A cinematographical essay by Maxime Berthou and Mark Požlep
Curated by Amy Mackie
The New Orleans Jazz Museum
400 Esplanade Avenue
January 18, 2022 - 6pm
Website for Southwind:
Travel essays for Southwind:
OVERVIEW OF THE PROJECT
Artists Maxime Berthou and Mark Požlep embarked on a practice-based research journey on the Mississippi River from September 2 to October 20, 2019. Their means of transportation was a hand-built 20-foot (6-meter) steam-powered paddle boat named "Thumpa." Their goal was to research and experience contemporary American life along this mythical river. Following the methodology and chronology of a research-action project, Southwind is an investigation into personal experience, transcription, and disproportion through the production mechanisms of an artistic project. Endurance related to traveling on this specific vessel allowed the artists to interact with a diversity of social environments and realities along the 2,320-mile (3,730 km) long river. Though their role was to primarily document daily life along this infamous stretch of America, their personal interactions positioned them as active co-creators. The project was documented in the form of video, writing, photographs, sound-recordings, and drawings. The artistic outputs are a film that includes interviews and portraits of the people and locales they encountered along the river, an artist book in the format of a journal, and an installation that includes drawings, photographs, and other ephemera. They continue to engage in educational workshops and presentations about the project in Europe and will conduct a similar educational initiative in the U.S.
The pretext of the trip was to collect corn from local farmers in ten different states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana)—and to interact with those involved in the farming, sale, and distribution of this corn. Production of corn plays a major role in the economy of the United States and most of it is used to produce ethanol for the oil industry. Its production severely and negatively impacts the ecology of the Mississippi River. Along the river, the artists encountered multiple layers of a landscape that has been impacted by what is known as “Capitalocene,” a means of understanding how capitalistic pursuits are directly contributing to the decline and erosion of the environment. All of the farmers the artists met along their journey are using GMO (genetically modified organisms) to produce their crops. They told Berthou and Požlep that genetically modified crops restrain the usage of pesticides and herbicides and therefore it is seen as progress in farming. As the artists learned, the farmers’ denial of climate change was overwhelming and clearly fueled by industrial, political, and ideological interests. The use of fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel make farming a major contributor to poor air and water quality not only along the Mississippi River, but also impacts climate change worldwide.
Faced with this massive environmental quandary, the artists captured moments along the river of the faces and stories of those who provide the labor for this invasive, but incredibly lucrative industry. At the conclusion of their trip, "Thumpa" was transformed into a small distillery where the collected corn was distilled into moonshine. Moonshine is a clear, unaged whiskey that was illegal in the U.S. until 2005 and thus named moonshine since it was illicitly distilled by moonlight. It is produced in the same manner as ethanol and is largely connected to the national identity and history of the United States. It has been produced illegally in America since the 1780s, often in rural areas much like many of those along the Mississippi River. In collaboration with a local distillery, the moonshine was pre-sold and the proceeds were used in part to help finance the performance and research phase of this endeavor.
The New Orleans Jazz Museum will present an outdoor screening of the film, Southwind, the primary document and artistic output of this ambitious project, on January 18, 2022 at 6pm during the international triennial, P.5 (Prospect New Orleans). An installation that includes evidence and further documentation of this project will on view inside the museum.
FURTHER DETAILS ABOUT THE JOURNEY
According to Berthou and Požlep the endurance-performance aspect of Southwind on the Mississippi River was in itself an exercise in thinking-as-storytelling, incorporating existing characters from the river and accompanied by the artists personal fears and dystopian thoughts. They asked themselves: “What is our position as fictional characters in our own story?” The endeavor was not a mere portrait or depiction of the river, but also a reflection of the artists as human beings surviving in times of despair yet guided by their search for a romantic experience filled with nature’s beauty or even a heroic reminiscing of the past. Almost all the people that they met on the river shared a sparkle of hope and a dream to travel the length of the Mississippi River once in their lifetime. The reality was far from romantic.
Throughout this durational performance the artists encountered farmers, fisherman, victims of past floods, people who had lost their family, dreamers, professional assassins, junkies, children of the future, prisoners, intense racists, and guardians of the frontier. For the artists, the image of this boat could represent an adventure, a dream coming true, or a completely nonsensical action. It enabled entry into this other world and allowed them to engage in dialogue with people and stories that would have been otherwise inaccessible.
To be able to embark on an action-research trip and to guarantee sustained interest, as well as the ability to meet with and gain the trust of local inhabitants in such a short period of time, the artists felt they needed a specific vessel with a storied and important position in American history. This is why they concluded that a steamboat, which was one of the first machine powered transportation vessels on the Mississippi River was the right mode of movement. They also leaned on its romantic underpinnings and the praise it garners in the literature of American author Mark Twain. Their boat, Thumpa, was built in Maine by a gentleman who died before he was able to realize his dream of using it to travel the Mississippi River. Berthou and Požlep purchased the boat from his son and worked with him on it for two years in Michigan. The boat is steam powered, burning wood to make the pressure turn the big back wheel. In order to feed the boiler, the artists had to stop every day to fill the boat, mostly cutting and collecting driftwood wherever they could. The speed of the boat, its size and shape, paired with the artists positive persistence granted them an exceptional connection with the river, as well as with its inhabitants.
