Cyprien Gaillard: Nightlife

Cyprien Gaillard (b. 1980) is a prominent young French artist who makes films, sculptures, and paintings. His work focuses on the artistic expression of concepts of entropy, destruction and humankind’s impact on nature.

Gaillard was born in Paris, France, but spent his childhood near Silicon Valley in the United States. He had a rebellious adolescence that contributed to his artistic focus of destruction. Gaillard is “interested in things failing, in the beauty of failure, and the fall in general.”[2] In 2004, at age 24, Gaillard began his career as an artist and attended the Cantonal School of Art of Lausanne in Switzerland. He currently lives in New York and Berlin.

Gaillard’s pivotal work is his 2009 piece Dunepark. In this work Gaillard excavates a recently discovered World War II bunker on a beach in the Netherlands with the help of a museum and excavating equipment. This work criticizes the practice of burying such discoveries under new layers of construction. The excavation is also a form of negative sculpture. It is for this work that Gaillard was awarded the Marcel Duchamp prize in 2010.

On display at the Gladstone Gallery in New York is Gaillard’s piece Nightlife (2015). Taking over 2 years to film, this work features 3D footage of night scenes from Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Berlin. Speaking as the author of a 3D computer graphics library, I am happy to see 3D effects used in a way that doesn’t feel like a gimmick. The piece consists of four sections, starting with film of Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker (1880) that was partially destroyed in a 1970 bombing by a radical political group. The second section shows unique movements of trees in Los Angeles that seem to sway and dance to Nightlife’s soundtrack while being constrained by the man-made structures surrounding them. The third section consists of film of fireworks in Berlin, presumably shot from an aerial drone. The final section returns to Cleveland to show the Oak tree planted by Jesse Owens after he won four gold medals in the 1936 Olympic games. Themes of destruction are expressed through the fireworks and the damaged statue.

Of particular interest is Gaillard’s choices for Nightlife’s audio track. Gaillard sampled the lyrics “I was born a loser” from Alton Ellis’ 1969 song Blackman’s Word. To this sample Gaillard added sound effects to make it somewhat muffled and distorted. This is heard repeatedly for the first three sections of the piece. In 1971 Ellis re-recorded the song on a different label with the new title Black Man’s Pride and the lyrics “I was born a winner.” The new version of the song gives Gaillard an opportunity to change the sampled lyrics for the fourth and final section of the piece. This small change sends a powerful message as the film focuses on Jesse Owens’ Olympic Oak, a monument to Owens’ athleticism and victory.

Cyprien Gaillard is a French artist expressing themes of destruction and humankind’s interaction with nature. His piece Nightlife expresses these themes through film in ways that are subtle and powerful and demonstrate his skill as an artist.

[1] Wikipedia contributors. "Cyprien Gaillard." Wikipédia, l'encyclopédie libre. 18 Jan. 2018. Web. 18 Jan. 2018.

[2] Artsy Editors. “Cyprien Gaillard.” Artsy. 13 Apr. 2018. Web. 13 Apr. 2018.

[3] Huff, Andrew. “Cyprien Gaillard: Nightlife.” Gladstone Gallery. 23 Feb. 2018. Print. 13 Apr. 2018.