Johan Grimonprez

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Johan Grimonprez
Johan Grimonprez Centre Pompidou (Paris) 2007 photo by Hervé Véronèse.jpg
Photo by Hervé Véronèse at Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, 2007)
Nationality Belgian

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Berlin (1997)

Jan van Eyck Academy, New York (Post Graduate FA, 1995)

Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, New York (1993)

School of Visual Arts, New York (MFA Film & Mixed Media, 1992)

School of Arts, KASK, Ghent (BA Photography & Mixed Media, 1986)
Occupation Filmmaker, artist, curator

Sundance Film Institute Production Grant (2011)

Black Pearl Award: Best New Documentary Director MEIFF (Abu Dhabi, 2009)

First Prize European Media Award (Osnabrück, 2006)

First Prize International Media Award (SWR/ZKM Karlsruhe 2005)

Golden Spire: Best Director IFF San Francisco (1998)

Grand Prix de la Ville de Genève, Biennale de Vidéo (Saint-Gervais Genève, 1993)

Johan Grimonprez (born 1962) is a Belgian multimedia artist, filmmaker, and curator. He is most known for his films Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y and Double Take. As of 2014, Grimonprez's upcoming projects include the feature films How to Rewind Your Dog and Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade, based on the book by Andrew Feinstein. Johan Grimonprez is represented by Sean Kelly Gallery (New York) and Galerie Kamel Mennour (Paris).

Personal life[edit]

Grimonprez was born in 1962 in Roeselare, Belgium. After studying cultural anthropology, he went on to complete his studies in photography and mixed media at Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent. Grimonprez earned an MFA in Video & Mixed Media at the School of Visual Arts in New York. In 1993, Grimonprez was admitted to the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program and later attended the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, Netherlands. In 1993, Grimonprez worked on the series Besmette Stad for the program Ziggurat on Belgian television.


His films are characterised by a criticism of contemporary media manipulation, described as: "an individual attempt to make sense of the wreckage wrought by history." Other themes include the relationship between the individual and the mainstream image,[1] the notion of zapping as "an extreme form of poetry",[2] and the questioning of our consensus reality, which Grimonprez defines as: "a reality that is entangled with the stories we tell ourselves in the worldview we agree on sharing." Grimonprez claims that "Hollywood seems to be running ahead of reality. The world is so awash in images that we related to 9/11 through images we had already projected out into the world. In a sense, fiction came back to haunt us as reality.[3] A perpetual distraction, this illusion of abundance staged by techno-magic hid the ugly face of an info-dystopia. Images of Abu Ghraib, 9/11, swine flu, the BP GUlf oil spill and the economic crisis composed our new contemporary sublime." Amongst Grimonprez’s influences are Walter Benjamin, Jorge Luis Borges, and Don DeLillo.


Shadow World[edit]

Shadow World is a documentary about the international weapons trade. The film is based on Andrew Feinstein's book "The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade" (2011). Feinstein's book exposes the "parallel world of money, corruption, deceit and death" behind the trade in arms.[4] Key interviews include: Jeremy Scahill, Chris Hedges, Michael Hardt, Noam Chomsky, Frans De Waal among others. Grimonprez claims that "the contemporary condition of what it is to be human calls into question the relevance of politics and reality, one that has collapsed under the weight of an information overload and mass deception." To him the present political debate "has schrunk into mere fear management and paranoia suddenly seems the only sensible state of being, where it is easier to ponder the end of the world than to imagine viable political alternatives.[5] "Shying away from getting stuck into merely critiquing social evil, I began exploring alternatives. It's indeed important to say what we don't want, but more crucial is to point at what we actually do want."[6] According to Grimonprez the film not only exposes how corruption drives the global armstrade, while it offen sets the stage for war, it hopes to offer also alternatives to the paradigm of greed, legimated and celebrated by social darwinism. Frans de Waal’s explorations into ‘empathy’ and his focus on notions of ‘cooperation’ and ‘conflict-resolution’ offer a counterpart to this celebrated paradigm of greed and corruption.[7]

Double Take[edit]

