File Note 138: Julien Creuzet - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Stefanie Hessler

Islands to Water Images References Quote Biography Credits

Islands to Water

‘The stone had skidded arc’d and bloomed into islands.’ As it skipped through radiant calypso-coloured water, in its wake appeared Jamaica, Guadeloupe, and Grenada, writes poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite. I picture the white spray of the waves washing onto the shores of his native Barbados before receding again, only to return – differently. The same particles will never appear in the same constellation twice, but the incessant roiling of the sea will continue to caress the beaches of Puerto Rico, St Lucia and Martinique, disregarding any human-imposed borders or divisions between land and sea. It is on the beach, where the surge moves sand, where seaweed washes up to dry, that cultures meet and at times clash. I like to follow Brathwaite’s suggestion to think the world ‘tidalectically’. With tidalectics, a play on Hegelian dialectics that are based in unshakeable static truths detectable from the stable land of the European continent, Brathwaite suggests an alternative philosophy, moving to and fro with the perpetual ebb and flow of the tides. Rather than dividing, this way of thinking and being connects. Islands are not separated, but interlinked by the sea. And, since no wave ever repeats, this oceanic worldview affords an ample way to embrace uncertainty and change. 

Reminiscent of the ocean’s particles dancing in ever new arrays, in Julien Creuzet’s work, relations are continuously evolving. His sculptures are composed of mixed media – plastic, metal, sea sponges, electrical wiring, carpet, speakers, rope, a hair dryer, snakeskin, synthetic plants, corn flour, a sea shell – some of which can be thought of as debris washed up on land from the sea. Or perhaps, more accurately, his installations are composed of all the stuff that is produced and sold as part of the phenomenon we know as globalisation, shipped across the world from factories in China or Nigeria, and spilling over the edges of urban spaces to sometimes end up dumped into the ocean. Here, it inhabits the same space as a conch shell, microplastics returning to the bottom of the sea, where they turn to oil once again over millennia, rendering any attempts at dividing nature from culture forever obsolete. 

Creuzet’s hybrid compositions defy notions of globalisation as an abstract, calculable process that occurs in our computers and somehow ends up in that shop on the High Street. Instead, it allows unified thinking about the unevenly distributed effects of manufacture and trade, colonialism past and present, as well as their effects on humans and nonhumans. In his sculpture All that sea distance or the oil filaments of the manchineel to stop our heartbeats – The rain made it possible (…) sugar cane, leg cut, hydration to forget (2018), a long, arched piece of yellow and red plastic is connected with electrical wires to a dark-green glass bottle sitting on the ground, with an amalgam made of a sea shell and the bottom half of a Nike sneaker suspended in the centre. Hybridisation, or what Brathwaite might call ‘prismatic creolization’, does not level out difference, but affords seeing things together, next to each other, with their specific vestiges and transformations co-affecting and co-constituting one another.  

Creuzet’s sculptures inhabit the hybridised space between figuration and abstraction. Moving between recognisable forms and objects soaked in symbolism, and shapes beyond prior recognition, they create instances of assertion solidified only momentarily and not static or reducible to a final truth. They defy the capture of naming. I wonder if this is the reason why Creuzet’s titles extend beyond the conventions of the ‘art world’, to full poems and elongated questions at times combining multiple languages (French, English, Spanish). To give a name is an attempt at certainty. Once something is named it becomes separable. 

Dividable into us and them. Otherable. Jamaican philosopher and poet Sylvia Wynter knows of the power that lies with naming: ‘Both We and Other were now bound in a concrete relation, a hierarchical global relation’, she writes. This hierarchical relation spans from continents (West to East) to states (France to Martinique), to regions (city to countryside), and extends to entrench gender, race and class  in hierarchical, fixed constellations. In Creuzet’s installations, relations are in constant evolution, indeterminant but not meaningless. They create what the Martinican poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant describes as ‘the knowledge in motion of beings, which risks the being of the world’. They evade the generalisations – explanations – and truths of Western thought tied to the imperialist fantasy of universality. 

