Ariane Michel

One if by sea … Whether on a beach or in a forest, chance encounters with animals and beasts are not entirely unexpected. But to come upon mythological creatures such as mermaids or centaurs is to test one’s grip on reality. In a singular and lyrical way, Ariane Michel invokes these magical happenings. Michel is a young artist whose work I have been following with special interest. While continuing her role as a talented filmmaker in the conventional framework, Michel has become involved in ambitious art film installations, in which the piece’s environment plays an essential creative role.

Michel displays her films in such unusual locations as a wild forest in Switzerland, or the iconic Place de la Concorde in the heart of Paris. By pairing her choice of screening locales with the filmed environments, Michel makes a deceivingly simple yet palpable connection between the natural and cinematic worlds. Mirroring the setting of the films themselves, Michel’s outdoor theaters bring together reality and fiction. This association is embodied notably in The Screening, an extraordinary film shown at night in a Basel forest, and in On the earth, Michel’s stunning portrayal of tranquil wildlife by the Arctic seashore, projected on the beach of Lido in Venice. Subtly tapping into the viewer’s unconscious, such encountersw, whether arboreal or semi-aquatic, are what transform reality into mythology.

On the earthdocuments the lives of walruses in the dim Greenland landscape. It investigates the quiet moments of their natural lives as they slowly shift their massive bodies, breathe, snore, and lie as still as the boulders that surround them. As the camera shifts from wide-angle panoramas to close-up shots of their rotund bodies, the walruses’ mountainous folds of skin mirror their surroundings, their stiff beards echoing the hardy Nordic vegetation. What is most striking of the depicted creatures is not their mass nor scale, but rather the tenderness with which they interact. Sleeping side by side like old couples, they seem unperturbed by the otherworldly ship sliding by in the near distance, a subtle reminder that no environment is as pristine as it seems.

On the earthhas recently been screened in a number of conventional indoor cinemas and gallery spaces. Now presented on the beach of Lido for the 2OO7 OPEN 10 International Exhibition of Sculptures and Installations, and in parallel with the 2007 Venice International Film Festival, the piece will draw audiences from both the film and art worlds. In Michel’s outdoor presentation of On the earth, the film’s sounds and moving images gradually become one with the natural setting. Viewers lying on the sand unconsciously mimic the sleeping walruses, ultimately forming a startling fusion of marine animals and humans, not unlike the imagined mermaids of yore. Birdcalls, the sound of waves lapping the shore, and the quiet moans of the imposing creatures soon surround the viewer from all around, in a disorienting environment where fiction and reality collide.

Working primarily in film, Ariane Michel (b. 1973 in Paris, France) has been featured internationally in solo and group exhibitions, including Art Basel 38 (2007) and  The Moving Image Biennale (2005).

Alanna Heiss