Making “special effects in real life” with the astonishingly talented Juliette Gelli
Artist and designer Juliette Gelli talks us through playing with symbols, technology, and text to bring graphics alive for musicians such as Oklou and Flavien Berger.
- Joey Levenson
- 4 August 2021
Juliette Gelli is an artist and designer based in Paris who operates in a world of her own. Doing what she calls “special effects IRL (in real life),” Juliette’s impressive art and design blends reality and fantasy to create stunning innovative works: still and moving images, as well as installations, set designs, and more. “As a kid, I loved to build stuff, cut off and glue images, visit exhibitions with my grandma, and was fascinated by the scenes with Q in James Bond films,” Juliette tells It’s Nice That. The amalgamation of these influences are certainly present in Juliette’s work, yet they don’t overwhelm her own unique eye for special effects. “After a studious science-oriented high school education, I came to Paris to attend an art school and it blew my mind,” Juliette explains on how her love for creation and construction transmuted into an artistic process. “I studied at ENSCI–Les Ateliers, from the ages of 18 to 25,” Juliette adds. For Juliette, the 24/7 design school was a “peculiar world” but importantly she found time to hone her craft and encounter people such as “an electronic bird trainer, a paper tuner, a pair of game builders, and a fountain maker."
Whilst there, she also bonded with Quentin Caille and film score composer and artist Flavien Berger, two of the founding members of the music collective collectif_sin~. “Flavien asked me if I could help him with his first EP cover, and I had no clue it would be the first of many artworks I would do,” Juliette says, marking her venture into graphic design. “It also led me to join collectif_sin~ and become a part of this crew of sinusoid enthusiasts creating analogical light and sound installations called dreamachines~,” Juliette adds. What started as artwork for the music collective became field recordings and regularly hosted parties – a spirit of which is still prevalent in Juliette’s work today. “I don’t play music myself but I feel my process is quite close to it,” she adds. The synthesis of sound, image, and touch in Juliette’s designs are palpable.
“There is always a subtle trick that helps me create new shapes, thinking of how it will trigger the perceptions of the ones looking at it,” the artist says. “It can be a simple cheat on the way letters or symbols are displayed, a set up with water drops and an LCD screen that allows me to play with a distortion effect, or a peculiar reflective fabric combined with a motor creating indoor rainbows.” These incredibly inventive ways of creating science fiction into reality are what make Juliette an artist to watch. “I often play with basic chemistry or magic tricks that use lights, movements, or even recently cabbage ink, whose colour changes instantly when you mix it with lemon,” she describes. “Depending on the context or the brief of a project, I choose elements I will play with and then I have to orchestrate the way they interact together, in shapes, effects, movements.”
Being based in Paris, it’s no surprise that Juliette is a frequent collaborator with French artist, singer, and composer Flavien Berger. “I first created a fake rollercoaster coin and a used napkin from a churros truck, that both ended up on the inner sleeve of one of his albums, as if they were souvenirs from a tour at the funfair Flavien sings about in the album,” Juliette lists as one example. She also cites French artists Raphaël Pluvinage and Aleksandrkontini as collaborators who have helped her along the way with designing Flavien’s engrossing live staging effects.
Most recently, Juliette took part in the mind-bending, surreal, and often incredible Boiler Room live session by multi-talented French artist Oklou. “Aleksandr and I met Oklou while we were on tour with Flavien, and she later asked us to join her and Saradibiza to co-create the set for her next shows,” Juliette explains. Along Sara's digital “magnificent evolving night landscape,” a physical set was created with Aleksandr for the live session, which can only be seen to be believed. “We explored YouTube and hardware stores to discover and invent techniques to create fake embers and burnt trees we could tour with,” Juliette says on their original plans to tour with the set used for Boiler Room before the Covid-19 pandemic.
As for what’s next for Juliette, the artist plans to keep pursuing her uncanny ability to invent. “For the time being, I'm working with Aleksandrkontini on robots, inspired by foley-artists techniques, that will create sounds of the tropical forest (bugs, birds, wind),” she tells us. She’s also preparing, with Oklou, Sara, and Aleksandr, to take the Oklou Boiler Room live session on tour after the Autumn. “Ultimately,” she tells us, “in a few years, I would love to create an opera-like event with friends composed of all we love to do: music, sets, tricks and fun.” Realms of endless possibility await Juliette.
Oklou + Saradibiza + Juliette Gelli ~ + Aleksandrkontini: Galore - nightdrift (Copyright © Oklou + Saradibiza + Juliette Gelli ~ + Aleksandrkontini, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.