Grosse Fatigue uses the familiar setting of a computer desktop to narrate the origins of the universe, and to question how such narratives have been constructed. The video draws on the artist’s experience during a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, for which Henrot was granted access to film the collections of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. Set to a poem written by Henrot in collaboration with the poet Jacob Bromberg, the text is voiced by Ghanaian American multidisciplinary artist Akwetey Orraca Tetteh and scored by musician Joakim Bouaziz.
Employing oral traditions instead of more official written histories, Grosse Fatigue draws from scientific theories and religious creation stories to denote the common human desire to explain our origins. These narratives diverge and converge in the poem throughout the video. A rapid-fire choreography of pop-up windows and images provides glimpses into Henrot’s research at the Smithsonian; the voracious systems of acquisition, preservation, and classification central to the construction of the Western museum are linked to the Internet’s procedures of compiling and framing the information we seek. The video’s swiftly proliferating imagery, while signaling the speed and light_ness of the digital world, ultimately highlights the heaviness and exhaustion provoked by overwhelming streams of data. Grosse Fatigue considers the museum’s restless accumulation of objects and dead animal specimens—often achieved through forms of violence, like genocide, extinction, and environmental damage—that feeds our infinite hunger for knowledge. If vanity has compelled us to construct our own history through forms of possession and death, Henrot considers the underlying impulses that continue to drive new technologies and the seduction of constructing ourselves online.
Camille Henrot’s extensive research across a range of disciplines like philosophy, anthropology, and history often shapes her work, including Grosse Fatigue. She made the video while in residence at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., digging into its vast collections to pull together images of objects and specimens, like animal skeletons and carved figurines, with footage she shot in offices and collection storage. Henrot merges this with additional video clips and images she both made and found online.
Characterizing her structuring of Grosse Fatigue as “an experience of density itself,” she frames this material in layered pop-up windows that continually open and close against the changing background of a computer desktop. Brief pauses in the pacing stand out in Henrot’s otherwise rapid-fire sequencing. Sometimes, a woman’s hands appear in the frames, nails playfully manicured to match the colorful backgrounds. A spoken word-style voiceover, which interweaves stories of creation from across cultures, structures the visual cacophony. Henrot describes this mash-up of scientific discovery and religious myth-making as an “intuitive unfolding of knowledge,” a presentation meant to highlight our abundance of information, as well as its limits.
Additional text from What Is Contemporary Art? on Coursera, 2019