contemporary art / history of art

Exhibition: Julian Charrière. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and Everywhere.

MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna
Sala delle Ciminiere
Via Don Minzoni 14, Bologna

8 June – 8 September 2019

With the exhibition Julian Charrière. All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and Everywhere. the MAMbo invites the visitors to plunge into the submarine world and to pop up from time to time to have a glance to what happens onshore. This might be a welcome refreshment in the expected summer heat. Nevertheless, Julian Charrière’s first solo exhibition in an Italian museum makes reflective without transmitting a preconceived judgement. In the show, photography, installation, sculpture and video are interacting and intensify each other. However, also the individual works are interesting. They are questioning science history, cultural development, and explorers’ romanticism under the impression of the ecological crisis and the contemporary extension of mass media.


Plunging into the Ocean

Already the video Iroojrilik (2016) in the vestibule carries off into a magical universe. During more than twenty minutes, the spectator could follow the diving excursions of the artist, made at the Bikini Atoll (Marshall Islands). The submarine shootings are interrupted by twilight-dawn images of surface. While these sequences are showing an apparently untouched paradise, the submarine recordings are presenting the Atolls’ rotting witnesses of its past. Shipwrecks are lying on seabed, exposed to tides and time. In the 1940s and 1950s, these ships, mainly discarded warships, were transferred to the Pacific Ocean by the US-military. Their purpose was to gain knowledge about the kind of damages made by the atomic explosions provoked by the American nuclear tests. Despite the destructive past and circumstances of the objects, the shootings transmit the impression of a mythical lost paradise or the re-conquest by nature.

Floating forward, the visitor enters the dimmed main hall, where three single works are united to an impressive installation. On the floor, there are leaden coconuts, some piled up to pyramids. The leaden sarcophagus contain real coconuts, to symbolise the risks of radiation and the dramatic embrace of the Marshall Islands by its former colonial power. The pyramids likewise remind stockpiles of cannonballs and ancient Egypt tombs. Named Pacific Fiction (2016), the installation is a supposed model for a future memorial. It would be a remembrance to the people and their suffering, due to the US nuclear tests.



The video As We Used to Float (2018), projected on a huge screen in the background of the hall, indicates that we are still under water. During more than 6 minutes presented in an endless loop, the film shows a ship’s propeller floating in sixty-five meters depth, another remnant of the American presence on the Marshall Islands. It could be almost a still, if there were no bubbles and no acoustic background, the recorded sound of the artist’s movements during the diving.

Above the scenery hovers the exhibitions name giving installation All We Ever Wanted Was Everything and Everywhere (2018). Suspended at the ceiling there is a diving bell with its counterweight: an accumulation of plastic bags filled with seawater. This hanging sculpture repeats the bell in an inverted form. The diving bell refers to the artist’s lonesome submarine experience, when he filmed the Ghost Fleet at the Bikini Atoll. This is underlined by the breathing sound broadcasted from the object. Furthermore, it is an allusion to the historic diving technique, used to explore the submarine world. Whereas the plastic bags might hint to our contemporary problems. Nevertheless, here is not plastic in the ocean, but the ocean in plastic.


Silent worlds



Behind the main hall is the third room, which is again very dark. The installation Silent World (2019) attracts the attention of the visitor, since it is one of the rare source of light in the chamber. A video showing the water surface filmed from below is projected on a water filled square basin, which exudes gentle mist. It is another inversion, since the spectator looks to the ground and sees the shimmering sunlight as coming out of the water. However, the film is shot in the reversed direction, pointing the camera from the ground upwards. It allows contemplating the diver’s perspective without the preparations needed for diving. Moreover, Julian Charrière refers to the phenomena of projection and reflexion on the water surface. In doing so, he reminds legends and scientific theories, describing the process of becoming aware of oneself, for example the ancient Greek myth of Narcissus and its scientific derivation by Freud and Jacques Lacan.

Another form of awareness experience the naked free-divers in the Mexican Cenotes. These are natural water filled caves. Here saline- and rainwater are meeting, provoking a blurry layer in the transition area. Entering the so-called chemocline, the divers vanish optically. At the same time, they might experience another state of consciousness. Julian Charrière followed them with his camera and shot the photo series Where Waters Meet (2019). Illuminated by single spots, the divers seem to float in a dark space.


On the surface

In the side rooms, the visitor gains mainland again. A part of one hall is dedicated to the artist’s works concerning the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site. Located on the steppe of northeast Kazakhstan, the army of the former Soviet Union conducted nuclear tests between 1949 and 1989. Thus, the site is still contaminated and could only be visited with protective clothing or not longer than 30 minutes. The over 16-minutes-video Somewhere (2014) allows a meditative look on the destroyed landscape. Moreover, the black-and-white photo-series Polygon (2014) is made with double exposure through radioactive material. The results are showing bright points and clouds, where the thermonuclear strata touched the negatives.

These images are accompanied by the self-destructive plaster sculptures Somehow They Never Stop Doing What They Always Did (2019) and the photo based reconstruction of a scientific setup Savannah Shed (2016). Located in South Carolina, United States, the Savannah River Site is a nuclear reservation. After an accident in 1964, the researchers released alligators and afterwards measured their level of contamination. Due to a Geiger counter in the installation, the visitor gets an audible demonstration of the current radioactivity in the surroundings.

Other side rooms show the installation We Are All Astronauts (2013) with its eleven found globes, two double exposed colour photos from the Bikini Atoll (series First Light, 2016) and a mutated coconut also from Bikini (Lost at Sea – Pikini-Fragment, 2016). Interesting about this overlong fruit is its sterility, despite its phallic appearance. Additionally, there is the multimedia installation The Gods Must Be Crazy (2019), which invites once again into the submarine world. The 49 screens are showing the research of artificial intelligence for residues of human presence on the seabed. It is a poetic, but also vivid pointer to the impact of modern societies on nature.

Fake or real news?

Outside the exhibition, in the foyer, there is another work, which was created by Julian Charrière and Julius von Bismarck, who are often cooperating. In the Real World It Doesn’t Happen That Perfectly (2019) is based on a video anonymously posted on several websites, stating to be filmed in the Arches National Park in Utah, United States. For this video, the artist duo created artificial arches and totemic hoodoo in the Mexican desert, similar to the existing ancient geologic sites in Utah. Then they filmed their destruction by dynamite.

Soon, the video attracted interest and the main US-TV-stations reported about it. They discussed their authenticity with experts. The Utah park officials tried to verify if the film is real or not. Finally, even the FBI investigated, until the artist duo revealed the true background. In their video installation, Julian Charrière and Julius von Bismarck show on two monitors the original video, mixed with the medial reactions on TV and on the internet. The current CNN-news are broadcasted on a third screen. In the Real World It Doesn’t Happen That Perfectly exposes vividly that the media and the audience can be manipulated by fake news or better in this case real fake news.

In the occasion of the exhibition, the Edizioni MAMbo published the book Noi che galleggiavamo (As We Used to Float) by Nadim Samman and Julian Charrière, translated from English by Elisabetta Zoni. It is a mixture between travel diary and essay, where the authors express their thoughts during their exploration of the Bikini Atoll.



Photos © Astrid Gallinat, if not mentioned otherwise