Q & A with François Quévillon
François Quévillon is an artist from Montréal who develops an interdisciplinary practice through installation, video, photography, sound and digital technologies. His work explores phenomena of the world and perception by the implementation of processes sensitive to their variations and to the interference of contextual elements. He holds a Master's degree in Visual and Media Arts from UQAM and is involved with several artist-run centers and research groups. Frequently developed during artist residencies, François Quévillon's work has been presented at many exhibitions and events around the world dedicated to contemporary art, cinema and digital creation. You can find more on his work at: http://www.francois-quevillon.com
What initially drew you to Iceland?
The symbolic and poetic dimensions of natural phenomena are recurring elements in my artistic practice: weather fluctuations, geological events, thermal contrasts, changes of states in matter and variations of daylight are some of them. Atmospheres in my works often evoke Iceland's landscapes, climate, meteorological and geological phenomena. The aesthetic experiences that they propose also question how technologies transform our perception of the world, as well as the relations between physical and digital spaces in our increasingly mediated lives. Iceland’s territory is monitored for its volcanic activity, earthquakes, changing glaciers, drifting icebergs and several other phenomena. Its constant geological transformations, extreme environmental conditions and isolated areas present some mapping, monitoring, simulation modeling and telecommunications challenges that are linked to fields I investigate.
In what ways has Iceland informed your work?
I worked on several projects during my stay. I was based at SÍM Residency in Reykjavík with a group of artists from different nationalities—we had a great dynamic. I started experimenting in the studio with geomatic data but it’s when I hit the road that my work took off and became a journey with improvised, playful but rigorous work, guided by environmental encounters.
Variations for Strings and Winds started as an allusion to drone imagery, selfie sticks and, by extension, dronies. Installing a camera on my daughter’s kite was a tongue-in-cheek reference to these types of images that were gaining in popularity in 2014. Countless selfies at Iceland’s tourist attractions and many drone videos of its landscapes have been shot since then. I also wanted to evoke one of the ancestors of satellite and UAV imagery, kite aerial photography which dates from the 19th century. Since it involved flying a shark kite in Iceland’s windy scenery while watching on a phone live video of myself being recorded, the making of Variations for Strings and Winds almost took the form of a series of performances. I put in place an amusingly threatening low-tech device to survey and track myself. While my first interest was the visual content, the reverberation of the kite’s line and the sound of its wings were surprisingly interesting and reoriented the project. The process of capturing hundreds of sequences led to a collection of short videos and to a touchscreen-based audiovisual piece that transports the users to spaces where the elements determine the points of view on the scenes. In the beginning, the user has the impression that the instrument can be mastered as he or she discovers its content. Turbulence grows while interacting with the device, the videos gets more and more unstable and the system reaches a point where the kite constantly crashes.
During that road trip, alerts about the imminent eruption of Bárðarbunga begun. In parallel to Variations for Strings and Winds, I made recordings of monitoring systems, remote stations, of the territory's transformation due to volcanic activity, as well as geothermal phenomena and power plants. I was consulting webcams and seismic data to check how the situation was evolving while some of the media covered the event in an almost apocalyptic way. The Holuhraun fissure eruption began the day that I left Iceland. This experience lead to Waiting for Bárðarbunga, a generative video installation that consists of a database of audiovisual loops which are presented according to the fluctuation of data displayed on a monitor that evokes instruments used in volcanology. In fact, these graphs represent the activity of the computer that runs the installation. The work has an unpredictable unfolding and its conclusion remains uncertain as the system's monitoring influences the course of events it presents, and the other way around. I see Bárðarbunga as a metaphor of different types of potentially catastrophic events that we apprehend and monitor and on which we have little or absolutely no control.
I guess that my work was informed by the þetta reddast philosophy. In both cases, my work was more spontaneous and I approached the unknown unfolding of events with confidence and a touch of humor.