With his most recent body of work shown at Camden Art Centre, Creuzet tackles the idea of nationhood and its colonial ties, symbolisms and divisions. In his suspended sculptures he brings together coats of arms of various Caribbean countries. The outlines of the shields are inhabited by various shapes made from torn fabric, string, metal wire, pages of a book sewn in, a small bottle of liquor – or is it vanilla essence? Placed on the floor are laser-cut metal sheets that can be walked on, implicating viewers in composites merging, in one case, the Commonwealth symbol composed of the letter C coiled around a representation of the globe, the silhouette of the national flower of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima), the claws of a parrot from the coat of arms of Dominica, a diagram of a British slave ship that travelled from Bristol to Jamaica via Nigeria, and a representation of the North Atlantic Drift between the Greater and Lesser Antilles. In another sheet, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) is illustrated – a key factor in stabilising the climate across the planet. In a paper published last year, German climate scientist Niklas Boers suggests that the AMOC is weakening and could reach a tipping point this century, whichwill cause the weather in northern Europe to become more extreme, while sea levels will rise exponentially on the eastern coast of the Americas, and West Africa will experience severe droughts. 

Creuzet considers the ongoing social and  nvironmental effects of colonialism as related. The Plantationocene that began with the violences of the sugar cane and coffee fields continues today, among other legacies in the form of chlordecone pesticides used in plantations to combat the banana weevil in Martinique and Guadeloupe. When American marine biologist Rachel Carson published her paradigmshifting book Silent Spring in 1962, addressing the environmental and human health crisis caused by dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (or DDT) insecticides, it helped usher in the Green Movement in North America and Western Europe. DDT was banned in the United States

in 1972, but chlordecone, which is in the same family, continued to be used in Martinique and Guadeloupe until 1993. It was banned from use in France in 1990 but not in the ‘overseas departments’ until three years later. The distance to the mainland was offered up as an excuse for the continued use of the contaminating substance, even though colonial intentionality has hardly ever been hindered by oceanic distances. 

The Martinican environmental engineer and political philosopher Malcom Ferdinand writes about the use of chlordecone in the Antilles: ‘The chemistry of the masters designates this configuration of colonial occupation where the toxic condition is both the consequence of the capitalist exploitation of these ecosystems by those masters and the cause that reinforces the domination of these territories by these same masters.’ In Creuzet’s animated video mon corps carcasse / se casse, casse, casse, casse / mon corps canne à sucre, / … du champ de banane pour panam / banane rouge poudrière / sous les Tropiques du cancer (…) (2019), he centres on the banana plantations that still today, almost three decades after the insecticide was banned, are contaminated with the toxins leaking into the ground water as well as affecting marine life and people’s health and livelihoods. In the video, a computer-generated model of the chemical compound hovers menacingly over a beach, a rotten banana floats in the centre of the screen, shipping containers transporting fruits from the Caribbean to France tip over, to give way to a collapse of shapes and a swirling purgatory of references, accompanied by a stomping soundtrack by South African producer Mo Laudi.

Collaborations with artists and thinkers from various fields recur in Creuzet’s practice. So does music. For the exhibition at Camden Art Centre, he invited French-Senegalese musician anaiis to produce a soundtrack inspired by Caribbean writers such as Martinican poet Aimé Cesaire and composed, among others, of field recordings she took in Jamaica. Within this sonic field encompassing his installations, Creuzet explores the bélé, a creole folk dance popular in Martinique among other islands in the West Indies, combining African fertility dances, the orisha-style call and response between a vocalist and a chorus, and influences from the land and waterscapes of the Caribbean. In his new video, an animated character composed of smartphones, cigarettes, bananas and other elements, dances to the distinct rhythm of the bélé, hinting at the ways in which creolisation continues today in the digitally connected world, but also through music and literature. Bélé was commonly danced during funerals, as a vehicle of mourning during slavery, rendering it a technology of resistance. As Sylvia Wynter writes, ‘Exactly! The whole world is organized about this aesthetics of rhythm, you know?’ The works in Creuzet’s hybrid universe don’t come from the sea, but instead constitute a sea of ever-changing meanings and relations, swaying back and forth with the rhythm of the waves.


