Review: Camille Henrot, City of Ys

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by Rachel Heidenry 

She is a brilliant contemporary storyteller, with the innate ability to weave seemingly disconnected narratives into complex vignettes of imagery, sound and motion. Camille Henrot is an artist concerned with living – how we have lived, how we are living and how we will live. Known for her film and animation work, it is her concepts that precipitate innovation. She brings both an interrogative eye and whimsical mind to her art, bridging publics, cultures and histories magnificently.

Henrot’s current exhibition, The City of Ys, on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art through March 2, 2014, explores the indigenous culture of southern Louisiana. Intrigued by the myths and histories that overlap her native Brittany, France with the Louisiana bayou, the artist explores contemporary life of the Houma Indians.

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Oral tradition is the theme – the show beginning with short films of indigenous leaders reflecting the tribe’s history, geography and identity. While their culture is inherently solid, these factors are also fraught – memory varied, geography vast, identity diverse. Through image and voice we are invited into a culture that is markedly real and vividly distinct, however still unrecognized by the United States government and existing in a constant fear of culture lost.

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In dialogue with these films, prints, drawings and sculpture take the form of the bayou, of guitar panels, of sea life. Reality is mixed with the mythical in an anthropological manner not seeking to classify, but rather to share, to explore, to further narrate. Aesthetically, the works emote the layered brilliance of collage, while technically remaining far from it. Henrot pairs paper cutouts with Apple laptops so as to emphasis their materiality rather than ignore it – her understanding of place, in all of its derivatives, profoundly meaningful. Capturing the feelings, colors and textures of Houma culture, the artist still succeeds in impressing her artistic mark, leaving us with complex thoughts about the digital world, traditional ways of life and interpretations of empathy – all derived from multiple vantage points.

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The City of Ys invites us into a culture at a moment of deep introspection. The show offers a critical look at successes and challenges in community formation, cultural identity and historical memory. While overtly critical, The City of Ys is also so very gentle. That is precisely the touch of Henrot – demanding us to dive deeper while creating spaces that remain soft, safe and beautiful.





All Photographs copyright Rachel Heidenry

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