Julian Charrière - Polygon
Exhibition, Galerie Bugada & Cargnel, Paris, France, until 30 May
Lithium salt bricks from Bolivia, a former nuclear radiation site in Kazakhstan and frozen plant species are juxtaposed in Julian Charrière's show. The group of works explore “a geo-archaeology of the future”, according to Bugada & Cargnel. This is Charrière's first exhibition at the Parisian gallery and it reveals influences from Robert Smithson's Land Art, Olafur Eliasson's practice and J.D. Ballard's sci-fi literature.
The 28-year-old Swiss artist, who is based in Berlin, travelled to the Polygon of Semipalatinsk in Kazakhstan to shoot the video, Somewhere, and the photography series, Polygon. Shifting from moonlight to daylight, the video trails a remote, desolate landscape where huge blocks of concrete lie like debris, the sole indicators of past activity. This is no ordinary site. It's where the first Soviet atomic bomb exploded in 1949, when the site was the primary testing ground for the USSR's nuclear weapons. The concrete blocks were built to study the effects of nuclear disaster, their present uselessness a testament to their failure.
Shot on site on analogue film, the black-and-white photographs are covered in blurry patches. Before developing the negatives, Charrière submitted them to radiation from grains of sand taken from the site, embedding the causal effect of the nuclear disaster within the images themselves.
Meanwhile, the three columns of salt bricks, titled Future Fossil Spaces, are made from salt from the Salar de Uyni, one of the world’s largest salt flats located in the Bolivian Andes. According to National Geographic, here lies the world's largest reserve of lithium, used to power smart phones, computers and electric cars. Charrière transported the blocks of salt to his studio in Berlin, where he cut them and piled them up into columns. Their geological layering is suggestive of the time needed to harvest and develop lithium for the increasingly demanding digital era.
Completing the exhibition is a display case containing plants sheathed in ice. The work is titled Tropisme and the plants, such as ferns and orchids, are among the oldest plant species on earth. By freezing them, it is as if Charrière is archiving them for the future, protecting them from entropy. It's a thought-provoking exhibition that feels like a plea for more careful preservation of natural resources. It's formally strong too, making Charrière a name to watch.