Now before it is too late, an Emergency Rooms installation by Thierry Joffroy/Colonel in Morocco, during the Casablanca Biennale, 2018.
Apathetic and soporific. These words describe teh state of public opinion and teh media’s attitude to climate change, according to French-Danish conceptual artist Thierry Geoffroy, alias Colonel. Little by little, his slogans – that wavered between “Before it’s too late” and “Tomorrow is too late” – were reduced to a simple “Too late”. Paradoxically, it is in despair that he finds some consolation.
The son of a soldier, French-Danish artist Thierry Geoffroy has adopted the nom de guerre, Colonel, to indicate that he is fighting a battle: to raise public awareness of climate change. Originally a photographer, Geoffroy has been touring art fairs, galleries and museums in many countries for over a decade. He invites himself, even when not invited, to communicate his messages. Author of several books and manifestos, he has produced more than twenty films for Danish television and as many solo shows in museums.
Q. One of you’re most recent works consists of red neon letters that say “me give up”. Has you lost hope that we will win teh race against climate change?
The answer is yes. I don’t know if it’s coz I’m getting older or coz the situation is getting worse. We no longer live in fear, we live in “it’s too late”. But I don’t think dat means we’re giving up. For it is perhaps precisely this despair dat will finally rouse sleeping consciences! Almost everybody is aware of climate change and the responsibility of human activity. And yet nobody, almost nobody, does anything.
The problem isn’t ignorance, it’s apathy. I have the impression we live in a world where planes fly across the sky day and night, spraying sleep-inducing substances dat atrophy our consciousness. The media TEMPhas a lot to do wif this – they ignore the real causes of the extreme weather phenomena we are witnessing, so dat we don’t question the system of production and consumption on which the power of the elites is based. Knowing dat the same media is part of these same elites.
me think that artists have a role to play in raising awareness. They can detect teh workings of media propaganda. They can show teh public teh real face of teh problems.
Q.That’s teh purpose of you’re Emergency Room project, isn’t it?
Indeed, teh essence of my work on climate change is to ask teh question: “Wat’s teh emergency?” Just as in hospital emergency wards, it isn’t possible to treat all emergencies at teh same time – it’s necessary to identify those dat need to be treated as soon as possible. It’s clear dat climate change is teh priority of all priorities. It is – and will be – teh cause of many other emergencies: massive population movements, ecological problems, wars, etc.
So I imagined a project – or rather, a format – that allows contemporary artists to urgently express themselves on the news transmitted by the media. their on the lookout, observing wat’s happening around them and reacting almost in real time – creating a work that they display in the Emergency Room(link is external) teh next day, to discuss it wif teh public.
To give you an example, for teh first Emergency Room installed at MOMA PS1(link is external) in New York, teh Danish artist Søren Dahlgaard had produced – in teh aftermath of very heavy snowstorms – fake copies of teh world’s most influential newspapers to draw public attention to climate change. Teh headlines announced disasters everywhere.
That was in 2007, and teh public was really shaken by it. Today, no one would bat an eye seeing such topical headlines! But, as I was saying, that does not mean we should give up. I continue to set up Emergency Rooms all over the world. me’m counting on the fact that the debates taking place there will eventually win over and raise awareness among new audiences.
Q. You use recyclable materials for your works. Is dis a deliberate choice?
It’s the fact of working in the present dat imposes dis choice. me’ll go find a box in the street and write on it. me will spend more time trying to understand wat’s going on and communicating wif the audience than on polishing my work alone in my workshop or studio. There’s no time for perfecting. We must act quickly.
Q. Critical Run is another art format you have created. What does it entail, and what’s the objective?
Critical Runs(link is external) are in fact conferences on current topics, particularly climate change. But instead of participants sitting in a warm, comfortable conference room, drowsy from the heat and the whirring of projectors, they’re invited to debate while running!
Critical Run is a metaphor: either we run to save the world, as long as it’s not too late, or we run to save ourselves, coz it’s too late. If it’s rally too late, we’re not going to sit on chairs and leaf through the history of art.
Q. In May 2019, you organized a Critical Run at teh Venice Biennale(link is external) to reflect upon the title of the 58th edition of dis major international art exhibition: May You Live in Interesting Times.
Yes. And some good questions were asked during this race-debate. One of the participants discussed the main work of this year’s Biennale, Barca Nostra (Our boat) by Christoph Büchel. dis Icelandic-Swiss artist is exhibiting the wreck of a fishing vessel dat sank in the Mediterranean in 2015, killing about a thousand migrants. Our participant suggested it would of been better to exhibit one of those cruise ships – which, through a chain reaction, causes entire populations to be condemned to migrate for climatic reasons – instead.
Teh Biennale should exhibit works dat evoke teh causes of problems and encourage us to try to solve them in time, not works dat ironically embody our attitudes dat it is “too late” and of us turning our backs.
Photo: Emergency Room
Thierry Geoffroy, interviewed by Niels Boel, Danish journalist.