Upon the back of our neck we already feel the warm breath of an incipient catastrophe even now looming before us on the horizon, a sign that it is drawing closer and closer, to the point where we now come to sense it like a physical presence of which the pandemic – at the same time that it is a breath and a concrete disruption, palpable and physical – could be considered to be a magnanimous warning and a rehearsal before the great upheaval. So how should an artist react in the face of the inevitable? What actions can arise out of the artistic realm of images and fancy, without succumbing to an overweening commentary which would be not only pointless and distorted but also downright impossible, inasmuch as what is at stake is nothing other than the collapse of all narratives and all points of reference?
The film Drop Out (2020) by Hoël Duret refrains from delivering an answer but instead immerses itself in these questions, both in its visual worlds and its narratives, so as to render them even more complex. Originally conceived as a hallucinatory ‘climate fiction’ populated by fantastically wealthy climate refugees and a band of idle persons all daydreaming within a clammily constricting bad trip, the film production is turned topsy-turvy when the filming is compelled to adapt to a reality that overtakes fiction. The unanticipated hindrances are integrated into the final product which presents itself as a somewhat strange play of mirrors reflecting the impossibility, for human being and artist in equal mesure, of rationally planning the course of events while, for us bipeds, the world once again becomes an unpredictable and tempestuous hieroglyph.
At the beginning of the year a film project took you to New Zealand, where the yellow-tinged sky is suffering from the fires that are decimating nearby Australy … Can you describe for us the arrival at the place ?
I arrived in Wellington in January 2020 for a four-month residency. I had written the screenplay for a film I was preparing to shoot there about the future during the summer of 2019, but I had left certain sequences incomplete. I planned to work out these points of the narrative together with the students of Massey University, who would be receiving me. I quickly rented a car and travelled around the country to film the sequences which were already scripted in order to begin working with the graphic artist Jean Marc Ballée on superimposing animations onto these video images. Everything had been well-prepared, and I quickly began to work.
Several Weeks Later, The Lockdown Reaches Asia, And Subsequently The Entire Planet. You Are In The Process Of Filming On Site. At What Moment Do You Realise That The Project, Already Suffused With Dystopian Elements. Will Henceforth Be Obliged To Take Account Of A Reality That Is Overtaking Fiction?
The health crisis reached New Zealand right as I was conducting the writing and filming workshop with the students. The very next day, I was shut up alone within my studio for two months, right until the end of my residency. I hadn’t had time to film all my sequences; a third of the film was missing. It was precisely the section which was supposed to be co-written with the students, who were supposed to produce the scene of a survivalist group isolated in the forest. Since it was no longer possible to film with them, I had to find a clever solution. I used the last hours before entering quarantine to make as many shots as possible in the forest. In the days that followed, I prepared phone calls, chats, emails… and began to record the daily conversations that I had with friends. I planted questions and oriented the discussions in order to capture the consternation that was afflicting the entire world, even while maintaining a very banal level of dialogue, everyday conversation. This allowed me to write those discussions between the characters that I could no longer film. The figures all oscillate between a profound boredom and moments of personal delirium, but above all they no longer enter into a mutual exchange, or at least they no longer pretend to do so.
What Solutions Did You Come Up With In Order To Insert Into A Filmic Realisation Dependent On Its Conditions Of Realisation The Aforementioned Context. Which Would Subsequently Alter Its Form?
I very soon observed that, through the use of videoconferencing, numerous filters had appeared on Instagram, Messenger, etc. While searching among these thousands of filters, I found a series that allowed me to apply animal masks to my face. I replaced my survivalist actors with these animals by filming myself with these filters. In order to insert them over the images recorded in the forest, I had to enlarge and deform them, something which gives them lots of imperfections and bugs. What is more, my hair is often visible – it’s badly done, very low tech – but that makes the scenes even more frightening. I decided to use the avatars of animals because they immediately elicit empathy, even though my own versions are more broken-down and crazy.
At The Centre Of The Film. You Likewise Include A Socioeconomic Component. The Animistic Pictorial Worlds Are Doubtlessly Seductive. But The Plot Inherently Demonstrates How The Climate Crisis Heightens The Division Between The Richest Persons And Everyone Else…
Four sequences of the film were processed with animation. Wide-angle shots of the New Zealand landscape are filmed with an extremely altered colorimetry, upon which the animated forms are superimposed. These are abstract forms that evolve from one sequence to another; no explanation is offered about their nature. They are bunkers, of architectural forms designed for defense and protection, because in the years after 2000 numerous international investors have built luxurious villas doubling as bunkers. New Zealand welcomes moneyed survivalists who don’t engage in survival training but instead purchase a guaranteed refuge to escape to in the case of a major health crisis or social upheaval. In this country where greenwashing is the norm, mountains are blown up with dynamite in order to respond to the requirements of the super rich.
