou transpercées par des cornes brulées. Une lumière orange et artificielle se reflète en elles, imprègne l’espace entier. L'environnement se dessine. Il prend des airs de serre tropicale, inquiétante. Des courbes longiformes serpentent sans réel mouvement, reptiles insidieux. Les matières et les corps sont froids, mais on jurerait qu’une fois la nuit tombée, ils se réveillent et fourmillent.
« Dans le clair de lune, les plages blanches du delta luisaient comme des bancs de craie lumineux et les serpents qui couvaient sur la dune évoquaient les adorateurs d’un soleil de minuit. » Si dans Le Delta au crépuscule de J.G Ballard le narrateur devient obsédé par des milliers de serpents, intenses projections de son esprit qui apparaissent quotidiennement sur une dune - jusqu’à l’abandon progressif de sa propre vie - ici les tournures mentales et visions fantasmées de temps, de lieux et d’entités alternatives prennent corps, s’agrippent à la vie. Elles sont réelles.
Dans ce contexte, les civilisations humaines paraissent avoir été anéanties depuis longtemps - dévastées par la lave d’un volcan, un tsunami total ou une pollution radicale. Il reste d’elles un lac de souvenirs immatériels... Des lumières, un souffle, des particules, une intelligence. Ceux- ci sont imperceptibles, ils se racontent dans les substances et les fragments, les indices des histoires supraterrestres que le public est invité à vivre. Des corps, des danses, disséminées dans l’espace et dans les êtres, telles des graines qui s’adaptent à différentes strates du temps.İl faudra aux visiteur·euses recomposer un probable passé et imaginer l'extraordinaire futur qui peut en découler. La narration se situe dans les sensations et les déductions.
En dehors des limites du lac futur se dessine une destinée imaginée, aux frontières des sciences et de la fiction. La vie n’est jamais une alternative : c’est pourquoi elle se réinvente et se métamorphose en permanence. Les entités sont perpétuellement mutantes. Une sève dégoulinante pourrait sans doute éveiller et initier le mouvement. Dans ce cycle, la figure du serpent est centrale : ligne avec un début et une fin qui glisse et se courbe, ou bien forme qui se mord la queue, devenant alors mouvement concentrique et infini.
Une nouvelle mythologie s’ébruite.
En Dehors des Limites du Lac Futur
Solo exhibition from the 18th to the 25th of June 2019
Immersion and suspensions/hangings : metal and vegetable scraps imperceptibly snake and sway from the ceiling to the floor. Over the surface flows a skin, a lake of intertwined
remains/debris. Leaves made of ceramic grow on either side, hung to small chains and burnt horns piercing through. An orange and artificial light is reflected in them, pervades the entire space. The environment takes shape. It begins to look like a tropical greenhouse, disturbing. Elongated curved lines snake, actually motionless, (like) insidious reptiles. The materials and the bodies are cold, yet you could swear that, after nightfall, they awaken and swarm about.
« Dans le clair de lune, les plages blanches du delta luisaient comme des bancs de craie lumineux et les serpents qui couvaient sur la dune évoquaient les adorateurs d’un soleil de minuit. » Whereas In The Delta At Sunset from J.G. Ballard the narrator becomes obsessed with thousands of snakes, intense projections from his mind which daily appear on a dune - until he gradually relinquishes his own life - here the mental turns and the fantasized visions of time, places and alternative entities come and cling to life.
They are real.
In this context, human civilizations seem to have been annihilated for a long time - devastated by volcano lava, a global tsunami or extreme pollution. From them remains a lake of immaterial memories… Lights, a breath, particles, an intelligence. These are imperceptible, their tales are told in the substances and the fragments, in the clues of superterranean stories that the audience is invited to experience. Bodies, dances, spread around the space and into the beings, like seeds which adapt to different strata of time. The visitors will have to reconstruct a probable past and to imagine the incredible future that could result from it. Narration is in the sensations and the inferences.
Outside The Future Lake Boundaries comes together with a designed purpose, at the frontiers of sciences and fiction. Life is never an alternative : that’s why it constantly reinvents and transforms itself. Entities perpetually mutates. A dripping sap could, in all likelihood, arouse and initiate the movement. In this cycle, the figure of the snake is central : either a line with a beginning and an end which glides and curves, or a form biting its own tail, then becoming a concentric and endless motion. A new mythology leaks out.