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Interview with Photographer Thibault Brunet

Thibault Brunet was awaded in 2017 the Etant donnés residency grant, supported by the CPGA (Comité Professionnel des Galeries d'Art). This residency took place in New York in spring 2018, with main partner Aperture Foundation.

A young photographer, Brunet is mostly interested in technically questioning the action of shooting: understanding the ways in which virtual imagery meets reality in our society that is becoming more and more digitalized. After studying and graduating from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Nîmes, he started working on virtual worlds, looking for pictures. In 2014, he took part in a collective project attempting to catalog the French territory architecture on Google Earth; his work was presented at the Lyon Biennale in 2015 and was displayed at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. He is now mostly working on digitalizing the real world, using a LIDAR (Laser Imaging Detection And Ranging). He was recently exhibited at the Centre Pompidou as part of the “Imprimer le Monde/Print the World” show. He was also one of the five finalists for Aperture Foundation Award.

Brunet is interested in the territory as itself and its occupation. His research project in the US, entitled Soleil Noir (Black Sun) was inspired by historical public commissions such as heliographic mission, the DATAR (Delegation for Planning and Regional Action) or the ESF (European Science Foundation). This project initially aimed to observe and analyze the specific terrain of the United States, with its endless lands and distant horizons. He programed a topographical exploration inspired by science fiction and a questioning of photographical objectivity as a reflection on virtuality.

French Culture: What was your residency’s initial project ?

In Rencontre du 3eme type by S. Spielberg, men in an obsessive manner draw and recreate a mountain they all see in their dreams. They discover that the mountain exists in real life and that it is in fact, Devil’s Tower located in Wyoming. What interests me in this process is that it’s the drawings that bring the discovery of the realife landscape, reproducing the myth of the cavern in a way. In this gesture, it is the landscape that begins with the image of itself : it is not the mountain that leads us to represent it in drawing, but the inverse and this process is the starting point of my residency in New York.

Can you present to us any of your new works or the progress of your research?

Today’s world is extremely documented. Everything is photographed, any gas station, any path; recreational drones, dashcams of cars and Gopros on the helmets of cyclists record everything. If I know how to recover and use all of this data, I can recreate the recorded world, add more in volume, make topographical interpretations. Because all of these recorded instances one after another mobilize a new world, a world numerical and immaterial, it is not a perfect replica of reality, but a misrepresented and sick replica, with holes. I came back from France with several images of conflict zones, of images created thanks to wandering the internet and thanks to the recovery of vernacular videos and this is the content with which I worked during this residency. 

How has your residency unfolded? In what ways was this residency an important milestone for your work?

I had the chance of having Lesley A. Martin, one of the creative directors of Aperture, as a mentor for this residency. We were able to discuss the evolution of this new series. I shared with her my hesitations pertaining to this new work. She allowed for me to take the necessary steps back to reevaluate my work, to later advise my reflections, and to meet the artists and curators who had the same preoccupations.

This research which was claiming at first to be a portrait of the America’s great outdoors, transformed and politicized itself gradually as a result of President Trump’s inverventions in the Middle East… I, at the time, chose to be guided by these occuring realities, and it is the internet’s serendipity that accompanied me slowly down other avenues. This took me away from my original objective and reoriented me toward remote geographic zones, very politically linked to the United States.

The videos of conflicts in the Middle East flooded my internet feed and I used this to guide me and one after another, they created a topograpic view of conflicts. The serendipity and the occuring realities once again brought me further and further, in time offering me images of propaganda of the Islamic state where I could observe many battlefields, many attacks… The most amazing thing was that the internet feed's continuity didn’t propose to me any hierarchy, it gave me views of tourist hikes in the mountains of the Turkish frontier just after showing me the worst of a battlefield not far from there.

This work is the result of a trip to the United States as much as it is the networks of the internet, its immaterial double. The images that emerge are just as much portraits of a certain world as they are images that question the notion of the decisive moment, as one does not ask themselves anymore when the image was taken, but rather which lapse of time it represents. We are in this case before the technical image, perfectly exact, but equally filled of holes, missing. This ambivalence permits me to play with the notion of the perception of landscape, are we able to still perceive it fully? My photos are loaded with an often dense history (places of combat) and yet no action unfolds there, the earth seems to escape, ethereal, as a sketched drawing.

What are your perspectives at the end of this residency?

This residency permitted me to develop another manner of working with the landscape, technically these are the steps that I had never made nor resolved. This is therefore the enormous field of possibilities that have opened before me and I intend on venturing there again.

The project that I created in New York is going to be presented in the Nemo Digital Art BienniaI. I am currently working on it. In addition, I am discussing with Valérie Cazin (Binome gallery) an exhibition that would take place next spring in Paris. I intend to present many excerpts there of this opus.