The trans-media video artist talks about tapping into our collective film memory and creating cinematic dream machines
The Beligian artist Nicolas Provost has spent the last ten years making works that radically dissect the language of film, creating unusual pieces such as his award-winning Plot Point trilogy, which employs mathematical editing techniques to create unsettling and attention-grabbing suspension from the seemingly innocuous – cue unsuspecting New Yorkers ambling about in Times Square, a lonely-looking man on a cell-phone in a parking lot or a bag lady quietly muttering to herself. In this way, he maps crossover points in our collective film memory, exploring the way we actually read film and how we are manipulated by its seductive power.
In his current exhibition at Haunch of Venison Provost shows the second in this trilogy, Stardust, a film that takes Las Vegas as its backdrop and actually stars Jon Voigt and Jack Nicholson among the city's residents. Alongside this is the hypnotic spaced-out vision of Storyteller (see below) which transforms Las Vegas into an exotic glittering spacecraft, and the thoroughly disturbing Long Live The New Flesh – a wild and bizarre fifteen-minute film that glitches it's way through hundreds of classic horror scenes, creating an exceptionally beautiful and unusually macabre filmic vision.
Dazed Digital: Storyteller is very dream-like – you've actually managed to make Las Vegas look like some kind of glittering spacecraft. Did you want to remind people that we are basically floating in space?
Nicolas Provost: (Laughs) Dreams have always been very important for me. I had a period when I was younger when I would keep books with drawings of my dreams, but I had to stop doing that because it became more important to me than reality. The floating in space thing is part of it, sure, but it came out of the way I approached the film. I was just trying to sculpt with the moving images and see what happened. It was important to me that something came out of it that challenges us as viewers, who have all seen so much, and that the attention is held from the beginning to the end. All of my work has to be very beautiful and I had this idea of working with moving images from aerial shots of Las Vegas. It tells me about the wonderful psychosis that Las Vegas stands for, but at the same time, yes, it’s like a jewellery box floating in space. It's taboo in contemporary art to make beautiful work but I don’t care, I need it because to me beauty is like the opening to someone’s heart – if you make something beautiful you open someone's heart and then you can fill it with your poetry.
Dazed Digital: It's very seductive – are you interested in cinema as a seductive force?
Nicolas Provost: To me cinema is one big dream machine, and when you put moving images and sound together and your aim is to tell stories you are using a dream machine that has a lot of power. I’m still trying to understand why cinema has so much power in storytelling… It’s definitely a very seductive machine.
DD: Do you think our collective film memory could mirror our collective consciousness or vice-versa? Is that something you are exploring?
Nicolas Provost: I think maybe that is the case but that’s not what I want to say with my work. I do understand it's happening but what is important for me is just this idea that we are all part of this collective film memory, because we have been raised with film for more than 100 years. Unconsciously, we all live the same stories so we obviously must have the same dreams that cross each other at times. I think this idea is fascinating – that there are unconscious paths were we cross each other. That’s what I hope people might recognise in my movies.
DD: In Long Live The New Flesh you are delving into the darkest areas of the subconscious, why did you choose to explore that?
Nicolas Provost: Well, you know that the error you get when the DVD breaks and you get that coding effect? When I first saw that I thought it was like pure visual magic, and I hoped that one day I would be able to control that effect. The day I found a system to control it I thought it would be a challenge to use horrific images and turn them into something so beautiful. I started making lots of puzzle pieces, like I always do, and the challenge was to put them all together to make a horror movie so painterly and beautiful that it transcends the horror.
DD: In Stardust from your Plot Point trilogy there is the motif of some kind of apocalyptic event, and perhaps alien invasion. I thought Storyteller was almost a vision of the spaceship that I imagined all the people staring up into the sky at at the end of the film.
Nicolas Provost: (Laughs) It’s true. I actually tried to put a giant spaceship at the end of Stardust – the image from Close Encounters – and it worked but in the end, it was still stronger with the idea of a mystery unrevealed. in most of my films I try to go to a euphoric climax and leave the mystery unrevealed. I always try to do that even if it is a sculpting film like Storyteller, and I think it’s because in storytelling it’s always the same thing to me. In storytelling we always look at what these people are doing to each other and how will the world save us from it. It’s always about that mystery for me.