From a great distance, our planet appears a perfectly spherical blue-green globe suspended in space as if by a string. If we zoom in, topography begins to appear, and upon even closer inspection, as do things like large cities and international borders. At such grand scales, these features, both geological and artificial, seem permanent, but when the scales of time are also stretched, the fragility of these attributes becomes clear. Volcanic eruptions can erase the great trade hub of Pompeii from existence or form whole new archipelagos. In much the same way, human influence can redraw borders and shift identities. As it was with the Partition of India, the largest human migration in history, a person can start their day one nationality and end it another.
It is the ever-interconnecting feedback loop between these kinds of synthetic and ecological forces that informs the art of Julian Charrière. His installation piece We Are All Astronauts, 2013, features antique globes suspended by strings over a table. Using an “international sandpaper”, of his own making, created with mineral samples from all UN-recognized countries, Charrière rubbed away the features of the globes, allowing the debris to settle on the flat surface below, forming something new and uncalculated from the static order that existed before, reflecting the chaos and creation inherent in change.
The work of the young French-Swiss artist includes performance, photographs, and installations, but the pieces serve more as evidence of Charrière’s process or, in many cases, his adventures. One such excursion found him on an ancient Icelandic iceberg, where he spent an entire day in blistering conditions attempting to melt the berg with a blowtorch. Monumental exercise in futility that it was (the small amounts of liquid water he was able to produce refroze almost as soon as it thawed), Charrière’s endeavors speak to the greater impact of humanity en masse, in which melting ice caps, mass extinctions, and rising global temperatures implicate our collective ability to affect geology and ecosystems far older than civilization. Charrière’s impermanent feat is immortalized in The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories, 2013, photographs that capture the lone man and his Promethean flame against the colossal berg.
The pursuit of his work has taken Charrière from the bustling streets of Venice, where he (humanely) painted bold colors into the plumage of live pigeons, to the desolate expanses of a Bolivian desert, where he collected compressed core samples infused with lithium—one of the simplest of elements, yet responsible for fueling our batteries and single-handedly regulating the minds of individuals with bipolar syndrome. This enduring pursuit has left him no stranger to extremes.
Now, Charrière prepares for a new solo show at Despacio in Costa Rica, a country whose tropical jungles boast some of our world’s greatest terrestrial biodiversity. Charrière’s diverse works will seem right at home in this hub of ecotourism. And yet, as if to exemplify by contrast this verdant cornucopia, the work that will be showcased will boast an almost utter lack of life.
Displayed pieces will include the aforementioned We Are All Astronauts, 2013; Tropisme (Helio), 2015, a series of photographs of his flash frozen, stalagmite-like plants; Blue Fossil Entropic Stories, 2013, photography of his Icelandic iceberg adventure; as well as new, never-before-seen video work.
We are all astronauts on this great planetary ship hurtling through space, and Charrière is a worthy navigator.
Thoughts by Schandra Madha