Do You Have The Impression, After Having Already Given Thought To These Themes, That The Pandemic Has Exacerbated This Economic Aspect, Which Has Now Been Transformed Into A Question Of Life And Death For Those Who Are Most Vulnerable?
That’s clearly the case, and I think that if I wasn’t able to see it, that is because of the rending of the social fabric, which has a distancing effect, and tends to isolate the most vulnerable people and make their voices even more inaudible. It is frightening to see the rapid disappearance of the most fragile individuals as well as the drastic deterioration of their living conditions. Admittedly, this is nothing new, because we will always be quite adept at assuring that what we don’t wish to see simply vanishes; but it is the acceleration of that phenomenon which is particular to this crisis.
To What Extent Do You Consider Fiction Capable Of Expanding Our Way Of Handling Crises And Managing To Live In A World Gripped By Change?
Fiction is the angle of approach that seems to me to be the most adequate, because it makes it possible to embrace the largest number of possibilities. Our world is vast and complex, but the omnipresence of information has cause it to shrink without in return providing us with new analytical tools for comprehending it. Fiction allows me to work through absurdity, irony, exaggeration, saturation … These all serve to establish distance from the contents and to render them more trivial. In this film, for example, I made much use of small talk, which allows me to suggest that all stories are equal in value. Our world is basically plural and infinite.
Fiction makes it possible to set at some distance the grand narratives which can no longer be expected from our era, something which would also help us to no longer await the arrival of a providential figure. In my opinion, the main challenge for fiction today lies in the tone adopted by the author in the face of this global instability. For my part, I advocate a sort of writing that avoids moralising, because that stance prohibits the public from engaging in any projections and limits it to seing only the punch line and the lesson. I consider fiction and descriptions of the future to be dependable supports for comprehending complexity, but the temptation to engage in a simplistic and reassuring moralising is dangerous.
The Film That You Made In New Zealand Lies At The Centre Of An Exhibition Project Scheduled For The Villa Merkel At Esslingen In Germany. What Form Will The Exhibition Take?
The film Drop Out is the bridge between the installation NFT pH<7 logique, which I made in 2019 for my exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton, and a sequel which I’ve been working on ever since (with the exhibitions “Outta Luck,” New Galerie, Paris, January 2022 and “Cont#ct”, CCCOD, Tours, April 2022). This film takes up some of the themes I have already explored in depth and puts them into perspective through the prism of fiction, thereby opening up possibilities for new work. The exhibition was meant to be walked through in a specific order: beginning with the installation NFT pH<7 logique (2019) in the patio, leading to the first spaces in which there were sculptures and paintings of objects from nature and industrial objects in a state of mutation, which hinted towards what would come after. The film Drop Out (2020) was shown in a black box, a kind of chamber, before going into a series of spaces illuminated by a blue light. This scenography included a series of sculptures made from glass excavated from the Metaverse and engravings on Plexiglas, as if the digital world had taken over the real world. There was a text explaining that these were the tools and observations of a fictitious scientific team which had embarked on a mission to find cave paintings left by a branch of human ancestry that went extinct over the course of evolution. As Drop Out (2020) suggests, inasmuch as our current way of thinking, based on the rationality of mathematics, has not been capable of generating an intelligence sensitive enough to be capable of preventing this sort of health crisis, this scientific expedition goes in search of another origin for writing, in the hope that this could give rise to an entirely different model for comprehending the world.
A sense of disorientation as well as a seemingly growing disconnect between knowledge and the senses; knowledge gained rationally up against sight navigation in the midst of an ontological opacity, these are all themes which are touched upon in your recent work, which impact your working methods, as well. Which leads me to ask you about something you mentioned recently, when you were led to stop adding to one story, which will continue on without you, becoming more and more filled-in…
Ever since the LOW cycle, in 2019, I’ve been adapting my process in order to be more reactive towards the world. This was necessary because the world that LOW outlines is one that is parallel to ours. This is why I sketched out this new story in a very loose way, to let things come about on their own, things that I don’t assume any control over.
Lately I’ve been working on exploring storylines and formal investigations which LOW either assimilates and digests or rejects. One example is that I’m able to experiment with new tools and their potential (Metaverse, NFT, 3D printing…) which in the context of LOW take on a whole other significance. With LOW, I’m trying to cultivate our search for meaning. There are an infinite number of truths out there that contradict our immediate experience of the world, our common sense. And yet, we still have to live and function in the world. LOW is a concerted attempt to return to abstract thinking. Some of the works from LOW might seem a bit disenchanted or melancholic, but I don’t think it advocates an absolute relativism. Adventure, the epic saga, progress, technology, heroism…etc. are present in a pretty muted form in LOW. As if history were perhaps unable to continue progressing towards “improving”. LOW is resolutely political.
Find Hoël Duret for his exhibition cont#ct at the CCCOD, Tours from april 29th until september 18th.
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Head Image : Exhibition view “LOW”, Hoël Duret, Villa Merkel, Esslingen, 2020 © Hoël Duret / ADAGP Paris, 2022
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