Julien Prévieux

Julien Prévieux on his solo exhibition at the Centre Pompidou

View of “Julien Prévieux, Schematic Bodies,” 2015–16. Photo: Julien Prévieux. Courtesy Galerie Jousse Entreprise, Paris.

Julien Prévieux, winner of the 2014 Marcel Duchamp prize, here discusses his current solo exhibition at Espace 315 at the Centre Pompidou in the context of the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Focusing on a particular body of work included in the show, “Atelier de dessin - B.A.C. du 14e arrondissement de Paris” (Drawing Workshop: Anti-crime Police Officers from Paris’s Fourteenth Arrondissement), 2011–, a collaboration with Parisian police officers, Prévieux addresses the unintended political implications of this series. The exhibition is on view through February 1, 2016.

AMONG MY WORKS currently on view at the Pompidou is a series of drawings by Parisian police officers, an ongoing project I began in 2011. These pieces are the result of a workshop I set up with four officers in the anti-crime division of the police precinct in Paris’s fourteenth arrondissement. I gave these officers an assignment: to draw, by hand, Voronoi diagrams and heat maps, which are typically generated very rapidly using cartographic computer software. The diagrams and maps are important police tools—they detect crime patterns and indicate where forces should be deployed. But they also measure the officers’ own activity in the field, which creates an atmosphere of competition and intense pressure.

By collaborating with people who use these diagrams and maps vocationally, I wanted explore the efficacy of these tools and find new meaning in the resulting images. I went to police officers’ homes in Paris to work with them on the Voronoi drawings, which are quite complicated to plot and construct by hand. For the heat maps, the police officers learned to paint with an airbrush at my studio. Aesthetically, the results are quite beautiful: Voronoi diagrams look like geometric, irregular spiderwebs, and the heat maps are colorful biomorphic shapes. Over the course of many sessions, the officers learned new drawing techniques and new ways of looking.

To be valuable crime-fighting tools, Voronoi diagrams and heat maps must be generated very quickly. The hand-drawn versions, therefore, are technically useless because they take so long to create. Crimes used to be discrete dots scattered across a map, but thanks to algorithms the police can more easily spot patterns and trends. By contrast, the drawings, which no longer function as effective tools, are like ghosts: They offer a disturbing detachment between form and function.

I also did this exercise with police officers in Houston last month. That was a very different experience; the climate was quite hostile toward the police. There had recently been numerous unwarranted shootings and arrests throughout the US. In that environment, I got the feeling some people interpreted my workshop and the resulting drawings as some kind of propolice political statement.

After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the drawings take on yet another unexpected dimension; they raise the issue of whether these visualization and data-mining tools are efficient and effective. As the French government has declared a state of emergency for three months, we have new laws and less freedom: Demonstrations are forbidden and the police are everywhere, even in my drawings! What began as a commentary on how technology changes police work and public services now appears as a portrait of a city caught between its fear of terrorism and its loss of freedom: Paris under siege.