Between Paris and Tunis, Art Making, Writing, Curation, Films Selection, and Bathing in the Depth of Images
I grew up in Lyons, France. My mother often took me to the theatre, to dance shows, and exhibitions. I remember being at the opera once, I was maybe 6 years old, and I started crawling under the seats because I didn’t understand the plot. It was like playing hide and seek, discovering the architecture at my own scale. I thought the opera was a magical place. My second art memory was at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. I went there very often in my early childhood, I was fascinated by ancient Egypt and they had a collection of mummies and panels with hieroglyphs. Maybe my attraction for learning languages and signs comes from that time. In their garden, they have several Rodin bronze reproductions, and I used to train myself by drawing them before high school, long before I entered the Beaux-Arts. It’s a place out of time, one of those that only exist as a place of conservation, where you are confronted with fragments of history that you are left to recompose together by yourself.
When I studied art at Saint-Etienne Beaux-Arts, I essentially focused on the video medium. With time, I let myself open up to other mediums, and today, I consider myself as a visual artist, and less as a video maker. I use video, photography, sculpture, writing, and drawing. While studying, I was in a very masculine thinking environment. I thought a lot about this. I realised quite late that the way I believed writing, or thinking as a working tool, wasn’t really for me was because I had these paternalistic very French-educated thinking-masters, with very little feminine art historical references or thinkers. I was a little stuck, especially when it came to writing. Following the work I did for my Masters, where I conversed with two filmmaker women artists, French Marie Voignier and Belgo-Iranian Sana Azari, I started using writing more. At first, asking questions was an indirect way to reflect about an artist’s work, but then it guided my own path too, so after my studies I continued to write. In 2017, I published a conversation with Franco-Tunisian artist Ismaïl Bari, with Le Jeu de Paume. These conversations with artists really launched me into writing, and then into curatorship. Currently, I am publishing my forth conversation with artist Marcel Dinahet, with the Maison des Sciences de l’homme de Bretagne. It will be published in October by La muette, in a collection of essays edited by Christophe Camus and Cladia Desblaches.
I see myself as a “young” curator. Some artists read my texts, and then asked me to write and also to curate their work. I did my first contemporary art curation with the exhibition of photographer Adrien Chevrot, at the Point Commun, in Annecy, in 2020. That year I also wrote a text about the work of Italian artist Suni Prisco, for her solo show at the Galerie du Crous. We exchanged a lot about her work. I actually like the relationship between critique and writing and curatorship, it’s very porous.
In 2019, I developed a curatorial partnership with Gabes Cinema Fen film festival, exclusively focused on cinema and video art. I selected artworks from the first edition of the festival and presented them in 2020, at the Cinémathèque de Saint Etienne. I used to work at the cinematheque, first as a projectionist, then specialising in the digitization and restoration of films, and later I was asked by my former colleagues to make curatorial proposals, especially since I worked closely with the Tunisian scene. Currently, I am selecting works from the latest edition of the festival in Gabes, to be presented in 2022 at the cinematheque; and this October, the cinematheque will show my selection from the 2020 festival, with Randa Maddah, Farah Khelil, Youssef Chebbi, and Fakhri El Ghezal. So I am an independent curator, but I am also kind of a correspondent for the Cinémathèque de Saint Etienne in Tunisia, via Gabes Cinema Fen film festival.
As an artist, I work a lot on questions related to the materiality of images, their potential, their depth, their light, how our gaze lives in them. In moving images, but also in photography, I am interested in the passing of time, in spaces where humans exist or where their presence is felt. Formally, it can be very minimalistic while accumulating layers of meaning. I also work a lot around the idea of what is used to create an image, for instance by focusing on the observation tool, filming through the lens of binoculars, or through the lens of a camera to create a reversed image. As a curator, I always work with artists whose work question my own way of seeing and that intrigues me, but I don’t project my interests onto their work, they are two distinct things. When I write, I always depart solely from the artist’s work, at the very least to not repeat myself. As a curator, it is important to build a working framework that is at the service of the artist’s work, putting aside my own questionings. You have to find that balance.
All my practices are interconnected. As an artist, you ask yourself a lot of questions, how to develop deeper conceptual and formal perspectives in your work? how to present it? what to select? and how to make connections between the pieces? Then as a curator, when I worked with Chevrot, my photography practice supported our understanding of each other, including when covering technical details. I learned a lot following his creative process closely. One of the first photographs that I saw by him is “La Nuit”, an image of a rock that you fall into as a viewer, with incredible colours that he pulled through a background hidden negative. From a wider perspective, we have in common that we are both labourers of the image. I suppose my sensibility permeates also for the films I select, for instance with Fakhri El Ghezal, a filmmaker who works in 8 mm and produces coarse-grained images with hand-written narratives on them. He superimposes layers of signification, which then shape his stories.
