Johan Grimonprez

Year and place of birth: 1962, Roeselare, Belgium Location: Brussels, Belgium, a Greek island and New York, United States

Johan Grimonprez is internationally recognised for his video works compiled from documentary material, downloads, historical archive footage, home videos, excerpts of Hollywood films, news footage and advertisements. His practice hovers between art and cinema, documentary, fiction, practice and theory. In a world awash with images, Grimonprez suggests new narrative structures that allow us to continue to tell personal stories. He reveals and disrupts the role played by the media in the construction of our personal and political histories, our fears and longings, and how we view ourselves and the world. Because the prevailing media imagery no longer corresponds to real politics and the current state of the world, Grimonprez adopts a clear point of view. He delivers the sharpest criticism, breaks open borders and puts tricky topics on the agenda. He sees art, poetry and beauty as a political and critical act of resistance.

Grimonprez made his international breakthrough at Documenta X with ‘dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y’ (1997), a swirling exploration of media strategies in which TV footage and home videos flow together in portraits dealing with terrorism. The film’s starting point is a dialogue in which a writer claims that his social role has been rendered obsolete by the terrorist because the latter is more skilled at manipulating the media. Under the guise of chronicling aircraft hijackings, the film exposes the ‘hijacking’ of reality by the media and the shady dimensions of our culture, such as media spectacle, the fear industry, and increasing forgetfulness.

In the early 1990s, together with artist Herman Asselberghs, Grimonprez established a media archive in the form of a video library. Visitors could play, rewind and stop films, select a new one, and so on. In parallel with the arrival of YouTube and Facebook and the combination of telephone, internet, computer and TV in a single mobile device, Grimonprez’ video library evolved into a ‘WeTube-o-theek’ [‘WeTube library’], a multimedia installation with numerous links for the visitor to flick through.

Grimonprez and his films have evolved in tandem. While earlier works deal with the transition from film to video or flicking through cable TV channels, ‘Double Take’ (2009) explores how continuous switching between digital images influences our perceptions. The film plays with Hitchcock’s fascination with mistaken identities, and unravels mechanisms of paranoia and manufactured fear within our society. It represents the dual effects of TV and cinema, capitalism and communism, advertising and warfare, in a world that has degenerated into ‘info dystopia’ and Photoshop reality.

Grimonprez’ pseudo-documentary ‘The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade’ (2016), in which archival footage and fiction merge seamlessly into one another, is a powerful argument against a corrupt international arms trade that threatens global democracy.

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