Released in 2009, Double Take combines documentary and fictional elements. The plot, written by British novelist Tom McCarthy, centres around Alfred Hitchcock and a fictitious meeting Hitchcock has with an older version of himself during the Cold War.[8] Using the allegory of a sky-borne threat, Double Take charts the rise of the television in the domestic setting and with it, the ensuing commodification of fear. The five Folgers commercials for instant coffee that play throughout Double Take are standing for the commercial break of the television format as well as for the exploration of the theme that fear and murder lurks in the domestic setting. Inspired by the Jorge Luis Borges short story 25th August, 1983,[9] it plays on the Hitchcockian/Borgesian aphorism that "if you should meet your double, you should kill him... Or he will kill you...”[10] This encounter with the double or the mirroring of Hitchcock versus Hitchcock (as Hitchcock frequently doubled himself as the storyteller in his films through his cameos),[11] sketches out the theme of the doppelgänger- the parody of the original. This mirrors the plot of rivalry between cinema (Hitchcock the filmmaker), its television double (Hitchcock the television-maker) and the younger YouTube Hitchcock.[12] This Mistaken identity is described by Grimonprez as "the uncanny feeling that in a situation, something, or someone looks exactly the same as another, but somehow is not, and hence is totally displaced. It creates an unease and a sense of anxiety announcing the impending disaster, but precisely because of this, reveals a glimpse of the sublime."[13]

Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y[edit]

Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y is a 68-minute film that traces the history of airplane hijackings as portrayed in mainstream television. Set against a backdrop of a chronology of airline hijackings, beginning with the first documented airplane hijacking in 1931.[14] Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y illustrates how, as hijackings got progressively more television coverage, they became more and more deadly.[15] In this sense, the underlying theme is that the hijackers hijack was becoming itself hijacked by news media corporations.[1][16] The nature of live television allowed for a minute by minute update of the hijack as the situation unravelled; blurring the line between entertainment and tragedy,[17] For terrorists seeking to inscribe their struggle in history, the hijack devoid of the mediatized image of itself lost all of its communicative power. With the airplane always on the move between countries and borders as if in state of nowhere, the hijack came to symbolize the transgression across a violent border towards a political utopia.[18] "This study in pre-Sept. 11 terrorism"[19] is interspersed with passages from Don DeLillo's novels Mao II and White Noise, "providing a literary and philosophic anchor to the film."[20] Questioning the role of the writer in an image saturated society, dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y's narrative is based on an imagined dialogue between a terrorist and a novelist where the writer contends that the terrorist has hijacked his role within society: "there's a curious knot that binds novelists and terrorists. Years ago I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory." As the plot progresses, it becomes clear that with the increasing media coverage of terrorist hijacks, this power of producing an inward societal shock has been wrestled from the writer by the terrorist. They are 'playing a zero-sum game' where “what the terrorists gain, novelists lose!”[21] the film is composed of a wide array of archival footage material, interspersing reportage shots, clips from science fiction films, found footage, and reconstituted scenes filmed by Grimonprez. The piece premiered in 1997 at the Musée National d'Art Moderne in Paris and was later screened at documenta X in Kassel.[22]

Kobarweng Or Where is Your Helicopter?[edit]

This short documentary Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter? (1992) deals with the history of a remote village in the highlands of New Guinea. The videotape assembles archival footage and oral histories depicting the first encounter between the Irian Jaya people and the scientific crew, including anthropologists, of the Dutch Star Mountains Expedition.[23] The confrontation with the crew and their helictopter caused a shock that threw the worldview of the villagers upside down.[24] The event even entered their Sibil-tongue language; literally translated, weng means language, whilst kobar airplane.[25] Kobarweng's title is an ironic reference to a question first posed to Grimonprez by a local man named Kaiang Tapor, who, upon Grimonprez's arrival in the village of Pepera after a three-day hike, asked him where his helicopter was. The footage in the film is traversed by a running band of script, reporting observations and remarks culled from anthropologists' interviews, eye-witness reports, and the reminiscences of those highlanders who recall those moments of 'first contact' between the white intruders (missionaries, prospectors, anthropologists, adventurers) and the local inhabitants: "We never tell everything, we always keep something for the next anthropologist" they are candid enough to admit to Margaret Mead, while another wit remarks: "We called the whites 'people of soap', but their shit smelled the same as ours."[26] Switching the roles of observer and observed, the relation implied in the anthropological representation is reversed: the desire of the observing anthropologist itself becomes “other”, “exotic”, an object of curiosity destabilised by the villager’s questions.[27] According to Grimonprez: "Kobarweng critically considers the myth of objectivity, the pretence of an epistemic and scientific detachment maintained not just by the anthropologist, but throughout the discourse of western science, where the observer finds himself caught in an alienated position of transcendence over his/her subject."[28]

