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Interview: Nicholas Provost

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The Belgian artist/filmmaker Nicolas Provost grew up under the combined influences of Serge Gainsbourg, his cousin (a local rock star) and his family’s devotion to French cinema. The work of this “visual poet” glides from the nostalgia of found footage to cutting edge experimental filmmaking.

From February 12 to April 1, Haunch of Venison Berlin hosted Provost’s first German solo exhibition; the work it featured included Long Live the New Flesh, which premiered in competition at this year’s Berlinale’s Shorts section.

You are premiering two of your latest works, Long Live the New Flesh and Storyteller, in Berlin. How do you feel about that?

I’m very happy, LLNF was a big challenge. I took very extreme gruesome images from horror films and turned them into something very beautiful. I worked with the material until something magic and beautiful happened, and transcended the horror. And then the challenge was, of course, to keep the attention – because as a viewer, you turn into the main character.  With Storyteller [not yet premiered at the time of the interview], I’m very curious to see the reaction. I made it last Monday! [Four days before the premiere.] The idea and the material have been around for six months – I tried out a few things and I thought I had it, but I went rabid last weekend and changed everything!

What does it look like now?

I took images from Las Vegas that were shot from a helicopter of the casinos. Then I ‘mirrored’ them and they became like space ships floating in the space – but when the lens gets close, you can still see it’s Las Vegas with all the casinos, the lights, the shows… It introduces the viewer to Vegas’ madness. What I really love is the duality: it’s the contrast with the peaceful space ships that lets you understand the real madness of Las Vegas.

Dichotomies – your cinematic language always uses opposing concepts. Is life so extreme?

I have to live like that. It’s a rollercoaster, and I think I need it to create the necessary dynamic… Yes, a lot of my work explores dualities, just to keep the viewer awake or to trigger new feelings or stories we can identify with. That’s what happens with the couple from my film The Divers [2006]. It’s seven minutes in which they don’t know how to express their feelings to each other, but everything is happening behind their backs. Really spectacular!

In many former works, you used this ‘mirroring duplicity’ technique to create symmetrical and harmonious images. It’s as if you were appealing to a classical conception of beauty.

I use mirrors just to create something new with the images. It’s true that I work with symmetry because that’s what we think is beautiful: I’ve been always fascinated by beauty. But everyone has their own language – it’s just about what you have to say, and I’ve nothing political to say. I want to move people intellectually and emotionally, but I don’t want to come out with a big message – something militant or controversial. With the horror film, I thought I was making something controversial… but not at all! It completely transcends the idea of horror: each time I show it to someone, they certainly don’t talk about the horror, or say that it’s disgusting or that they wanted to run out. But it’s actually 15 minutes of the most cruel images.

What makes Long Live the New Flesh and your other work suitable for galleries as well as film festivals?

It has been like this since the beginning. Since I use film language and question the phenomenon of cinema, then of course what I do looks like a cinematic experience with a beginning and an end. I always try to make something that can function as a big film experience in cinemas, but also as a small classic painting on the wall or a small poem. Today, now that the digital revolution has crossed over [to the art world], all the media are crossing over each other… I always see myself with one foot in the visual arts and one foot in the filmmaking world.

Is the digital revolution a positive thing?

Of course. It opens up so many new opportunities for everyone. I think if there hadn’t been a digital revolution, then I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now, I would have given up. I think it’s great!

Tell us about something you’re currently working on – The Invader, your first feature film?

I’ve always wanted to make a feature film. For me, it’s all the same; the only difference is that you immediately have a huge audience, a much bigger audience than you have as an artist. And I didn’t want it to be an arthouse film made by a visual artist: I wanted to make a very commercial, classic anti-hero story that will reach as many people as possible.

Give us a taste of what it will be like…

It’s about one of those thousands of African immigrants who come to Europe to find their place in the world. The main character arrives in Brussels and tries to survive economically and emotionally. And, of course, everything goes wrong, so he takes the law into his own hands. It’s really politically incorrect to tell a story about ‘immigrants’, but I’m not making a film about ‘immigrants’ – it’s a story about a man, a human being like you and me, who’s looking for his place in the world.

Do you feel a personal bond with this anti-hero?

Of course. I like the idea of anti-hero stories – a foreign guy, an outsider fighting against… whatever! I was a foreigner myself: I lived in Norway for 10 years and I tried everything, but I never managed to get integrated into that culture. So this man is very dear to me – I‘ve felt extreme loneliness as well, I know what it’s like. And I know that, as an artist, I’ll always be looking for my place in the world.

Published on Exberliner Magazine. Issue February 2010

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