till we reach the depthsDaria S. Harper


He asks us if we can hear the water. And in the next breath, if we can hear him. (Inhale) if we can hear the water, (exhale) if we can hear him—again and again, lulling our ears beyond our heads, opening our pores like palms made for listening. Seated and flanked by the towering forms of fellow artist Laurent Valère's Cap 110 Memorial, Julien gives us a poem: An incantation that incarnates the fundamental insurgence of this gathering. It's more communion than conference, for the wind and waves have willed it so…

Tonight, his voice is not only his voice. Tonight, his utterance is pierced by the incandescent flair of Jacques Coursil's trilling trumpet and a symphony of erosion as ancient waves hurl themselves onto old stone below. Tonight, we have accepted the invitation to teeter with him on the cliff's edge. Tonight, he gives us verses keen on un-keeping, intent on un-mooring our melancholy and meeting something more vast than sky. I don't remember a single thing he said, but the feeling lived on—latent and thrumming and ready to become what you're reading now.

As his oratory impulse receded back into the cavern of his rib cage like a snake coiling around its own fresh flesh, he put the handheld mic he'd been cradling down into the grass and angled his eyes toward immensity. Behind him loomed, still, the fifteen forms with their heads bowed down toward the precipice in perpetual testimony. Around him coalesced the final yelps of brass, a sonic cloud of electrons orbiting the nucleus of our infinite possibility.

On the yearning heels of Coursil's trembling horn,
we ascend together into the night sky like a high cry,
Commanding something more than mere melody.


To hail from an archipelago is to know something special about mending—as such is the apotropaic spirit of experimental filmmaker, musician, sculptor, performance artist, and poet Julien Creuzet. In preparation to represent France at the 60th Venice Biennale and in lieu of a traditional “press conference,” the Martinican artist organized an odyssey through the arteries of his island as a means of introducing those who would later write about his work to the topography and imaginary from which his tentacular practice flows.

This is the first time a Martinican artist has held a convening of this nature on the island. Likewise, this is the first time a Martinican artist's work will make itself manifest in the French Pavilion.


We've reached the fold of night that precedes slurred and swirling, the fold still lined with lucidity and laced with laughter. The poet tells me this: “Badam is an onomatopoeia as well as the other name of the local almond nut in the Ocean Indien: noix de badam. I made a jeu de mots mixing the two textures. The onomatopoeia is the one we use in Martinique when something hits you. It is also used when something hits the floor.”

BADAM (the poem is a prophecy)
BADAM (we stand: seized, spellbound, and reminded of an)
BADAM (airborne assailant. the metropole is the “something” that “hits you.”)
BADAM (louder this time—the tricolor and all it stands for, up in smoke)
BADAM (Marianne, hallmark of spurious liberty drops to her knees)
BADAM (once more and she'll “hit the floor”)

Simone Lagrand's voice is thunder passed through windpipes. As her utterances populate the veranda on which we have gathered to share our first meal, her lungs demand their own fullness and, by osmosis, ours do too. Syllables catapult, ricochet off her fountain of a poem, conjuring the feeling of whatever happens to a branch after a butterfly has landed on it, or that which occurs in the air after a hummingbird, propelled by a heart that pumps as fast as its diaphanous wings, has insisted upon its own flight, again.

BADAM: a crescendo of potential energy wailing downward, all kinetic—but buoyant nonetheless

to hail from an archipelago is to know something special about refusing to sink


“Quantum entanglement” explains how two particles can be intimately connected even if separated by billions of light-years of space, such that “what happens to one of the particles in an entangled pair determines what happens to the other particle, even if they are far apart.” The implications of quantum entanglement, when parsed through the prism of Black feminism and, specifically, the musings of our prescient foremother Octavia Butler, recall how gloriously malleable we are to one another: “All that you touch, / You Change. / All that you Change, / Changes you.

