Julian Charrière, born in 1987 in Morges, Switzerland, works as a visual artist in and with various media. His innovative works combine themes of environmental science and cultural history and reflect the complexity of our relationship with our environment. Combining performance, sculpture and photography, his projects are often based on field research in remote locations with special geophysical characteristics. Charrière, a former student of Olafur Eliasson, explores post-romantic constructions of "nature" and deals with the tensions between geological and human time scales. His interventions move on the border between mysticism and concrete materiality and place timeless images in a contemporary context. Charrière's works have been exhibited in renowned museums and institutions worldwide, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Venice Biennale and the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin.

Julian Charrière

In conversation with Hatje Cantz, Julian Charrière shares his perspective on the work of Caspar David Friedrich and how the insights gained from Friedrich's work influence his own artistic approach.

Hatje Cantz: Have you experienced a very personal Friedrich moment in your life you like to tell us about?

Julian Charrière: I am sure that a Caspar David Friedrich moment is different for each person, whether this connotes feeling a spirituality in nature, or simply marveling at temporal scales which greatly surpass our own. It can be small, like every time I look at the ribbons of strata, or vast, as when you witness the sudden upheaval of a mountain one thought was sleeping. Most poignant for the exhibition though, might be producing The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories in Iceland, an intervention which became a photo series, a document of what could be thought of as a Friedrich moment, or at least a meditation on one. I had climbed a floating iceberg, which suspended in the blue water could flip at any moment, and anxiously burnt it with gas torch for eight hours. It melts then immediately refreezes, so there is something absurd in this, the desperation of our accelerating industries and global warming, yet the resilience of the cold. Of course, that is only one torch, and when multiplied millions of times over in our car engines, even the most resilient of geochemical becomes fragile and erratic. That flickering and freezing – the smallness of our actions and how it accumulates to something incomprehensibly massive, imbues the work, becoming in essence its spirit. It shows what is arguably a beautiful cryospheric landscape, but it is about something more, akin to the spiritualism in the work of Caspar David Friedrich.
Julian Charriére – The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories III, 2013

HC: Can you tell us which elements from Friedrich's work you have taken up in your own artworks and what role they play in your artistic practice?

JC: For me, I am deeply interested in how our ideas of ‘nature’ have changed. During Romanticism, and at the dawn of the industrialisation, natural phenomena were understood as something that could be dominated by the simple application of mathematical logic, which created a separation between the ordered human and the bewildered capitalised Nature. It is critical that we look at the ideals which underpin these ideal and learn from the failure of separating humankind conceptually from the planetary milieus to which we are irrevocably connected. Investigating and questioning the legacies of such belief systems is something you can find traces of in a majority of my work. In The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories, I address this explicitly, by placing the protagonist within the environment again, bridging that divide visually. But in terms of Caspar David Friedrich, there is an emotional resonance which also resonates with me. Looking at the beautiful, melancholy and sublime vistas from his oeuvre, you get the sense that there is no intention here to literally represent actual milieus, even when he is making his sketches en plein air. Rather these ruins and glowing skies and desolate horizons function as pictorial tools for creating spiritual encounters: meditations on humankind’s relationship to the world around them and to God. While my works are not religious, they too often play on this idea of a staged encounter, hosting immersive and, at times, sensorially overwhelming experiences through which we can think about the layers of meaning which enmesh between viewer and material reality.

HC: Why do you think Friedrich's work is relevant today? 

JC: It is invaluable for us to understand how our views have changed, from the othering of Romanticism all the way into the sometimes over-expanded notion of the Anthropocene. It is a humbling exercise, which immediately lays bare our often hubristic approach to the defining and standardising the world around us. Art historically, Caspar David Friedrich had a profound effect on the potential of landscape painting and the ways with which it could convey feeling and meaning, it marked change. Thus, it feels deeply relevant to explore his artworks in relation to the environmental change we are experiencing today, since his life overlaps with the Industrial Revolution. His work is therefore indelibly marked by a period which defines not only our present, but also the future. The better we can understand the mechanisms which delivered us to the situation we find ourselves in now, the better equipped we will be to make positive changes going forward.

Julian Charrière is represented in the catalogue Caspar David Friedrich - Kunst für eine neue Zeit, which also includes contemporary positions that relate to the work of the well-known Romantic artist.

Caspar David Friedrich – Kunst für eine neue Zeit | Hatje Cantz Verlag

Hatje Cantz has also published the book Julian Charrière - Second Suns, in which Charrière embarks on artistic field research into the post-nuclear landscapes and architectures of Bikini Atoll.

Julian Charrière – Second Suns | Hatje Cantz

Image credit: Portrait Julian Charrère © Studio Julian Charrière; Julian Charrière – The Blue Fossil Entropic Stories III, 2013 © Julian Charrière; VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany 

Veröffentlicht am: 01.02.2024