In 1994, Grimonprez showcased a five-channel installation entitled It Will Be All Right If You Come Again, Only Next Time Don't Bring Any Gear, Except a Tea Kettle..., which expanded upon the themes of Kobarweng. The encounter between the different groups in 1939 up to the current problems caused by neocolonialism: The province is occupied by the Indonesian military and according to a Yale university law school report "there can be little doubt that the Indonesian government has engaged in a systematic pattern of acts that has resulted in harm to a substantial part of the indigenous population of West Papua."[29] Amnesty International found that there were no effective means for people of the public could complain against the police acting in violation of international law and standards.[30]

Curated programs[edit]

Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind (Pinakothek der Moderne München, 2005)

All curated programs, in the form of a video lounge, could be seen as a media-jamming tool at the hand of an extensive collection of clips, that can be envisioned both as the joyful affirmation of a global disengagement of corporations abducting our very essence, patenting and privatizing for profit, alienating our food & bodies by creating a genetically modified variant[31] and the catalyst of debate.[32] According to Grimonprez, the participatory elements would be sometimes as simple as a hot cup of coffee. "We would never install our video-library without having cookies, the smell of coffee and the remote control present. These elements already induce a platform of conviviality, an atmosphere for chatting. You are invited to pick up the remote to zap through your own choice of videotapes, in a way to be your own curator."[16]

Beware! In Playing the Phantom, You Become One[edit]

A videolounge based on the history of television created in collaboration with Herman Asselberghs. In the work Grimonprez questioned the image of the spectator as a passive consumer[33] and seeks to detect the impact of images on our feelings, our knowledge and our memory.[34] In his opinion, the homogeneity of what the media have to offer presents a creative context in which images can consciously be read the wrong way. The boring uniformity of mainstream TV can never impose uniformity in its perception.[35]

Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind: On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break[edit]

This ongoing curated video-library/vlogging installation is a project on the history of the remote control and zapping in relation to the commercial break[36] and how zapping and channel surfing were installed as a new way to relate to the world in the 80s.[32] While Walter Benjamin and Sergei Eisenstein defined montage as a revolutionary tool for social analyisis, MTV and CNN have surpassed this. Grimonprez said: "I saw what CNN did with war footage and then all these commercials spliced in between. I thought of the zapping as the ultimate form of poetry. It’s a visual poem."[37] The project continues as, according to Grimonprez, zapping became useless after 9/11 as all channels were beaming the very same images of the collapsing "Towering Infernos", over and over again. No longer did the media have to keep up with reality, but rather reality was now keeping up with the media.[38] No longer happy innocent consumers of a bygone TV era, we are said to have become both avid consumers of fear[39] and the protagonists of an increasing ubiquity of systems of surveillance.


Are You Ready for TV? (Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2010)


Represented by Sean Kelly Gallery (New York) and Galerie Kamel Mennour (Paris), exhibits include:

  • It’s a Poor Sort of Memory that Only Works Backwards (S.M.A.K. Ghent, 2011–2012)[40]
  • Are You Ready for TV? (Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 2010)


Published essays[edit]

  • "Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We're Just Colourblind": On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break, based on a text that was first published as: Remote Control. On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break, in Are You Ready for TV?, (Barcelona: MACBA, 2010–2011)
  • Asselberghs, H. & Grimonprez, J., "No Man's Land", in Inflight (Stuttgard: Hatje Cantz, 2000), 10–53, based on 'Nergensland' (Leuven: Dietsche Warande & Belfort, 1997)

(Selected) Interviews[edit]


Feature films[edit]

  • How to Rewind Your Dog (2015), fiction, in development
  • The Shadow World (2014), documentary, in production
  • Double Take (2009)
  • dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (1997)


  • I may have lost forever my umbrella (2011)
  • …because Superglue is forever (2011), work version of How to Rewind Your Dog
  • Looking for Alfred (2005), short film and installation
  • The Hitchcock Castings (2005)
  • Ron Burrage, Hitchcock Double (2005)
  • LOST NATION, January 1999 (1999)
  • Smell the flowers while you can (1993)
  • Well, you can't go to California, that's the first place they'll look for you (1993)
  • Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter? (1992)
  • Nimdol June 18, 1959 (1990)


  • Besmette Stad, produced by Ziggurat, Belgian TV BRT/TV1 (1993, restored in 2007)


