Véréna Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor at Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam

Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Sheep Rushes, 2009

Cosmic Realism is not meant for the faint-hearted. In an article in the The New Yorker  “The Filmmakers Who Voyaged Inside The Body” by Alexandra Schwartz, Véréna Paravel warns that some of her works like De Humani Corporis Fabrica (2023) might be a little discomforting for the viewer to encounter, some have even puked or been hospitalized. The duo Véréna Paravel & Lucien Castaing-Taylor are educated in the field of anthropology, humorously refer to themselves as “recovering” anthropologists. Their works traverse the intersection of anthropology, documentary, and visual arts, seamlessly stitching these disciplines to create a unique and impactful experience for the viewer.  

Upon entering the exhibition the visitors, are immersed a dark space with flat screens positioned on left, right and in front, showing a six-channel video on loop – Sheep Rushes (2001-2014). Filmed in the Absaroka – Beartooth Mountains of Montana, these works assume a more traditional approach to anthropology, using camera as a tool of observation. The exhibition does not adhere to a chronological order in terms of when they were created. However, is it worth noting a shift from this traditional anthropological approach as one proceeds to the next room and encounters Spirits Still (2013). There is a perceptible shift in sensory experience from one room to the next, which may or may not be a deliberate curatorial decision. This transition provides viewers with time to absorb the of Sheep Rushes (2001-2014) before encountering something more somber like Spirit Still (2013)

The elegant display of the images naturally guides the path of visitors to the next space displaying Leviatha (2012), which is curated in a cleaver and pleasing manner since Spirit Stills are images that emerged during the editing of the film Leviathan (2012). Personally, I found Levithan most captivating, as it intended to capture the true and harsh reality of the fishing life not merely through a basic observational lens, but from the perspective of the crew, the fish, the gulls, the sea and the sky. In this film, the artists use cameras and GoPros as a new visual lens employing observation as the method and objectivity as the goal (as mentioned in the. Exhibition description).

Paravel & Castaing-Taylor boldly go underneath and even inside the surface of their subjects in De Humani Corporis Fabric (2022), an eight-channel HD loop video featured in the exhibition. These videos exhibit art’s power to provoke visceral reactions in its audience, achieving the essence of artistic intent.

The exhibition’s thoughtful design, with barely any sound overlaps from one room to another enhancing the viewing experience, particularly given the exhibition is mostly video and sound based. Each section offers seating for contemplation, with the last room providing bean bags for relaxed viewing of Somniloquies (2017). Exiting the dimly lit space, thinking the exhibition has come to an end, I was surprised by Ah Humanity (2015), last video against the backdrop of the harbour and ferries. I found this as a clever utilization of space elevation the exhibition’s intrigue and engagement for the visitors. It was a unique experience ending the exhibition with a scenic view.    Harmehar Maini   4th April 2024

Cosmic Realism continues at the Eye Filmmuseum in Amsterdam until 20th May