Where Nature Runs Riot
May 2–July 16, 2015
At the core of Cyprien Gaillard’s exhibition Where Nature Runs Riot is Nightlife (2015), a major new film shot at night over the past two years in Cleveland, Los Angeles and Berlin.
Nightlife begins with a shot of a rippling form that looks as if it were carved from the very light of the projection. As the camera pans to the right to reveal a pitted surface of greenish bronze, one of the most iconic sculptures of the twentieth century slowly fills the frame: Rodin’s The Thinker. This particular cast, one of the few overseen by Rodin himself, is in the forecourt of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Dynamited in 1970, the sculpture’s base was shredded and its bulk knocked to the ground, an act attributed to the anti-imperialist group ‘Weather Underground’ – one of their many attacks on public spaces across the US. After debating what to do with the sculpture, the museum decided to reinstall the work in its damaged state. As it slowly encircles the large sculpture, rising from its base and recording every detail, the camera seems to create a new, virtual mould of the work. Gaillard then recasts The Thinker as a projection, a new sculpture composed of light, forcefully underlining the sculptural texture of the 3D film. The three-dimensionality is further carved into the soundtrack, which Gaillard created with a 9-second sample from Alton Ellis’s rocksteady classic Blackman’s Word. First released on the Treasure Isle label in 1969, the song featured the refrain "I was born a loser". Rerecorded for the rival Coxsone label in 1971, the title was changed to Black Man’s Pride and the refrain to "I was born a winner". Gaillard remixed both samples to give a spatial – or sculptural – feel to the music, a gesture that taps into the radical history of the genre. In the early 1970s, reggae and rocksteady tracks were often remixed using filters and basic effects such as reverb and delay, creating an overall sensation of echo. Called ‘dub’, this process created a disorientating experience of sound and a metaphoric space for freedom and change. Nightlife reconfigures two time-based mediums, music and film, into sculpture, creating a palpable illusion of space. But there is an important disjunction between audio and visual: dub effects can be achieved with analogue equipment, whereas the film was produced with highly advanced digital technology. Gaillard infuses Nightlife with anachronism: the soundtrack is a low-fidelity counterpart to the film’s exceptionally high-tech visuals.