‘Nightlife’ by Cyprien Gaillard

Nightlife it’s a hypnotising and immersive 3D video-installation created by the French artist Cyprien Gaillard; the spectator can experience a nocturnal hallucinogenic voyage in a post-industrial environment, where trees seem to dance and rebelliously wave against the artificial world surrounding them; the images are followed by a sampled and looped version of Alton Ellis’ song Black Man’s Pride, 1970: the artist looped the section of the song in which the singer says “I was born a looser” making the sentence repeating throughout the whole 14 minutes video. The piece is aesthetically beautiful and entertaining, but with a bit of research we can discover that there’s a lot more behind this brilliant use of technology.

The piece opens with the camera slowly flying around a reproduction of Rodin’s sculpture ‘The Thinker’ placed in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art, badly damaged during an act of protest in 1970 against Vietnam War and white man supremacy. Later in the video the camera moves around exploding colourful fireworks shot from the Olympiastadion, the massive stadium in Berlin that hosted the Olympic games of 1936, during Nazi campaign; the event became history for the victory of Jesse Owens, an Afro-American athlete who won 4 gold medals; the Olympic committee gave an oak sapling for each gold medal, an ancient symbol of Germany.

The camera then, flies back to the dark streets of Cleveland focusing on a massive leafless tree placed in the yard of a building that surrounds it; the tree is enlightened by a flashing light similar to the ones used by helicopters during police chases; it appears to be highlighted as it was the superstar of the piece, the main character, and probably it is: the tree is indeed an oak planted by Jesse Owens after the Olympics in the yard of Rhodes High School in Cleveland. In this final shot, the song switches to the version of 1971 where the sentence was changed in “I was born a winner”.

The piece works even if the spectator’s not aware of the complex and symbolic historical narrative; watching the video, in a dark room with good speakers and active 3D glasses, creates a very immersive experience; the song is also variously philtred, creating a shifting and waving sonic space that perfectly matches the air-induced movement of the trees.

After doing this research, I watched it a second time noticing that the installation is not just rich of beauty and allure, it is also permeated with a profound meaning.


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