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Portrait of an artist #5 : Julien Ribot

A 1995 graduate of the École supérieure d’arts graphiques Penninghen, Julien Ribot navigates between a career as a visual artist and a musician. After composing four albums,  working with a symphonic orchestra and a choir, and creating the theater piece “Son Penning hen” with Nicolas Maury (played at the Avignon Festival and at the Fondation Cartier in 2013), Julien Ribot has turned to the creation of performances that he calls “Films-Experiences,” mixing experimental animation film and live music: creations for the Nuits Blanches in Paris in 2015 and 2016, MAMAC in 2017 for the opening of the European Short Film Festival in Nice, and at the Villa Médicis in 2018 for the “Villa Aperta” festival.

It is thanks to a song that Julien Ribot produced in 2008 that I discovered him: “La chambre renversée,” from the album “Vega”. This sweet, melancholic and poetic lullaby was exactly what I needed in the somewhat chaotic aftermath of the holidays.

In this interview, my interest was focused on one project in particular, (SIC) IDEM, realized during the Villa Aperta festival, 2018, and, more precisely, on the different steps of its creative process. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to learn more about his point of view as an artist during the creation of this fantastic carte blanche, co-realized with his partner, Annabelle Jouot.

Julien Ribot

Mélissa Burckel: Hello, Julien, how are you?

Julien Ribot: I feel like a kitten being born in a wheelbarrow in the middle of a mountain landscape. That’s not too bad, despite several offbeat projects, and in particular one that was close to my heart in San Francisco. But I’m taking advantage of this period to work on other things I had put on hold for too long. So, in the end, it’s very positive.

MB: Three words to describe what we have been living since March 18?

JR: I would use five: stratification, extraterrestrial, archival, sinusoid and fragmentation.

MB: You are, as they say, a multidisciplinary artist, illustrator, composer, singer, author, director … Does one of these artistic forms dominate all the others?

JR: The word discipline has a double meaning, and I think I have an unconscious tendency to avoid it. (Laughs.) Perhaps by multiplying it over and over again I want to make it disappear? I think specialization scares me. I see multi-disciplinarity as an octopus with nine brains whose arms cross, touch, and articulate together, the suction cups capturing the sources and references necessary for the creation of the work. However, the arms, even if they are free to move, remain linked to a single body, like a labyrinthine entity with several possible paths to the exit. What are the arms that will best express the idea, how to manipulate them, and how to measure their movement? How to modulate the elasticity and suppleness of the body that associates them? In reality, it is the question of movement and time that links and dominates them. This is why I am turning more and more towards theater and cinema creations, which are multidisciplinary by essence. Working with dance is one of the paths that interests me enormously and that I have not yet explored. I recently learned that my great-great-grandfather was Théodule Armand Ribot, inventor of modern psychology and author of “Essay on Creative Imagination,” written in 1900. His fascinating book, with relevant and original ideas for his time, speaks precisely about all the different fields of creativity.

Julien Ribot

MB: Do you remember your very first creation?

JR: “Nuit Blanche” in 2015: it was about creating on a place “in transformation”: an old train station becoming an art center (music, dance …). So, I articulated my creation around the poetics of resurrection. The space interested me a lot since the image and the sound were separated by a wide avenue. I then decided to use the movement and the noise of vehicles to symbolize the coming and going of the blood flow in the arteries; in short, a luminous and perpetual pulsation that evokes birth. The surface on which I projected was a rectangle much wider than it was tall: 22 meters by 7 meters. I am very interested in in situ because it is a question of imagining a body on another body, exactly as in the dream where our sleeping body remains the same, but the body of the dream is in constant motion.

MB: I wanted to talk to you about constraints in art. As an artist, do you think that constraints abolish all forms of improvisation in the creative process?

