Nicolas Cilins

Nicolas Cilins’ works are instigated by encounters with people on the fringe of  society, underlining both the urgency and the futility of our collective involvement as citizens. In “Stalin’s World”, he documents a Lithuanian amusement park set up like a Gulag. For “Discipline and Punish”, Cilins works with a prison keeper and produces an interview about his power and sexual fantasies. “Morrocan Archeologies” is the result of a workshop in Tangier where archeological artefacts are blown-up into paper costumes used for a procession through the city’s streets. His practice ranges from filmmaking to performance, installation and photography, but it always focuses on a fieldwork observing the relation between individuals in social-cultural contexts.
ACTIONS, his current collaboration with Yan Duyvendak (laureat of the Prix Meret Oppenheim 2010), and Nataly Sugnaux (co-director of the Théâtre du Grütli in Geneva), is simultaneously a performance and a public forum, based on the idea “not to represent politics, but to provoke it”.  The performance happens in community centers as well as in theaters, and choreographs the encounter between local citizens, politicians, and refugees.
Cilins’ complex body of works has been shown in different venues, including Kunstmuseum Bern, and the Palais de la porte Dorée – Musée de l’immigration, Paris; theatre festivals la Bâtie, Geneva, and Inteatro, Ancona; and, the film festivals Berlinale, FID Marseille, les Etats généraux du documentaire, Lussas, and le Festival du film et forum international sur les droits humains, Geneva.


SAA: Can you tell us something about the work you will present at the Swiss Art Awards 2018?

NC: It has something to do with Islam and divination, and in order to make it possible, an animal would have to be sacrified.

SAA: Which worlds are implicated in your work ?

NC: The idea that multiple worlds exist insofar as our society can be segregated into absolute communities is symptomatic of an identity politics that seeks to further divide people. I believe in the concept of many-worlds as described by physicists who research about the multiverse. It would mean that not only am I answering your questions right now, but simultaneously conducting a concert at Victoria Hall, leading an investigation for the Japanese secret service, and solving the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Surveiller et Punir, installation: photographic prints and A4 testimonies, 2013, photo: Serge Fruehauf

Text: People think that prison inmates are grouped within the sleeping quarters by the type and severity of crime they committed. But in fact we group them according to their ethnic background, as otherwise tensions between them would run too high. Imagine you were Swiss and had been committed to prison for a crime: would you prefer to share your cell with ordinary Kosovar or Albanian inmates, or with Swiss ones, even if it means among them was a murderer or a rapist?

SAA: Is there a place (in Switzerland or elsewhere) that inspires your work?

NC: I like food markets and wood workshops. I have the feeling that further associations of any person with a specific place or country tends to deny the pluralistic reality in which we dwell. I guess it’s almost inevitable; after I made “Stalin’s World”a project about the remnants of the Soviet era in Lithuania, I was even described as an Eastern European artist by an art historian.

Stalin’s World, film still, 2013, Nicolas Cilins

SAA: Retrospectively, what will art history remember from your work?

NC: I believe in the continuity of art and experience; that art can actually do something to our reality. Art history is temporal and pliable, it also expands to include practices that were first rejected, and therefore it is quite futile to consider its prospects.

ACTIONS, a performance and discussion format by Nicolas Cilins, Yan Duyvendak and Nataly Sugnaux, 2017, Photo: Giulia Di Vitantonio

SAA: What traces would you want to leave behind?

NC: Should we hurry? According to the international scientific community, there are only a few decades left before the end of our world.

Bricofutur, filmstill, 2016, Nicolas Cilins