We can expand this framework up to the level of relation, like when we surrender to the crushing risk and kaleidoscopic thrill of being made anew in love's image. Or, like when I feel my forebears recalibrating my compass, speaking through nothing and across everything to guide me across the puckered lips of eternal flux. Or, like during carnival when the intoxicating density of bèlè drums swallow any sense of separation, any sense of me-ness, and deliver us all into the crackling center of black hole-esque singularity—that giving-over to rhythm wherein we excrete nothing but salt and forget to mind whose body it came from.

And what if we swell the scale further?

We can turn to quantum entanglement also as a means to read the relationship between France and its neo-colonies: Like how they asphyxiate our land with concrete and chlordecone without realizing they too are porous to the poison. Or, like when the hexagon decides an artist who hails from its purposeful periphery will speak for the entire nation without accounting for all the ideologies that such a decision so delightfully undermines. By way of this apprehension, we may refuse to celebrate the hexagon for acknowledging that its head is made and maintained by a triangle. Such a framework encourages an insurgent interpretation of what the presence of Julien's work in Venice means, i.e. turns our attention toward what it disrupts, toward a ceremonious undoing of national identity.

France's regime has long depended on assimilatory rhetoric, as evinced in part by the evisceration of language that indexes relational difference. For example, hyphens are a ghost in the country's socio-political lexicon. You are not Franco-Martinican or Franco-Guadeloupean, or Franco anything else, you're French, just French, all else dissolving into the universal solvent that is the metropole's multi-century-long wash. In Martinique, we call it la blès (the wound), the psychosomatic and spiritual accumulation of subjugation, the immense and holistically felt weight of living under European domination.

Concurrently, the ethos of the island is one of débrouillardise—our incredible capacity to cope, to keep inventing ourselves under volcanic pressure against our livelihood, to reify a cadence of aliveness informed by profuse familiarity with the anatomy of violence, and simultaneously aware of and inhabiting an other-way or other-wise.

Débrouillardise is the aortic root of our expression, of our action, of our waiting and wanting, which also means there's an asymmetry to the equation of entanglement here: the appearance of Julien's work in the French Pavilion materializes a way of being that is specific to Martinicans' will and abandons the perception of the Antilles as endlessly open to the projection of external meanings. To posit that France and Martinique are quantumly entangled, then, is to recall that meanings are made through what Édouard Glissant terms “tourbillons de rencontre” (whirlwinds of encounter), and thus, that our understanding of France is all but immune to its collision with Martinique, all but safe from the artist's rewriting.

Julien puts Martinique at the center of the frame and demands engagement on the island's own terms, on his own terms. He refuses to partake in the charade of translation, refuses to make his offerings legible to a country whose self-perception depends on misreading him. He has brought us all here to bask in the splendor of empire's undoing.

It all feels like a wink. And the wink is our way, is our donning of débrouillardise.

Indeed, in step with Julien's work, we redress la blès.


It's pre-coffee early, but the birds and the trees are already exchanging notes about the sun's unspooling, so we follow suit. The bus grinds to a halt and we begin down the path to the residence where Édouard Glissant thought the thoughts, loved the people, wrote the writings (including our beloved Poetics of Relation), and offered his final exhale to the island. The house, recently transformed into a residency program, hums like a beacon down the way. The pebbles we press with our footfalls feel like a red carpet rolled out for freedom to take on flesh, for sovereignty to saunter across.

After serving ourselves a vivifying dose of coconut water from an endlessly perspiring vessel, Daria and I go to the bathroom to relieve our foreheads, also endlessly perspiring, and reapply the liquid blush we use as lipstick. Feeling fresh, we photograph ourselves in the mirror and register the fact that our luminary's reflection was here too, that this is where he beheld his own image daily: A perfect moment of kyouka suigetsu. We can't touch him / but his memory is loud, loud, loud in the walls. As we exit the lavatory, I catch a glimpse of his straw hat perched atop a conical pile of books.

