This essay was originally published in FOAM Magazine’s new Talent Issue.
Thatcher is Dead is the provocative yet matter-of-fact title of a series of images produced by Swiss artist Julien Gremaud. The images are purposefully obscure and consequently also difficult to read. At first sight they look like newspaper clippings and photographs that are randomly superimposed on top of each other. Yet a closer look at the work reveals a more complex production process. Gremaud supplies the viewer with tiny visual hints that the images in the series are not so much superimposed by the artist himself, but rather, constitute a type of double image that is created by looking through the newspaper page, perhaps by holding it up to the sun – image and text from the front and the back of the page become equally visible.
Layout designers traditionally try to avoid such an effect by separating images on either side of the page of the newspaper. Gremaud on the other hand actively searched for these layout ‘accidents’, then appropriated the images by scanning the newspaper like a reversal film – the light of the scanner penetrating the newspaper is the equivalent of the sun that allows the reader to see both side of the page. The effect of this methodology is that Gremaud presents the viewer with a visual totality of the newspaper page: not neatly packaged and digestible chunks of information, but instead a chaotic, unresolved and perplexing picture emerging from the surface of the page.
Once blown up to large-scale photographic prints, these double images become haunting monuments to a paradoxical world where the very notion of an objective media comes into question. Gremaud purposefully presents double images that create a contradiction from within: an idyllic holiday scene mixed together with a destroyed cityscape, or an image of mourners overlooking a mass grave juxtaposed with a photograph of a hectic media scrum. Importantly, in these double images Gremaud does not prioritize one side of the image over another. The confusion caused by this methodology is deliberate whereas respite can be found in tranquil satellite images that depict circular storm formations from high above. Here too though Gremaud presents the viewer with a contradiction: the satellite images appear serene and beautiful on the surface, while beneath the clouds a storm is gathering pace.
A portrait of Margaret Thatcher who died during the production of the project is a central image in the series. One side of the image depicts Thatcher in the way that some might wish to remember her: a dignified stateswoman, the Iron Lady looking confidently into the lens of the camera. By contrast the flipside of the image includes the German words ‘Der Empörte’, or ‘The Outraged’ spelt backwards. Although image and text are actually from unrelated news items presented on either side of the page, by focusing on this layout accident Gremaud alludes to Thatcher as a deeply divisive and controversial figure.
In my interview with the artist, Gremaud wrote that Thatcher ‘developed a political system and pushed it to the extreme’. The extreme, or even extremist neoliberal ideology promoted by Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States continues to be practiced across the globe today. This ideology includes a complete devotion to the so-called free markets, the unwavering belief in privatization and deregulation of industries, as well as the notion of a trickle-down effect whereby the increased wealth of the rich lifts earnings in society as a whole. In his work Gremaud alludes to the fact that the mainstream media is by-and-large implicated in propping up this ideology. Perhaps that is related to who owns certain media organizations, or perhaps it relates to who pays for advertising space. Yet in his work Gremaud appears more concerned with the very abstract and philosophical question of how ideology is reproduced in the media. This concern is cleverly signified by using images rather than text – suggesting that images have a very powerful part to play in how ideologies are manifested in society.
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