Artist Clay Apenouvon has created a new installation Film Noir de Lampedusa for the Paris Climate Conference COP21, which begins the last week of November. The work is a memorial to the thousands of migrants from Africa and the Middle East who arrived across the Mediterranean to the safety of Europe in makeshift boats and rafts. Installation, which was commissioned by the Église Saint-Merri, (Church Saint Merri) in Paris, consists of extended plastic film with various objects that are assembled into a “Museum of Silence”.
Apenouvon was born in Togo, West Africa. His new art installation traces back the memories of those that are lost forever beneath the waves. Throughout his career, he has worked with painting, graphic design and screen-printing. He has explored different materials, for instance cardboard using it as a physical material and as an artistic medium. The cardboard has been used as a symbolic material to address issues of packaging. Then, Aponeuvon created a concept Plastic Attack, which raised awareness of the dangers that plastic poses to the environment on a global scale. This scalable work is in constant movement, and has so far been exhibited in residences in Iceland, in the US, and in France.
As the Paris Climate Conference draws near, the theme in the Film Noir de Lampedusa installation handles a difficult subject of climate refugees. They are crossing perilous seas and changing locations because of the wars and economic crisis, which ultimately derive and cause new struggles over natural resources. As we know, the climate change deepens all kinds of crises around human-caused conflicts.
The installation itself reminds of a black waterfall pouring out from the walls as a kind of a vast oil spill that cannot be stopped. Film Noir de Lampedusa takes place in a church space, so the sanctuary next to the altar echo historical presence, yet the context links the work strongly to the present moment in which we encounter the refugees, and mourn the missing lives. The objects themselves punctuate lost things, as a bottle containing message of love, a cell phone, pair of children’s shoes, and religious objects, such as crucifix, image of the virgin and a Qur’an are scattered around the work. The composition is inspired by an Lampedusa activist Giacomo Sferlazzo, who collected pieces that were thrown over from the refugee boats, or lost by the refugees on the sea.
Spatially in the church context of the Eglise Saint-Merri, Apenouvon’s installation emerges from beneath the grand painting by Charles Antoine Coypel, called Les Disciples d’Emmaüs, (The Disciples of Emmaus, 1749). Then, the installation’s title implies a “Film Noir” that certainly can have many references. First, it can be environmental, as it stands for the black film left on the ocean’s surface by each oil spill. Second, it is remembering those victims who of African descent so quickly fade away from the conscience of the world’s wealthy nations. The artist utters his concern:
“I read dozens of articles about the subject of newspapers, poignant testimonies of survivors and inhabitants of the island of Lampedusa. Among the items, a drawing marked me, that of Planzer, entitled “The oil spill of Lampedusa”.
Third, the installation title evokes the Film Noir genre of Hollywood melodrama, possibly referring to scenes and atmospheres of cinematic practices that raised subjects, which audiences did not wish to deal with in their daily lives. The mystery of worlds around us, which directly or indirectly touch us, but we think do not affect us? Could climate change with the planet calling for our action still be a subject of mystery, which needs more of our scrutiny, prayers, and art installations, such as Clay Apenouvon’s Film Noir de Lampedusa?
The artist is represented by Mariane Ibrahim Gallery in the US.
Film Noir de Lampedusa opens on November 20 and runs through December 20, 2015 at the Eglise Saint-Merri, Paris, France