Walking into yet another darkened viewing room at the annual Swiss Art Awards, I thought “when will all this video end?” Although it’s likely heresy to propose that most art videos are boring, after having watched more than 15 in an exhibition featuring 40 or so works by as many artists, I’ve had enough. After much thunderingly disappointing boredom, I decided to give this one last video a chance…. and was surprisingly captivated by the beautiful cinematography of the cold, lonely winterscapes I was watching.
The bench I sat on vibrated with the howling of the arctic wind. I was feeling the sounds of the cold. After a few stunning frames of deserted icescapes, the image moved to the central street of an arctic town, with two rows of houses, on either side of the snow-buried street, and four people trudging through the snow and glacial wind hither and thither, seemingly directionless.
The 5-minute scene and its accompanying sound effects, along with the vibrating bench transported me to this cold distant place. It gave me the shivers. The video, Noah’s Nightmare, 2010, is the fourth by Geneva-based artist Pauline Julier, one of the 23 Swiss artists to win the 30,000 Swiss Franc award this year. Her video deals with the aftermath of a global disaster, when the controversial Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, accused of “giving a false sense of security” by some critics, would need to be utilized. Dug into the side of a mountain and accommodating more than 4.5 million seeds, the Seed Vault is meant to be able to replenish humanity’s supply of seeds and get agriculture back on track in the event of a natural or manmade disaster
Noah, her futuristic fictional main character, “thinks it's the end of the world and he's all alone and nothing is alive,” Julier explained, as reported in the newspaper Icepeople.net. He envisions a post-apocalyptic world covered by ice, with few towns, and people “doing absurd things,” she continued. This is the world that I stumbled upon. In the middle of this deserted street scene, with its four disconnected characters, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ raw and carnal blues song “I Put a Spell on You” erupts from a corner-speaker, while the wind continues to howl and vibrate under me.
The passionate, animalistic sounds of the song are in stark contrast to the cold, isolated, and alienating scenery. Humanity seeps through even in the most hostile environments….With the end of the song, comes the lonely silence of the howling wind and the beautiful imagery of this icy archipelago off the coast of Norway. The film ends with an attempt to enter the Seed Vault and the hand-held camera moving away from the impenetrable door into the snow. Julier’s film is poetic and aesthetically stunning, while also presenting a haunting vision of our future.
- Olga Stefan