  • YouTube Me and I Tube You, On Zapping: Close Encounters and the Commercial Break (in association with Charlotte Léouzon for Are You Ready for TV?, Barcelona: MACBA & Houston: Blaffer Art Museum & Ghent: S.M.A.K., 2010), 2-channel interactive installation and web project
  • Hitchcock didn't have a belly button: Interview with Karen Black by Johan Grimonprez (in co-production with Los Angeles: The Hammer Museum Residence, 2009), audio installation
  • It will be all right if you come again, only next time don't bring any gear, except a tea kettle... (Brussels: Les Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts & Ghent: S.M.A.K. 1994), 5-channel video installation
  • Bed (Deerlijk: Gemeentemuseum, 2005), interactive installation


  • Manipulators: Maybe the sky is really green and we're just colorblind (in association with Charlotte Léouzon for Ghent: ZooLogical Garden, Munich: Pinakothek der Moderne, 2006), YouTube-o-theque
  • Maybe the Sky is Really Green, and We’re Just Colourblind (Stockholm: Magasin 3, 2000–2002) video lounge
  • Dorothy Doesn't Live Here Anymore... (in co-production with Büro Friedrich, Berlin, 1997–2001) video lounge
  • Beware! In playing the phantom you become one (in association with Herman Asselberghs, 1994–1998) video library. French version: Prends garde! A jouer au fantôme, on le devient (Paris: Musée National d'Art Moderne /Centre Georges Pompidou, 1997). German version: Vorsicht! Wer Phantom Spielt wird selbst eins (Kassel: Documenta X, 1997)


  • Production Grant Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund (2012)
  • Production Grant Sundance Film Institute (2011)
  • Grand Prize New Media Film Festival (2010), Los Angeles
  • Black Pearl Award for Best New Documentary Director (2009), Middle East International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi
  • First Prize Winner Canariasmediafest (2006), Gran Canaria
  • Spirit Award Winner, Brooklyn International Film Festival (2006), New York
  • First Prize International Media Award (SWR/ZKM Karlsruhe 2005)
  • First Prize European Media Award (Osnabrück, 2006)
  • Golden Spire, Winner Best Director, San Francisco International Film Festival (1998), San Francisco
  • Director's Choice Award, The Images Festival (1998), Toronto
  • First Prize, Grand Prix de la Ville de Genève (1993), Biennale de Vidéo, Saint-Gervais, Genève
  • First Prize Best Videocreation, Muestra Internacional de Video de Cádiz (1994), Cádiz
  • Award-Winner, Experimental Documentary (1992), Baltimore Filmforum, Baltimore
  • Foundation Paul de Vigne, Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten (1987), Ghent
  • Daedalus Prize, Prize of Originality, Kunst & Vliegwerk, Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten (1985), Ghent