1 Edward Kamau Brathwaite, ‘Calypso’, in Edward Kamau Brathwaite, The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973), 48–50, 48. 

2 Sylvia Wynter, ‘Ethno or Socio Poetics’, Alcheringa vol. 2, no. 2 (special issue on Ethnopoetics, 1976): 78–94, 79.

3 Édouard Glissant, Poetics of Relation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010),187.

4 Niklas Boers, ‘Observation-based earlywarning signals for a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation’, Nature Climate Change no. 11 (2021): 680–88. 

5 La chimie des maîtres désigne cette configuration de l’habiter colonial où la condition toxique est à la fois la conséquence de l’exploitation capitaliste de ces écosystèmes par ces maîtres et la cause qui renforce la domination de ces territoires par ces mêmes maîtres. Malcom Ferdinand, Une Écologie Décoloniale: Penser l’écologie depuis le monde caribén (Paris: Éditions du Séuil, 2019), 184, my own translation. Thank you Anna Tje for introducing me to Ferdinand’s work.Physiology. N.p., Outlook Verlag, 2019.

6 Sylvia Wynter, ‘ProudFlesh Inter/Views: Sylvia Wynter’, ProudFlesh: A New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics & Consciousness no. 4 (2006): 1–35, 33.

Braschi, Giannina. United States of Banana (Amazon Crossing, 2011) 

Goodison, Laura. Mother Muse (London: Carcanet Press, 2021) 

Johnson, Linton Kwesi. Selected Poems (London: Penguin, 2006) 

Kellman, Anthony. Limestone: An Epic Poem of Barbados (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2008)

Rankine, Claudia. Just Us: An American Conversation (London: Allen Lane, 2020) 

Selvon, Samuel. The Lonely Londoners (London: Longman, 1979)

Walcott, Derek Alton. The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 (London: Faber & Faber, 2014)

anaiis, this is no longer a dream (dream sequence recordings, 2021) 

Maher Beauroy, Washa! (Aztec Musique, 2019)

Harry Belafonte, Calypso (Sony Music Entertainment, 1965)

Chronixx, Dread & Terrible (Chronixx Music, 2014)

Jacques Coursil, Clameurs (Universal Music Jazz France and Decca Records France, 2007)

Kassav, Majestik Zouk (Sony Music Entertainment (France) S.A, 1989)

Beethova Obas, Kè’m poze (Ayiti) (Aztec, 2003)

Sonny Troupé, Luminescence (PRIVAT/TROUPÉ, 2014)

‘Tell me, are you still afraid
Of what reflection might unveil
Don’t you know that I will love you always?
I promise you’ anaiis


Man against background with orange material over his head and face.

Julien Creuzet (b. 1986, Le Blanc Mesnil, France) lives and works in Montreuil, France. The artist graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Caen, the Post-Diploma in Fine Arts at the Lyon Academy and the Fresnoy- Studio national des arts contemporains.

Recent solo exhibitions include: Document, Chicago, 2020; Allied Chemical & Dye, High Art, Paris, 2019; Il pleut encore, des minis gouttelettes (…), CAN Centre d’art Neuchâtel, Switzerland, 2019; les lumières affaiblies des étoiles lointaines (…), Palais de Tokyo, Paris, 2019; Great moment of transport, body to body (…), Kiosk, Ghent, 2019. Recent group exhibitions include: L’assemblage, une pratique médiumnique, Le 19 Crac, Montbéliard, 2021; PICTURED AS A POEM, KAI10, Düsseldorf, 2021; Prix Marcel Duchamp, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2021; MOMENTA | Biennale de l’image, Montréal, 2021. He is represented by High Art, Paris.

Julien Creuzet


Stefanie Hessler is a curator, writer, and editor. Her work focuses on ecologies (particularly ocean ecologies) and technology from intersectional feminist and queer perspectives.

The Camden Art Centre Emerging Art Prize at Frieze is generously supported by Georgina Townsley, Alexandra Economu and Noach Vander Beken, Nicola Blake, Simon and Carolyn Franks, Ronald and Sophie Sofer and Russell Tovey. With special thanks to Frieze, London, High Art, Paris and Fluxus Art Projects.