Émeric Lhuisset in conversation

Hundred portraits of Maydan, series of 100 portraits of Maydan movement volunteers, Kiev (Ukraine), February 2014

Hundred portraits of Maydan, series of 100 portraits of Maydan movement volunteers, Kiev (Ukraine), February 2014

CSF’s Camilla Palestra met artist Émeric Lhuisset to talk about his work and the intersection between art and geopolitical topics.

Camilla: We first got in touch when you recently joined the Antarctica World Passport (AWP) community. AWP is an ongoing participatory project by Lucy + Jorge Orta which brings together thousands of citizens who commit to support freedom of movement, to foster social justice, to protect the environment and to defend peace in the world. I am curious to know how you came across this project and which expectations and responsibilities you feel since you joined the community.
Émeric: I like the Antarctica project because I like this idea of world passport, this idea that everybody has the same passport and is free to move everywhere in the world with no visa, no border. We are all world citizens! Maybe it’s a bit utopic but I like this kind of utopia…

C: You are often introduced as a war artist. Are you confortable with this definition?
E: I don’t consider myself as a war artist, I work most of the time about geopolitical topics and of course when you talk of geopolitics, conflicts are very important.

But I don’t work only about war.

C: As an artist and expert in geopolitics, you have an extraordinary experience of operating within conflict areas. Considering the alleged recent escalation of global terrorism, and the (consequent) crescendo of the debate in Europe around freedom, borders and movement of people, how do you see artistic projects making any socio-political impact on this debate?
E: I don’t really think that there is an escalation of terrorism. Terrorists have existed in Europe for a long time now. In the UK before with IRA, in Spain with ETA, in France with the Algerian AIG, in Italy with the Red Brigades, etc…

I think most of the debates about borders and the control of movement of people in Europe are political strategy from the extreme right wing or by the politicians who want to absorb extreme right’s votes. Building a wall has never been a solution. It has nothing but develop more fear of the other, the incomprehension, isolation and radicalisation by ignorance.

It’s very difficult to see the impact of artistic projects because art influences the way people think but it doesn’t change directly the actual situation. But I think that, as artists, we really need to try to give another voice, another way of thinking, of showing…

C: Your work I heard the first ring of my death / Homage to Sardasht Osman (2011) was recently on show at Tate Modern, London as part of the exhibition Conflict, Time, Photography. Can you tell me about this project?
E: The first time I went to Iraq, I stayed at the campus of Salahadin University. Few days after my arrival, Sardasht, who was studying at Salahadin University to that time, was kidnapped just in front of the campus. I was the only Western person on the campus, many friends of Sardasht’s came to see me and showed articles he had written, such as his latest production « I heard the first ring of my death”, that announced his murder.

A couple of days later, Sardasht’s body was found with a shot in his head.

I was particularly moved by his last article where he explains that he refuses to flee, that he is ready to die and that he hopes that his death will help defending his ideas. I have talked a lot about it with his friends who came to see me after his kidnapping and I have decided to pay tribute to him. His friends presented me Sardasht’s family and thanks to his elder brother’s help, I could realise the project.

When I flew back to France, I took a photograph of Sardasht with me. I scanned it, I produced a negative and printed in many A3 formats on salted paper that I had not fixed. For his first death anniversary, I went back to Iraq and very early in the morning, when it as still dark, I stuck his portrait in the streets. When people came out of their houses, they could see Sardasht’s face. When the sun started rising, the portrait would progressively disappear and transform into a black rectangle.

C: What are you working on at the moment?
E: Actually I am working a lot on the diffusion of my last project that I produced in Kiev (Ukraine) during the revolution and after in the Donbass last October.

Émeric Lhuisset (1983, FR) holds degrees in both visual arts (École des Beaux-Arts, Paris) and geopolitics (Université Panthéon-Sorbonne / ENS Ulm). As a photographer Lhuisset combines geopolitics with art by raising questions about the representation of conflicts. His projects have taken him to Syria, Afghanistan, Colombia and Iraq. His work has been featured at the Running Horse Contemporary Art Space in Beirut (LB), FRAC Alsace (FR) and Tate Modern (UK) amongst others. Lhuisset currently teaches at the Institute of Political Studies of Paris (Sciences Po).