JR: I find it interesting to go back to the etymology of the verb to constrain, which comes from the Latin “cōnstringō” and means “to bind together closely.” I don’t think we should oppose improvisation and constraint. A pianist improvises on a keyboard that is always the same. A dancer is constrained by gravity. He can’t separate his limbs; he can’t dance at one end of the stage and find himself at the other end in a thousandth of a second. Art without constraint does not exist (one thinks of the marvelous “Grapefruit” of Yoko Ono, whose beauty and humor are born precisely from impossibility). When we begin to see that constraint is part of life, and art itself is part of life, the question becomes almost obsolete. And the word “constraint” disappears to become that of “construction.”

MB: You made a “film-experience” during the “Villa Aperta” festival, organized by the French Academy in Rome, which has been held every year since 2010 at the Villa Medici. Initially, did the request for a film mapping accompanied by a Live come from Cristiano Leone, the organizer of the festival? Or was it you who proposed the concept to them?

JR: The request came from Cristiano Leone, who had noticed my performance “Magic Mamac, or the Recognition of the Atom” at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice in 2017.

Julien Ribot

MB: Did you receive a very precise set of specifications or just a general theme?

JR: Only one theme, which was very broad (Rome and its link with the Villa institution). It was free rein.

MB: In your film, we see the Roman she-wolf, cats, the Trevi Fountain, a Roman god, a spaceship … What was your working method? What were your areas of research?

JR: There’s a quote by Federico Fellini that I like very much: “In Satyricon, I filmed ancient Rome as if I were making a documentary about the Martians.” I try to be in the same frame of mind when I approach a new creation. My creative process uses the visually exquisite corpse as a vehicle for displacement and questioning, as an opening for potential mythologies. I began by noting everything in my imagination that evoked Rome, then I unrolled, crossed out, deviated, chose the open tracks. I also like to confront ideas and draw inspiration from other visions. So teamwork is essential for me. This is why I co-directed “(SIC) IDEM” with Annabelle Jouot, my partner, with whom I work regularly and whose reflection, science of the image, and view of the world I admire. Also, Isabelle Caparros acted as a consultant on the precise verbalization of the creative process, an indispensable work that allows us to map creation. It is the process of transformation of the theme that interests me, i.e., its electrolysis. All my work revolves around the idea of the frontier as a resonant space: a temporal, spatial and physiological frontier. “(SIC) IDEM” thus makes use of a list of facts, or myths, that have crossed the history of Rome or the Villa, which I reconvene here, but they are devoid of logical links, in the manner of dreams, leaving room for each spectator to recompose the narrative ellipses suggested by the final creation and to create his or her own mythology. My own creative process, dismantling the classic logical and narrative links, allows me to create bridges between the history of the Villa and Rome, between graphic elements of architecture and iconic visuals of the Roman collective imagination. It is these bridges and links that I am particularly interested in highlighting to create wonder, as when I use synesthesia or coalescence. In these associations of themes, I seek to solicit the public through a quasi-experimental device and thus create new connections, new synergies, new logical or sensitive links that allow us to share a collective imagination thus renewed.

Julien Ribot

MB: What does the title of your experiment film, “(SIC) IDEM,” mean? Latin phrases?

JR: Literally, it’s the mirror of the Villa: Médicis inverted becomes sicidéM then (sic) idem, which means “(thus) the same”. That is to say that the place becomes other while remaining the same. The two brackets around SIC (thus) symbolize the existing place. Then the word IDEM (without parentheses, thus located in another space) means “the same”. The Latin language is obviously a conscious choice. This title-reversal means “the same place but different”: the re-appropriation of the place which becomes a magical catalyst, seat of fantasies, inspirations, stories that allows me to explore its links with the city of Rome in the deployment of its myth.

MB: Your film is divided into several tableaux, each linked to a piece of music. Was the music created from your images? Or did the images appear after the music?

JR: I started from the music to create the images, except for the epilogue and prologue of the film.

MB: How long does it take to complete such a project?

JR: From the first phase of research to restitution, about three months.

MB: Have certain constraints (artistic or technical) changed your creative process?

JR: Since the creative process takes into account the constraints from the outset (this is an in-situ work), the question does not arise as such. The constraints are somehow absorbed and become the basis of the project.