This is the first solo exhibition in Israel featuring Loris Gréaud (b. 1979), one of the most prominent young artists working today in France. This exhibition was specially created for the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and is presented in two separate spaces connected by the exhibition. The different components – a short film, sculpture, lighting, sound, and movement – work together to create a cyclical narrative event in which rain is the central motif: rain as a futuristic-technological development and rain as a poetic, fictional, or apocalyptic phenomenon; clouds as an evasive narrative and as fabricated entity.
The project’s title was borrowed from the animated children’s series Care Bears, whose protagonists are a series of sweet and good-tempered bears. “Grumpy Bear” stands out due to his ill temper, blue color, and raincloud on its belly, as well as due to his technical abilities. Another protagonist of the rain-related mythology created by this project is the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, USA, where Gréaud filmed the breathtaking technological miracle of artificial clouds: the clouds are designed to rain after spaceship takeoff in order to cool the engines. Another site filmed by Gréaud is Louisiana’s Bayou country, an area filled with swamps, rivers and forests. The lens of Gréaud’s camera, which is carried above ground by a drone, reveals a tangled, watery natural expanse that appears at once primeval and apocalyptic. The film’s third arena is the stage of the Châtelet Theater in Paris, which features the reconstructed set of the rainy street from Singin’ in the Rain, the 1952 film by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly. The scene in which Kelly sings and dances in the street is one of the best-known and most beloved scenes in the history of classical Hollywood cinema. Gréaud filmed the rainy street set as reconstructed at the Châtelet Theater for a theatrical production of the musical.
Seen against this backdrop is the actress Charlotte Rampling, herself an iconic figure, wearing Grumpy Bear’s blue outfit as she paces back and forth and mutters sentences from the post-apocalyptic novels of J.G. Ballard and from interviews with him. Ballard’s pessimistic vision concerning the future of humanity and its subjugation to technology pervades the film’s dystopic and disturbing atmosphere. Recorded audience laughter accompanies the sentences uttered by Rampling/Ballard/Grumpy Bear, casting this appearance as a dark and cynical stand-up performance.
Charlotte Rampling already appeared as Grumpy Bear in Gréaud’s earlier film Sculpt, which was screened in 2016 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Grumpy Bear is thus a spinoff of Sculpt, a 50-minute-long science-fiction film rich with plots and meanings. In addition to Charlotte Rampling, it also featured Willem Dafoe, Michael Lonsdale, The Residents, and the voodoo priestess Miriam Shamani from New Orleans. The film was screened at LACMA’s Bing Theater, whose 600 seats were removed to transform it into a vast empty space designed for a single viewer. For the exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Gréaud sculpted a space shaped like a narrow corridor. Visitors can sit in niches set into the wall and look out, as if from theater balconies or confessionals, on the cyclical event unfolding before their eyes: when the eight-minute film ends, the curtains covering the gallery walls open to reveal the Lightfall – the museum’s central architectural element. Grumpy Bear’s blue fur outfit, which was worn by Charlotte Rampling in the film and is stained by mud from Louisiana’s Bayou swamps, appears on the railing of the Lightfall. The hypnotizing sound of Rampling’s whispering voice floods the gallery space and the Lightfall. It is difficult to understand what she is saying, yet given what we heard in the film itself it is perhaps best not to understand. When the whispering ends, the curtain closes, the Lightfall disappears, the gallery is darkened, and the film is screened once again.
Gréaud’s project weaves a tale that is at once ancient and new. Its origins were inspired by both high and popular culture, science and mythology, and it floods the museum spaces with a mixture of poeticism and dread.
Grumpy Bear is going to be part of the collection of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.