September 2008, A Conversation with Christophe Chemin
Christophe Chemin, Waiting for God, courtesy the artist
Travis Jeppesen in conversation with Christophe Chemin
“It’s all about coming from the basement,” says Christophe Chemin on the subject of his upcoming solo exhibition at RISE Berlin, “but wanting to go back into the basement.”
We’re standing in front of a large drawing, a line of angelic devils with blank eyes and rotting skin. They could be demons, sorrowful children of the corn who, endowed with freedom from captivity for the first time, have yet to comprehend that that sort of freedom is actually desirable. In fact, the drawing is meant to depict the offspring of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian pensioner who recently made headlines when it was discovered he had kept his daughter captive in his basement for twenty-four years, along with the half-dozen children he had fathered by her. Exposed to natural light for the first time in their lives at the time of release, the children have since been kept in a secluded medical clinic where their exposure to daylight is limited so as to deter the threat of blindness.
The color pencil drawings Chemin has been creating for the exhibition, which borrows its title (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle) from Werner Herzog’s film about Kaspar Hauser, are very much rooted in the artist’s lifelong obsession with blindness.
“In 2005, I started making drawings of blind people. I call them ‘blind,’ but they’re not really blind – they’re blank. As a child, I was fascinated by ancient Egyptian statues, which have blank eyes because the eyes used to be painted on, but have worn off over time. My fascination was with those blank eyes.”
Dogs are another recurring motif in the works-in-progress – and most of them appear to be dead or dying. Like the blind children, these recurring carcasses are far from arbitrary. “In Paris, I used to live in the apartment where Verlaine was born. I had a lot of strange dreams there. In one of them, I was trying desperately to get inside the apartment. A man came to the door and refused to let me in. He was soon joined by another, his lover, who looked exactly like him. I finally had to force my way into the apartment, and in the ensuing struggle, I pushed both of them out the window. When I looked down below to see what had become of them, I saw a multitude of dead dogs laying there.
“Around the time of that dream, every movie I saw seemed to have a dead dog in it. Suddenly, everything clicked – a connection between the two emerged. The blind are supposed to be led by the dogs, but the dogs are dead.”
The Berlin exhibition will mark the beginning of a busy season for Chemin; solo exhibitions have already been planned in the coming months for Paris and Bordeaux.
Keeping up with the young artist’s myriad activities – he is also a gifted novelist, filmmaker, and has even branched out into acting, starring in Bruce LaBruce’s new flick, Otto; or, Up with Dead People – is a challenge worth meeting. His latest drawings, videos, and performances are the mind-products of a modern day visionary, one brave enough to render visible the shapes and entities that the vast majority are blind to.
Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio.
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