# CINEMA /// The Militarized Archaeology of Cyprien Gaillard

MoMAPS1_012313_0306Photograph of the exhibition The Crystal World by Cyprien Gaillard at PS1

The Crystal World is the first-solo exhibition in New York of French artist Cyprien Gaillard. It is currently displayed at MoMA PS1 and gathers a very interesting collection of films, photographs and artifacts, all of which deserve to spend an important amount of time on. I wanted however to focus on one specific film that occupies the largest room of the exhibit. Entitled Artefacts (2011), this short movie was shot on a phone then transferred to a 35mm film. The cinematographic projector and its mythical sound, placed in the middle of the room, already participate to the composition of a landscape of artifacts both inside and outside the screen. The film itself is a document filmed in occupied Iraq on the tracks of the ancient and the new Babylon.  The difference of scale between the gigantic ziggurats and the American soldiers discovering the architectural treasures of the old Babylon is striking. Iraq is somehow anthropomorphizes through its heritage and the occupation soldiers cannot help but to be humbled by its grandeur.

In Artefacts, the ancient ziggurats also dialog with the monumental symbols of Saddam Hussein’s reign. Baghdad looks like the new Babylon and again, brings a scale that is unknown to the spectator of the American militarized spectacle of rockets in the city’s night sky. Similarly C.Gaillard develops a visual correspondance between old Babylonian museum artifacts with a multitude of bulldozers and aggregated broken cars. The repetitive score reinforces the quasi-hypnotic characteristics of the film and adds an ambiguous dimension as the sound is part of the song Babylon by David Gray that U.S. soldiers were using on some Abu Ghraib prisoners as a form of torture.

The fascination developed by C.Gaillard for the ruin and the failure goes as far as challenging the notion of archaeology. As he states himself: “My work starts where and when the archaeologists left off.” Indeed, a film like Artefacts embraces the subjectivity of such discipline as well as the one of history. Indeed, the chronological aspects of the Babylonian artifacts and architectures here, is not as important as the civilizational landscape they compose with their own biotope. This landscape, once blazing, is now wearing the attributes of its decadence and the attacks it had to be subjugated to. The resulting ruins that result from such process are however not any less spectacular and contribute to a testimony of an histoire (histoire in French both mean history and story). This cinematographic process, which uses the subjectivity of the film to both plays with these notions of story and history, as we often saw on this blog, is normally using an enunciated narrative to trigger this ambiguity. In the case of Cyprien Gaillard, the images and their mixing are enough to provide it.

Part of Artefacts is visible on a video online but I highly recommend whoever is able to see it at the museum to do so in order to appreciate the immersive dimension of the film.


4 Comments on “# CINEMA /// The Militarized Archaeology of Cyprien Gaillard

  1. Koudlam is a musician and collaborated with Cyprien Gaillard on several projects.

    One video shot in Afghanistan and edited for his latest album offers some reminiscences of this landscape of human bodies, human aspirations, machine guns, ruins, and questions the notion of brotherhood in a context of military occupation.

    A great book about obsessions and ruins (in french) :


  2. Equally I must coincide with as strong interest in Cyprien’s notion of the architectural hangover, I’ve been writing about the cities we live in where we battle to keep historic and spacial definitions in focus, how speed of architectural change eludes history, as time prevails, the complexity of ‘the place’ and ruin loses focus as it grows expansively… Is then supermodernity a ruin of itself?

    “It’s historical, it’s like when you wake up from alcohol and think: “Oh, what did we do, we built these things and now we’re stuck with these things”, you know – like all these 1960s social housing buildings you now have to demol- ish, like architectural hangovers, which we have to deal with. So this is what I tried to do, in a way to bring these monumental mistakes to a personal level.” — An interview with Cyprien from the exhibition catalog “The recovery of Discovery” (p39)