Berthou and Požlep departed on the 2nd of September, only a month after a six-month period of extreme flooding along the river, which in the words of its inhabitants, was the biggest and longest one since 1993. Many of cities along the upper Mississippi River were washed away, marinas broken and destroyed, and infrastructure along the river abandoned. Additionally, the artists were confronted with abject poverty, caused by the floods as well as current political, social, and economic realities of life in middle America. Health problems caused by industrial pollution and toxicity were prevalent everywhere. Racial inequalities were a constant and were intensely present in smaller towns and places with lower educational levels.
The artists chose the Mississippi River as a “body of a nation,” an entity that for them represents a case study of the United States from its colonial history to the present as one of the most important commercial waterways in the world. This journey not only allowed Berthou and Požlep to experience and document this landscape through drawings, photography, writing, and video recordings, they also saw first-hand the impact of the Anthropocene era, which has created a damaged landscape and a river suffering from industrialization. They recorded interviews with inhabitants from workers to farmers to fishermen and their families and used their cameras as extensions of their vision, almost as fictional characters in a real story. It was as if the endurance of their travel was the story in itself. The documentation was achieved from two different points of view. The artists documented the river life primarily from their firsthand experience and secondly from a camera crew that followed them along the river with a car, thus serving as an observatory eye during meetings and interviews and documenting the portraits of the cities along the river. Both perspectives are invaluable and will be represented in the final version of the film, Southwind.
Past and future educational workshops and presentations of Southwind in Europe:
1. EKO 8 - A letter to the future, Triennial of Art and Environment Maribor, Slovenia, Curated by Alessandro Vincentelli, opening 21.May 2021
2. MSMUM - Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova, Draft, April 2021
3. Out of Sight, Antwerpen, Belgium – presentation, February 2021
4. Galerija Gallery, 19,11 . 2020 -31.1. 2021 – online happening
5. Gallery of Contemporary art Celje, Artist Talk, 20.8.2020
6. HISK Laureates exhibition 2019: An Island of Multiple Bridges, Hisk – Higher Institute for Contemporary Art, Ghent, BE,
7. Mona Bismark American center, Paris, FR, 23.10. 2019, project presentation
8. Centre Pompidou, Paris, FR, 15.9. 2019 – 4.11. 2019 - workshop at Studio #13/16
9. MGML, City Gallery Ljubljana, Ljubljana, SLO, Novembre 2018 – project overview
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Maxime Berthou (born 1981, France) graduated from the Aix-en-Provence Higher Art School before entering the post-diploma of Fresnoy Studio National des Arts Contemporain in Tourcoing then the pre- doctoral training at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. His artistic practice consists of making cinematographic essays based on the experience of performative gestures. His work is part of a practice-based research context overlaying an artistic framework on a scientific framework.
Mark Požlep (born 1981, Slovenia) finished his BA and MA at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana and com- pleted an Advanced Master’s Degree in Transmedia at the Sint-Lukas Campus in Brussels and HISK in Ghent. He works in the field of visual and performative arts, spatial installations and video art. His artistic practice involves journey-travels, which function both as long-durational performance/endurance art and as an art piece in itself. It is an intense procedural exploration, aiming to reveal the tension between politics, poetics and individual action. His work has been presented in numerous group and solo exhibition, including L’Effet Domino, Manifesta 13 - Les Parallèles du Sud, Nice; Contour Biennial 9-Colton as Cotton, Mechelen ; Southwind, Centre Pompidou, Paris; Cold Wind From The Balkans, Pera Museum Istanbul; Resilience, 7th Triennial of Slovenian Contemporary Art, MSUM Ljubljana; The Event , 29th Biennial of Graphic Arts, Museum of Modern Art, Ljubljana; Cultural Hero , II Biennial of Quadrilateral/BQ_2, Mu- seum of Contemporary Art, Rijeka; U3 , Fifth Triennial of Slovenian Contemporary Art, Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana; Essl Award Winners , Essl Museum, Vienna/Klosterneuburg.
ABOUT THE CURATOR
Amy Mackie has worked as curator and writer for over twenty years. Since 2013, she has served as the Director of PARSE NOLA, a nonprofit curatorial and research-based residency and art program based in New Orleans, LA. From 2011 to 2012 she was the Director of Visual Arts at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans and from 2007 to 2010, Curatorial Associate at the New Museum in New York. She curated numerous exhibitions at both institutions. As an independent curator, she curated “It Could Go Either Way: Mariam Ghani + Erin Ellen Kelly” at Rogaland Kunstsenter in Stavanger, Norway in 2014 and at the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage, Alaska in 2015. Mackie was the recipient of a 2013 Curatorial Fellowship from the Stavanger Municipality Culture Department in Norway, a 2010 Research Fellowship at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, England, and a 2009 CEC Artslink Grant. She has lectured at Bard College, Brooklyn College, College of Charleston, and Yale University, and has written for Art in America, Art Papers, FANTOM Photographic Quarterly, Pelican Bomb, Universes in Universe, as well as numerous books and catalogues. Mackie holds a M.A. in curatorial studies from the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College and a B.A. in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College.
Southwind is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Étant Donnés, a program of Villa Albertine and FACE Foundation, in partnership with the French Embassy in the United States, with support from the French Ministry of Culture, Institut français, Ford Foundation, Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, CHANEL and ADAGP. In-kind support provided by The French American Chamber of Commerce, Gulf South and The New Orleans Jazz Museum.