Joanie Lemercier: Light and space spanning the arts

Since starting out in 2007, Joanie Lemercier’s work has constantly called into question the unchanging rules of our perception: the artist uses light and space, hence transforming our conception and understanding of reality. With Juliette Bibasse, whose support and production skills are now inextricably linked to the work of the artist in the studio, Joanie Lemercier, the co-founder and ex-member of AntiVJ, also transcends genres and defies the rules since he now exhibits and performs both in digital art festivals and art galleries.

Joanie, you come from VJing originally, but what were you doing before that? How did you come across this discipline?

Joanie Lemercier: I would say that it stems from an interest in information technology and visual arts from my childhood. My mother taught CAD (Computer Aided Drawing, editor’s note). We had an Amiga at home, and so I had the opportunity to become computer literate at a young age. My mother taught Deluxe Paint, the forerunner of Photoshop. One of my earliest memories was being able to leave school at the end of the day and join her, thereby allowing me to have fun on a computer at the back of the classroom while she taught future professionals. On reflection it’s not very different from what I do now. I’m still combining visual arts and technology. Ironically, I quickly lost interest in school. I wanted to create concrete things that I really liked. A friend and I founded a small skate-clothing brand with t-shirts, etc. Aged 18 I sent our products to magazines, or to pro skaters, to make contacts. As a result, I had a spontaneous entrepreneurial approach very early on. It was very innocent, but in the end what I learnt on the job about production and business management etc., is still useful now. When I set up the label AntiVJ  with Yannick Jacquet (Legoman), Romain Tardy (Aalto) and Olivier Ratsi (read portrait), I also used all everything I had learned naturally in terms of promotion, project development and communication. This continues to be the case for the studio that we are currently setting up with Juliette Bibasse.

Then there was your English period, coming to Bristol, and the start of your regular activities as a VJ…

J.L.: After this project, in 2005 I joined Damien Schneider, a musician friend living in Bristol. Bristol was a city of creation with a great music scene. The city was home to the Aardman studios, (behind Wallace and Gromit, editor’s note), trip-hop and drum ’n’ bass, Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky. I worked freelance in graphics and on websites. All my friends were DJs, party organisers or musicians. I did my first evenings as a VJ in this hotbed. I began on a replacement. This made me aware of what could be done with projected images. A month later I contacted my friends to offer to project visuals with a projector purchased on Ebay. This hothouse and club scene gave me plenty of opportunity to practice. At this time the Cuisine evenings originated.

Video report of the second Cuisine night in 2006 with Transparent Sound, Lego_man, October, Kyma, Buf & Su-Real, D-Gelo, headplug, Crustea & Clu...

 Every month we had to find a line up and invite artists... These were small gatherings, but they were well received. I was responsible for the visual part. I was acting as curator as such. We also organised street interventions, producing happenings with our overhead projectors in the centre of Bristol. We also concocted new tools. The Wiimote had just emerged at the time, and I managed to transform this Wiimote into a creative object. During this time my career technically started. We also launched the VJ School, and organised workshops and conferences on these subjects.

This is when you met the artists that you created the AntiVJ label with?

J.L.: By inviting artists, I befriended some of them, including Legoman, alias Yannick Jacquet, Romain Tardy (Aalto, who was part of Studio VJ at the time) and Olivier Ratsi, with whom I went on to create AntiVJ a few months later. I started to produce many installations, as well as projections on façades other than in Bristol. I had two or three dates per month and I had the idea of forming a label. I wanted to copy the concept of a music label, with unique artists. 

Vidéo teaser ANTIVJ is a visual label with Aalto, crustea, Emovie & Lego_man (2007)

The point in common being that they were no longer satisfied projecting images onto screens, and they were experimenting with light in their own way deforming our perception of reality, the venue or the medium (building façade, semi-transparent voile, origami pyramid). We decided to use the name Anti-VJ to stand out from classic VJing and its clichés. We wanted to keep the word VJ, adding a negative connotation. We shared our contacts and put together three of our projects presented in a teaser on our website. This enabled us to reach more people. From 2008, our productions became full-time projects. There were six of us including Thomas Vaquié who did all the music and the sound design for the projects.

How would you define the guiding principle of your artistic expression now?

J.L.: On the whole, my aim is to constantly question reality. I love the idea that by quite simply manipulating the light (with a video projector or other techniques) and adding a layer of light to physical objects, you can completely transform their appearance, form and structure, etc. As we perceive reality mainly through light with the help of our physical attributes, the eyes and the brain, this raises the question of what is real or not, in a way. The question being: ‘if it is easy to create artificial worlds or illusions with the help of computers and light, what proves that what we perceive as reality really is? Are we not ultimately in a constant projection, or illusion?’

