Julian Charrière
Thickens, pools, flows, rushes, slows

Copyright the artist; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

And Beneath It All Flows Liquid Fire

The continents do not have to plough through the oceanic floor. Rather they are carried atop the continually moving lithosphere. They forever drift, like so many gigantic stony Flying Dutchmen, as the ocean basins slowly, inexorably open and close.

Zalasiewicz, The Earth after Us, p. 48

Suggesting multiples ways in which And Beneath It All, Flows Liquid Fire can be interpreted, Charrière notes that beneath the political debates, philosophical reflections and symbolic meanings associated with various phenomena of the environmental system, there lies the original and autonomous state of the planet, free from all human interpretation. Deep beneath the Earth's surface, between its outer-most crust and inner core, magma—the molten or semi-molten natural material from which all igneous rocks are formed—constantly churns. Even in the most frozen regions of the earth, this “liquid fire” constantly flows.

Flames rise from the tiered basins of a neoclassical fountain, to form a conical pyre in the night. Overflowing rings of burning liquid cascade downward, in rhythmic splashes, gurgling amidst the conflagration. Illuminated droplets seem to hang in midair, caught between flight and the gravitational pull of the mass below.

Dehlia Hannah, PhD – philosopher and curator based at Aalborg University-Copenhagen

In this film, Charrière’s fountain depicts an absurd state that implies the coexistence of opposite elements, water and fire. The artist turns the traditional iconography of the fountain on its head in symbolic terms too: the connection with water and the concept of a spring of life now dominated by flames. Fire has an ambiguous meaning, for it is not just an element of destruction but is also considered humankind’s oldest conquest, corresponding to the beginning of civilization. It is no coincidence that Charrière juxtaposes the remote locations of the glacial landscape not only with the element of fire, but also with the ancient symbol of its earliest settlements: the fountain.

Towards No Earthly Pole

Thresholds between realities are figured as transitions between states of matter in Julian Charrière’s newest body of work. The burning fountain encapsulates the enigma of another world: a speculative glacial landscape, composed of video footage shot by drone under the cover of arctic night.

Dehlia Hannah, PhD

Glacial landscapes have never before had such a strong visual presence in popular culture, where they serve as prominent symbols of anthropogenic climate disturbance. Although few people have visited their remote geographies, glacial regions loom large in the collective imagination, as a last stronghold and melting ideal of a fantasized reality.

Archival pigment print on Hahnemühle FineArt Pearl, mounted on aluminium dibond
80 x 100 cm
Edition of 5 + 1 AP
Copyright the artist; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn; Sies + Höke, Düsseldorf

Thickens, pools, flows, rushes, slows

Time moves differently here in the underland, writes Robert MacFarlane of his subterranean journeys. “It thickens, pools, flows, rushes, slows.” [1] Beyond dreams, the geological underworld supplies its own flow of transgressions. One of these takes the form of lava, spat up from the belly of the earth in volcanic eruptions, which cools rapidly to form obsidian once it reaches the surface. Obsidian lacks the crystalline structure associated with true minerals; it is, rather, a supercooled and congealed liquid, a form of black (or green) glass whose physical properties cause a distinctive conchoidal fracture pattern. The ripple-like fractures produce extremely hard edges, which allowed obsidian to be fashioned into flints by Neolithic peoples and thus to become one of the earliest materials to be traded and transported over large distances. Much later, dark obsidian mirrors delivered omens and pleasantly distorted landscapes in the form of the Claude Glass. Sculpted from large chunks of obsidian, Charrière’s Thickens, pools, flows, rushes, slows unearths these complex histories and casts black volcanic glass against glacial ice, itself a true mineral, whose shattering pattern now resonates across the threshold of worlds.

[1] Robert MacFarlane, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, W.W. Norton, 2019

Julian Charrière, Towards No Earthly Pole, 2019, Making-Of

Copyright the artist; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Towards No Earthly Pole was conceived in 2017, when Julian Charrière was invited aboard a Russian research ship as part of the first Antarctic Biennale, inspiring subsequent research and expeditions to equally remote and hostile glacial regions.

Along with his Berlin-based team, he developed customized technological equipment, including drones carrying spotlights and cameras. The video footage for the film was recorded at night, contrary to the romantic image of a dazzling landscape of white snow and bright daylight that we generally see pictured.

A spotlight carried by a drone reveals the massive landscape in snippets, limiting the range of vision and heightening its drama by the deep shadows the icebergs cast. Eerie sounds of cracking ice and water flowing remind us that this frozen landscape is very much alive, breathing, moving and constantly evolving.

All of these elements combined underline an otherworldly presence and a scenario in which one begins to lose all sense of grounding or scale, highlighting that the western man’s limited experience and, at times, falsely constructed perception of the polar regions is both reinforced and challenged.

In Greenland, the cold begins with the new year, and becomes so piercing in the months of February and March, that the stones split, and the sea smokes like a furnace, especially in the bays. In the midst of this thick fog, however, the frost is not so intense, as when the sky is unclouded; for, when we pass from the land to that foggy atmosphere which covers the surface and margins of the waters, we feel a milder air, though our hair and clothes are stiffened with hoar-frost. This fog produces more chilblains than a dry cold; and, when it passes from the sea to a colder atmosphere, it instantly freezes, is dispersed through the horizon by the wind, and produces a cold so intense that no person can go into the open air, without running the hazard of having his hands and feet entirely frozen. It is in this season, that we see the water freeze on the fire before it boils. It is then that the winter paves a road of ice between islands, and in the bays and straits.

Georges Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, Natural history: general and particular, translated into English 1785

Feature in 3sat Kulturzeit about Julian Charrière from 9 April 2020