We are here to inaugurate the house's new life as a residency, and also because Julien is going to be in conversation with Cindy Sissokho and Céline Kopp, the curators of this year's Pavilion, as well as Eva Nguyen Binh, the president of the Institut français, on the topic of the exhibition. Today, we will hear him utter its name for the first time: Attila cataracte ta source aux pieds des pitons verts finira dans la grande mer gouffre bleu nous nous noyâmes dans les larmes marées de la lune (Attila cataract your source at the feet of the green peaks will end up in the great sea blue abyss we drowned in the tidal tears of the moon). The title references the Martinican landscape and the “débordant” (unbounded) imaginaries it sends crackling into the atmosphere like tectonic plates refashioning themselves to make earth buckle. He speaks about how the works will prompt a devotional register of attention and I blush into the understanding that, this year, the French Pavilion will be an ode to the magma that made us.

Further, Attila cataracte ta source aux pieds des pitons verts finira dans la grande mer gouffre bleu nous nous noyâmes dans les larmes marées de la lune will orient our contemplation toward emancipatory ontologies that macerate in unintelligibility and unearth a reverence for esoteric ways of knowing grounded in the chaos of pure feeling. The artworks will encourage the audience to relinquish their manufactured sense of immunity to entropy and demand a full body interpretation, not just a cerebral or “intellectual” one—they will ask us to bring all that we have not yet named within ourselves and to imbibe the mystery of being without having to call it anything.

For the duration of the dialogue, the artist answers sparingly: an easeful testament to his own agentive force, as if to epitomize Glissant's directive of one's “right to opacity.” He sits poised, tracing the edges of clouds. Feet tucked gently beneath him, Julien balances the ample length of his cutlass—spread latent across his knees. I realize, then, he hasn't put it down a single time since the conference-cum-communion began. Once the metronome of the exchange with Cindy, Céline, and Eva halts, the blade, licked by negative space in the form of a scolopendre, returns home. Using his body as a sheath, he tucks it tenderly between his tricep and rib cage, the tip pointing behind him like a scorpion's stinger. While the gesture could be read as a physical signifier of his capacity to extract blood, it could also be understood as an act of adornment, as a benediction, as a self-ordainment. A fifth limb poised to protect.


We step, now, into the rustling throat of Absalon Forest: the birthplace of surrealism. As we plunge down a narrow, moss-lined staircase that leads to a gargantuan waterfall, Julien makes a point to remind us that Suzanne Roussi Césaire, her husband, and André Breton walked this very same path, that they came here to muse together about the suscitation of a post-war aesthetic capable of leveraging the cyclonic bounty of the subconscious.

The undeniable here-ness of our writerly cosmology and the thick seduction of a looming forest's wisdom sends Daria and I rushing back to the bus. Riffling madly through our tote bags, we grab our bikinis and, surrendering to a gush of anticipation, find a cavern to strip in—wholly unconcerned with who can see. We tread over jagged bedrock, floating over potential punctures as quickly as we possibly can, closing the gap between our bodies and the water's velocity to feel it all fall into the open space where our skulls meet the spirits. The water is all but merciful, coaxing a series of sharp inhales and testing how much we can take. Wading, wading, calling freshwater to unfold us, permission is granted. We scuttle up onto the rock's face, scale the sides until we are as close to the tumble as we can get without surrendering our necks, and embrace immediately, drunk on our own rapturous laughter and that totalizing feeling of reality melting into something more habitable.

Ensconced in the safety of Daria's arms, I wonder for a while about the cascade's enraptured expanse and think to myself: No wonder Suzanne and her comrades came here to write the world anew. She has been with us all along the way, threading that glistening “tightrope of our hope” across spacetime right to the event horizon that is this gathering. Now cue Julien and his co-conspirators, all fingers and fortitude, ready to keep weaving.

Indeed, Suzanne is with us now, marveling at her prayer: answered / alight / ablaze.