  1. ^ a b Leighton & Büchler, Tanya & Pavel (October 31, 2003). Saving the image: art after film. Centre for Contemporary Arts. p. 264. ISBN 1-873331 24X. 
  2. ^ reflect #04 (2005). Documentary now! Contemporary strategies in photography, film and the visual arts. NAi Publishers. p. 192. ISBN 978-90-5662-760-7. 
  3. ^ Scrimengeour, Alexander. "1000 Words: Johan Grimonprez". ARTFORUM. Retrieved June 2, 2010. 
  4. ^ Smith, PD (Novemher 27, 2012). "The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade by Andrew Feinstein – review". The Guardian. 
  5. ^ Grimonprez, Johan. "'Remote Control. On Zapping, Close Encounters and the Commercial Break, in Are You Ready for TV?". MACBA. 
  6. ^ Gijs, Pieterjan. "On Radical Ecology and Tender Gardening". Retrieved Fall 2012. 
  7. ^ Mieville, Hirschhorn, Grimonprez, Critchley, Arnall, Slavin, Superflux, Hammersley, van 't Zelfde, China, Thomas, Johan, Simon, James, Timo, Kevin, Ben, Juha (February 28, 2014). Dread: The Dizziness of Freedom (Antennae). Valiz/Antennae Series. pp. 240 pages. ISBN 978-9078088813. 
  8. ^ McCarthy, T. (2009). Double Take - Narration of the Film. Inspired by the short story "August 25, 1983" by J. L. Borges. 
  9. ^ Nobus, D. (October 15, 2009). Borges' and Hitchcock's Double Desire. Arts Centre Vooruit, Ghent, Belgium: Paper presented at the symposium "Shot by Both Sides! Double take". 
  10. ^ Cabin, Chris. "Double Take". Retrieved June 3, 2010. 
  11. ^ Darke, C. (2007). Johan Grimonprez: Looking for Alfred. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz. ISBN 9783775720083. 
  12. ^ Bernard & Grimonprez, Catherine & Johan (2010). "Johan Grimonprez en dialogue avec Catherine Bernard". L'image-document, entre réalité et fiction, ed. J.-P. Criqui (Paris: Le Bal / Marseille: Images en Manoeuvres Editions': 212–23. 
  13. ^ Jackson, Camilla (December–January 2004-5). "Johan Grimonprez: Looking for Alfred". The Photographers' Gallery 57. 
  14. ^ "Johan Grimonprez". Frieze (38). Retrieved January 14, 2014. 
  15. ^ Asselberghs & Grimonprez, Herman & Johan (October 1997). Nergensland. Dietsche Warande & Belfort. ISBN 0-9541604-0-2 Check |isbn= value (help). 
  16. ^ a b Obrist, H.U. (1999). "Email interview with Johan Grimonprez". Camera Austria 66. 
  17. ^ Provan, Alexander (July, 2009). "If you see yourself, kill him: Johan Grimonprez & Tom McCarthy interviewed by Alexander Provan". Bidoun Magazine 18: 32–9. 
  18. ^ Grimonprez, Johan (August 31, 2011). It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.. Hatje Cantz. p. 226. ISBN 9783775731300. 
  19. ^ Cotter, Holland (Friday, February 20, 2004). "Art In Review". The New York Times. 
  20. ^ Cotter & Birnbaun & Butler, Suzanne & Daniel & Cornelia H. (November 7, 2011). Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 200 Pivotal Artworks. Phaidon Press. p. 223. ISBN 0714862096. 
  21. ^ Arey, J.A. (1972). The Sky Pirates. Ian Allen. p. 42. ISBN 978-0684125848. 
  22. ^ "Sean Kelly Gallery - Johan Grimonprez - Artist Biography". Retrieved 2014-01-31. 
  23. ^ "Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter". LIMA. Retrieved January 14, 2014. 
  24. ^ Brongersma & Venema, L.D. & G.F. (1962). To the Mountains of the Stars. New York: Doubleday. 
  25. ^ Hylkema, S (1974). Mannen in het draagnet, mens- en wereldbeeld van de Nalum Sterrengebergte. 'S-Gravenhage: Martinus Nijhoff. ISBN 978-90-247-1622-7. 
  26. ^ Elsaesser, Thomas. "Johan Grimonprez Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter?". Neuer Berliner Kunstverein - Kobarweng. Retrieved October 2013. 
  27. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  28. ^ Grimonprez & Asselberghs, J. & H. (1998). "Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter". Johan Grimonprez: "We must be over the rainbow!. Centro Galego Arte COntemporanea: 85–6. 
  29. ^ "Indonesian Human Rights Abuses in West Papua: Application of the Law of Genocide to the History of Indonesian Control". By the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic Yale Law School. Retrieved April 2004. 
  30. ^ Smith, J.M. (2003). Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You're Eating. Darington: Green Books. ISBN 978-0972966580. 
  31. ^ a b  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  32. ^ Diagonal thoughts. "Video Vortex, Edition V". In the Context of Cimatics Festival 2009. 
  33. ^ Deitch projects. "Johan Grimonprez dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y". 
  34. ^ ARGOS. "Johan Grimonprez". 
  35. ^ Édition de l’École européenne Supérieure d’art de Bretagne (November 10, 2011). Auto Archivage Immediat. EESAB Lorient. p. 160. ISBN 978-2-9519868-8-6. 
  36. ^ Sears, Kelly (February 4, 2011). "Between Perverse Meaning and Nonsense. Interview: Johan Grimonprez by Kelly Sears". …might be good (162). 
  37. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  38. ^ Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine. New York: Knopf. ISBN 978-0312427993. 
  39. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  40. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  41. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Wood, E., "Grimonprez's Remix", in Terrorism, Media, and the Ethics of Fiction: Transatlantic Perspectives on Don DeLillo, ed. P. Schneck & P. Schweighauser (Continuum, 2010) ISBN 978-1441199362