FUJI (不死), drawing, projection, sound. (2014)

Did Fuji and Blueprint that you recently presented at the Church of Saint-Merri in Paris originate from these ideas?

J.L.: Fuji is more of a work ‘in reaction.’ I wanted to distance myself from classic mapping. That’s how I invented reverse mapping. The idea being to create the content in advance, a drawing or a sketch that would become my media for mapping – then to project the light on it to animate it. This is the follow-up to another work produced around the volcano Eyjafjallajökull in Island and on which I worked in the same way.

Installation of Eyjafjallajökull for the Mapping Festival 2012 (photos)

Blueprint is different but part of the same approach: we questioned the style before considering the technical constraints. We wanted to work on verticality. The immersive installation is organized around a vertical monolith (a nod to 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick). It emphasises perspective rising towards the vaults, and raises questions about the origin of the universe. Blueprint revolves around the relationship between the universe and architecture in terms of order, chaos, the emergence of order in the chaos and the emergence of motifs and patterns in the universe. We are also trying to present this project by giving it different forms.

Blueprint, audiovisual installation - Coproduction / commission by STRP


You quickly chose to project images on original surfaces (paper triangles, monumental surfaces...), how did these ideas and this interest for these new supports arise?

J.L.: Somewhat by chance in fact. I remember staying in my room all winter in Bristol, to tinker with anything that came into my hands. I started making folded pyramids, origami of different sizes, etc. They were ideal surfaces. It’s what is the simplest to map. You get Photoshop or Illustrator full screen, you position your mouse on your object and in three clicks you have mapped your triangle. So it’s the combination of both: fate and easy mapping. My first attempts at mapping outside were through my bedroom window on the façade opposite.

Joanie Lemercier - projections on origamis (Inode project) (2007)

I think that it also comes from my education. I really like M.C. Escher’s work that I was familiar with thanks to the works that my mother collected. He worked a great deal with trompe-l’œil, patterns, repeated motifs and foldout universes. Then I discovered works by VasarelySol LeWitt, etc. I am still a big fan of visual and sound productions by the label Raster Noton. Black and white aesthetics, geometric motifs…

PAPER AND LIGHT,  audiovisual installation, Manchester (2011)

Is that where your idea came from for Wall Drawing, a small revolution in the world of mapping?

J.L.: Yes it’s a project that I would really like to develop. It’s a nod to Sol LeWitt, but also a form that interests me as it is extremely creative. The idea is to draw a visual on a blank wall and to map it by projecting light and adding narration. It’s a series that we are going to develop. Technically it’s much simpler. It can be adapted to any space. Furthermore in this field it’s always interesting to make different versions and variations according to the place, to do pieces in situ, by using a wall or a corner, etc.

Tesselate combined drawing, anamorphosis and mapping projection

Wall drawing for White Night Košice (twitter)

How important are the notions of content and narration to you...?

J.L.: The narration idea comes from VJing. Having practiced a lot at the start quickly led me to thinking about why each image had been chosen and the next one. Was there a common thread? Preparation takes a huge amount of time for or VJing. You have to cut the content shot by shot, to recreate a sort of storyboard of what I wanted to project. No doubt I have this way of wanting to recreate the world in me. When I think back to my first forays into VJing, I remember the first films that I sampled were from the archives of the Lumières Brothers or things like ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ by Dziga Vertov. It’s a guideline, a mental journey. Since the start, I have been trying to establish graphic, but also philosophical coherence, hence the importance of narration, now found in my most recent works I hope.

Music also pervades your work…

J.L.: I have greatly benefitted from collaborating with musicians. I have learnt a lot from this environment. It’s always great when you can share a project with musicians like Flying Lotus or Adrian Utley from Portishead. With Flying Lotus, it happened very naturally from a Tweet and a request for a visual reference responded to a month later. Then we met in Los Angeles. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to discuss a shop window project for a shop in New York with Jay Z.

“ATOMS” collaboration with Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, for Barneys New York

This meeting was also important for me. It’s important to create strong projects for a festival audience. I’m always very interested in this. I take real pleasure in collaborating in a live show. I have also worked for years with the musician James Ginzburg, from Bristol, who is also a member of the group Emptyset, whose music is a blend of chaos, explosive noise, but also in which motifs and order are created. We are united in that.

Interviewed by Maxence Grugier 

Website :

Crédits photos: 

- Blueprint, STRP biennale 2015, © photos Studio Joanie Lemercier, installation, project commissioned by STRP biennale 2015
- Fuji, Biela Noc Kosice, 2014, 
© photos David Hanko, Fuji création 2013


Man with a Movie Camera - L'homme a la caméra - complete with music by Document 02