Johan Grimonprez was born in Roeselare, Belgium in 1962. He studied at the School of Visual Arts and attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program in New York.
Grimonprez achieved international acclaim with his film essay, dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y. With its premiere at Centre Pompidou in Paris, France and Documenta X in 1997, it eerily foreshadowed the events of September 11th. The film tells the story of airplane hijackings since the 1970s and how these changed the course of news reporting. The movie consists of recycled images taken from news broadcasts, Hollywood movies, animated films and commercials. As a child of the first TV generation, the artist mixes reality and fiction in a new way and presents history as a multi-perspective dimension open to manipulation.
His curatorial projects have been exhibited at museums worldwide, such as at the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), the Pinakothek der Moderne (Munich) and the MOMA (New York). His works are part of the permanent collections of major museums, including the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), the Kanazawa Art Museum (Japan) and Tate Modern (London). His films have travelled in prestigious film festivals around the globe, including New York, Edinburgh, Telluride, Los Angeles, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo and Berlin.
Grimonprez divides his time between Belgium and New York and is a faculty member at the School of Visual Arts (New York).
During his festival visit at SIFF in 2018, the filmmaker discussed the ways in which his artistic practice endorses hybrid, instead of dividing methods, as a response to the media’s systematic construction of reality. dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, as well as Double Take were both presented as part of SIFF 6: “Is It Real?”
In dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y (Belgium/France, 1997, DCP, 68΄), history conflates with hijacking. The plane is a metaphor for history. It is transgressive, always on the move between several countries, between several homes. Nowadays, home is a nomadic place. dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y is like supermarket history: there is so much available and history cannot be understood as singular. It tells of how history is recorded and catalogued, and how these techniques accelerate and accumulate memory, almost as an excess of history. If you punch the word “hijacking” on the internet, or look for footage, you get so much information that you don’t know where to start. […] [W]ith the reinventing of reality, a culture of catastrophe is also being invented, and with it a new way to look at death.
––– Johan Grimonprez
In Double Take (Belgium / The Netherlands / Germany, 2009, DCP, 80΄), a faux Alfred Hitchcock murder plot is set at the centre of Cold War politics, while vintage footage tracks the psychological parry and thrust between the capitalist West and Communist Bloc. The two stories sit comfortably beside one another; after all, Nikita Khrushchev and Hitchcock’s films were both creations of the fear industry. In a story written by Tom McCarthy and indebted to Jorge Luis Borges’ short story “August 25, 1983,” in which the author meets an older version of himself, Grimonprez’ thriller has Hitchcock (played by an uncanny look- alike) meeting his doppelgänger in 1962, with the twist that his double lives 18 years in the future – meaning that they are meeting in the year of Hitchcock’s death… Double Take is essentially a historical film, and the lessons it teaches are seen in hindsight, but it nudges us to wonder what we’re not seeing today when we go to the movies.
––– Ronald Jones, Frieze