For his first solo exhibition at Galerie Bugada & Cargnel, entitled Polygon, Julian Charrière presents a group of works exploring a geo-archaeology of the future, each work representing a different 'age of the world'. These works incorporate elements referring to what contemporary philosopher Timothy Morton calls 'hyperobjects': entities whose temporal or physical scale are beyond our understanding.
Inspired by J.G. Ballard's short story The Terminal Beach, Julian Charrière has travelled to the Polygon of Semipalatinsk, in Kazakhstan, to shoot the video Somewhere and the photographic series Polygon. That site was the primary testing venue for the Soviet Union's nuclear weapons, where the first Soviet atomic bomb exploded in 1949, followed until 1989 by another 455 – a total explosive power over 2'500 times more than the Hiroshima bomb.
Switching between day light and night shots, the long and silent tracking shots of Somewhere unveil the highly contaminated and inanimate steppe of the Polygon. The area is sprinkled with concrete structures built to study the effects of nuclear blast. These now useless monoliths, that have resisted hundreds of nuclear explosions, are destined to become the unintentional monuments of the atomic area, even after it is over. Somewhere is an excursion into human-environmental interrelations and the constructive as well as destructive topographic modifications in which they result.
The Polygon photographs were shot in the same place on analogue film, and submitted to radiation from sand taken on the site of the Polygon before their development. Thus they both depict the site of nuclear radiation and bear the actual trace of radioactivity's effects.
Future Fossil Spaces is part of a global reflection of Julian Charrière on the digital era, and the materials that allow for the advent of a period of ever increasing dematerialisation. The fossils mentioned in the title do not refer to traces of animal or plant life found in rocks, but to the Latin etymology of the word, which translates literally as 'obtained by digging'.
These three works are indeed columns made out of salt bricks from the Salar de Uyuni. This salt flat, the world's largest, located in the Bolivian Andes, keeps one third of the world's lithium reserves, still largely unexploited but which will probably make it in the next decades the main production site of this metal. Lithium is mainly concentrated in brine – water containing a high amount of salt – that is found under the surface salt bed. Brine is pumped, stocked in settling ponds cut in the salt crust, where its concentration rises for a year by evaporation, before lithium is harvested.
It's these salt blocks, extracted from the ground to create the bassins, that Julian Charrière has transported, cut and piled up to build his totems for the digital era, where lithium, used in the batteries of electronic devices, is a key element. Stacked up, the salt blocks evoke geological layers, and the time needed for the forming of lithium.
Tropisme is a monumental refrigerated display case in which plants casted in an ice sheath are installed. These ferns, orchids and succulents are amongst the oldest plant species on Earth, since they survived the major extinction event at the end of the Cretaceous, around 65 millions year ago, that led to the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs as well as many other living species.
Witnesses of very ancient times that are far below the human scale, living fossils whose DNA survived through time periods and glaciations, Julian Charrière cryopreserves these plants to keep them in an eternal present – as if time could be stopped, and the plants, protected from the effetcs of entropy and decay, archived for the future.
This work is also inspired by the science-fiction novel The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard, who imagines Earth, its wildlife and flora back to how they were during Prehistory, hostiles to human beings, themselves dominated by their 'reptilian brain' and tempted by a regression toward a primitive condition. These plants, often found in our daily environment as houseplants, keep close to us a sort of memory of these primitive times.