Every time I write about, or curate, an artist’s work, I deep dive into their bibliography and exchange a lot with them, watch films, see shows, basically I do a lot of research. All this investment nourishes a thinking process that is like a river. That’s another permeable quality of navigating curatorship and art making together: to be able to combine what you learn from working with, and writing about, artists with the larger framework of who you are, what you think as a person, where you put your attention to, and what subjects interest you the most.
For the past year, I have been lucky to be in residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts. Thanks to the support of a private foundation, I didn’t have to do the usual string of small jobs to make ends meet. Now, I work 100% as an artist and as a curator. I manage my time rather well, I know how long I need to do a particular task and I manage to establish clear boundaries between the different hats I wear. I also try to spread my different projects throughout the year. Having said that, I don’t go on holidays much.
I love music. I am participating in the latest album by composer and pianist Koki Nakano, reading vocals for one of his songs. Currently, I am collaborating with Richard Seers, an American musician and composer for whom I work on films for his next solo album. I have this interest for music although it’s not a medium I practice, but it’s important for me to do things I don’t master. Another medium I am passionate about is contemporary dance. The lastest show I saw was by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker at the Chatelet theatre in Paris. I feel there is something in dance that I never realised. I am familiar with the movement of the body when holding a camera, but dance is something that escapes me completely. It’s an universe I don’t know how to create, and it is fascinating to me
For fun … I try to make room for my personal life, the balance helps the professional life too. One of my hobbies is birdwatching. I’ve loved it since I was a child. My father had the habit to give me binoculars when I was throwing tantrums, and it worked in calming me down. I know birds quite well, and even in Paris I can recognise deferent breeds and their calls. It’s hard to find the time to take a full day off, so I give myself small breaks during the day. For instance, I go out and look at nature, even though there is seldom any in Paris, and fixate on some details. Some people would find it strange, but it’s fun and relaxing.
A good future invention would be to find solid alternatives to nuclear power. Something that would allow us to completely change our paradigm in terms of energy use. More importantly, we need to revolutionise our way of looking at the world.
The book that I really liked and would recommend is “Sol Absolu” by Loránd Gáspár. It’s a collection of poems by this author who was also a photographer, used to be a surgeon, and who one day turned to writing. He was born in oriental Transylvania (today’s Romania) and was deported. At the end of his life he was in Tunisia. His prose touches me greatly. With a sensitivity to light and bodies, he mixes personal impressions with the occasional surgical references.
A book that still haunts me is “Les Pierres Sauvages” by Fernand Pouillon. Pouillon was an architect, and wrote this book about the construction of the Thoronet abbey in the south of France. He writes from the standpoint of the abbey’s builder and he revisits what it is to build that type of structure in the 12th century.
A third book I really like is “Homo Spectator” by Marie Jose Mondzain. She is a philosopher who inspired my practice and writing a lot. I discovered her work while I was studying and it became my bedside book, I often come back to it. Right from the beginning she talks about the creation of the first image, the distance between hand and upper body, and puts breath as its vector.
I dress simply, with no patterns and the least amount of seams, and always in heels. You will never find anyone who has seen me in trainers, except when I go running.
I feel at home when I manage a comfortable working station, where I feel good. But then I can feel at home nearly everywhere as long as there is light. I am very sensitive to light, which is probably one of the reasons why I love Tunisia so much. I started working in Tunisia when I was invited to have carte blanche at a festival in the south of Tunisia, in Redeyef, one of the first towns to rise against president Ben Ali before the revolution. I was there as an artist and met many people from the Tunisian cinema scene (later, I also met people from the contemporary art scene). I found a common ground with the way they looked at images, which was different from a French perspective. It was refreshing yet familiar. I found in Tunisia a way to consider and manipulate images—with care—that spoke to me.
If I were a collector … It’s hard to project myself as a collector since I move around a lot and I don’t possess many things. I am not against the idea of collecting artworks though.
If I wasn’t curating or doing anything in the arts, I would spend most of my time studying languages and philology.
Based in Paris, France and Tunis, Tunisia
Camille Pradon (FR) is a visual artist, independent curator, and art critic working between Paris and Tunis. Since 2015, she is undergoing a research based on critical texts and interviews with artists and directors, some of it was published by the Jeu de Paume Magazine and the Revue Point Contemporain. In 2020, she curated French photographer Adrien Chevrot’s first solo show at Le Point Commun art center (Annecy, France). Before working as an independent curator, she worked as Communication Manager for L’art dans les chapelles (Brittany, FR) and as the Exhibitions, Cultural Partnerships and Editions Manager, at the Saint-Etienne Higher School of Art and Design, where she organised exhibitions of art and design.
She worked several years between France and Tunisia on various initiatives and artistic collaborations, which led her to set up, in 2019, a partnership between Gabes Cinema Fen Festival, La Boîte contemporary art space in Tunis, and the St-Etienne’s Cinematheque, where each year she curates a selection of films and art videos chosen from the Gabes Cinema Fen programme.
Camille Pradon is currently resident at the Cité internationale des arts de Paris where she lives and works on her artistic and curatorial projects.