Much of Cyprien Gaillard’s work investigates the eccentricities, buried histories, and inherent cycles of renewal and decay in the urban environment. Through film, video, sculpture, photography, and various interventions in public space, Gaillard presents narratives and forms that reflect upon the often unacknowledged histories of monuments, cities, and landscapes.

Shot entirely at night over the course of two years, Nightlife (2015) connects a series of seemingly unrelated natural and cultural phenomena throughout Cleveland, Los Angeles and Berlin. Organized into distinct chapters, the three-dimensional film brings together an obscure yet significant mix of historical monuments and occurrences to form a hyper psychedelic experience.

Nightlife chronicles four interconnected subjects: Auguste Rodin's The Thinker installed at the Cleveland Museum of Art; non-indigenous plants scattered throughout the Los Angeles basin; the annual Pyronale firework event at the Olympiastadion in Berlin; and an oak tree that was gifted to Cleveland native, gold-medalist James Cleveland (“Jesse”) Owens planted the James Ford Rhodes High School in Cleveland.

The film opens with a close-range image of the The Thinker in its current state outside the Cleveland Museum of Art. In 1970, the work was partially destroyed by a bombing attributed to anti-capitalist activists protesting inequality in Cleveland during a time of deep civil unrest.

The viewer is then transported to Los Angeles, where different species of street vegetation appear to dance throughout the city. Each plant seems to respond to the light and music in a choreographed and humanistic way, creating a trance-like spectacle of movement. Primarily focusing on the Hollywood Juniper, an East Asian species of trees that Gaillard has returned to throughout his practice, these plants directly engage and struggle with the imposing urban architectural structures they are situated alongside, providing a deeper narrative about cross-cultural cohabitation.

In the third act of Nightlife, the setting shifts to the Olympiastadion, the site of the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin for the annual Pyronale fireworks event, a two-day international pyrotechnical competition. Built from 1934 - 36 during the Nazi regime, this Stadium was once a monument to the Third Reich and a symbol of Germany's connections to World War II, but is now used for a multitude of contemporary events. The event looks like a cosmic blast, blurring the line between reality and a hallucinogenic trip. The film concludes in Cleveland at the site of Jesse Owens' Olympic oak planted at the Ford Rhodes High School. Owens, who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games, was awarded four oak saplings by Hitler, one of which still lives on today outside the stadium where he trained. The sapling turned full-grown tree is illuminated from multiple perspectives by a circling helicopter, creating a cascade of shadows that dance throughout the trees sturdy branches.

Mirroring the three-dimensionality of the film's visual narrative is a dub soundtrack made by the artist, featuring a sample from the chorus of rocksteady singer's Alton Ellis' song, "Blackman's Word", played on a loop throughout the film's first three acts. Originally released in 1969, the lyrics sang, "I was born a loser." The song was later re-recorded in 1971, and the song's title was changed and the chorus sang, "I was born a winner," a subtle yet powerful audible transformation that is revealed as the film turns its focus to Jesse Owens' Olympic oak.

Cyprien Gaillard was born in 1980 in Paris, France and is currently based in Berlin and New York.


Support for MOCA Cleveland’s presentation of Cyprien Gaillard: Nightlife is provided by Étant donnés Contemporary Art, a program of the French American Cultural Exchange (FACE) Foundation.

Étant donnés is developed in partnership with the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, with lead funding from the Florence Gould Foundation, the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Chanel USA, the ADAGP, the French Ministry of Culture, and Institut Français. Generous support also provided by Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels and Sprüth Magers

Sherwin-Williams is the official paint of MOCA Cleveland.

All current exhibitions are funded by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Leadership Circle gifts from anonymous donors, Yuval Brisker, Joanne Cohen and Morris Wheeler, Margaret Cohen and Kevin Rahilly, Becky Dunn, Harriet Goldberg, Agnes Gund, Michelle and Richard Jeschelnig, Donna and Stewart Kohl, Jan Lewis, Toby Devan Lewis, and Scott Mueller. 

All MOCA Cleveland exhibitions are supported in part by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the Cleveland Foundation, the George Gund Foundation, and the continuing support of the Museum’s Board of Directors, patrons, and members.