From cinema to visual arts, Clément Cogitore develops a multifaceted oeuvre, marked by fluid boundaries between genres, images and worlds. A process of reflection which he continues with the video installation The Evil Eye, awarded the prestigious Marcel-Duchamp Prize in 2018.
What do images tell us? What do they say about these worlds buried in the depths of the human soul? These questions which permeate the work of Clément Cogitore find a new form in The Evil Eye, a major work which will be at the heart of an exhibition dedicated to the artist at the Kunsthaus Baselland in Basel, Switzerland beginning on 15th February 2019.
In this video installation, Clément Cogitore builds an apocalyptic narrative out of clips available in image banks and intended for use in political or advertising campaigns. This artistic device, already used for the series Kids exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo in 2018, questions our intimate beliefs as much as it does the ability of any image to embody humanity's foundational narratives. Before embarking on his first live performance experience, a staging of Indes Galantes at the Paris Opera, the French artist offers a few keys to his universe.
Your works touch on cinema, documentary work, the visual arts, and more. What is the common point between these different approaches?
Whatever the medium, I work with staged objects. Whether in still or moving images, I arrange narrative elements in a way that sometimes leans more towards fiction, and other times more towards the documentary. In this sense I do not feel that there is a radical change from one form to another, rather I use different methods to re-examine the same issues.
What are those issues?
I am very interested in the origin of the production of images, the rituals that accompany their production and the stories that underpin them. This sometimes involves older motifs that are part of art history. For centuries, the creation of images has adapted to technological changes and to the emergence of new modes of communication of which so many changes to civilisation have been constituted. However, it seems to me that, behind each image, something resists and reoccurs regardless of the era, method or technology used. It is this irreducible element that interests me.
Is it to access this hidden face of images that you juxtapose forms and genres?
My approach does not necessarily involve putting two worlds in opposition. Rather, I try to apply a principle: if we compare situations, images or technological devices which, a priori, do not have anything in common, we produce a dialogue where each element describes itself, says something about itself. What interests me in antagonism is the common denominator, all these issues that persist and which, as a result of contact, reappear in the work thus created.
About The Evil Eye, you said that "each image has something to sell to us". Does this mean the end of free artistic expression?
This video installation is in fact made from images that have something to sell us. They are intended for advertising, political, institutional, or corporate films with clear objectives: to produce ideologies, to trigger commercial actions. For my part, I try to unsettle them, to divert them from this destination and build something else, a kind of little world where I give a voice to the characters who inhabit these images. But this only applies to The Evil Eye. Beyond this project, I think, of course, that it is still possible to design images which are not intended to be convincing and which are based on an experience of sharing a feeling.
This installation also contains recurring figures from your imagination: women, the end of the world, etc.
There are actually two or three familiar motifs that reoccur in The Evil Eye, including the question of the female character. It is an advertising cliché: the female body sells because it inspires less mistrust. Women are therefore over-represented in these databases and I was interested in questioning their role in this relationship of seduction. One finds that in Western myths, from Eve to witches and the hurricanes to which female names are given, women are often portrayed as a vehicle for spreading evil. I juxtapose this very archaic presence with other visions of the woman's body as "bait" for sales. Furthermore, my work revolves around the motif of the end, which can of course be traced back to the Apocalypse according to Saint John. The Evil Eye recounts these very simple, very old stories that belong to all eras, from Jérôme Bosch to the Renaissance to today: a story where the characters are caught in a world haunted by the circulation of evil and the possibility of the end.
What are your next projects?
In general, I avoid talking about my next projects because it is bad luck… But I can tell you that at the moment, I am working on several exhibitions and writing a new feature film for the cinema. Above all I am focusing on staging my first opera for the Autumn of 2019. It comes in the footsteps of the video I made about Indes galantes, for the Paris Opera's "Third Stage" series. This time, I will stage the whole play. Three hours of music with singers, a choir, dancers: this will be a major first for me.
From 15th February to 28th April, then from 17th May to 7th July 2019, Clément Cogitore is exhibiting at the Kunsthaus Baselland in Basel Switzerland, with the support of the Institut français.
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