Our review of the documentary Sapiens or the birth of art in France 5

Visual artist Daniel Buren overlooks the Lascaux polychrome zoo, the silhouette of which, “Like a good painting, make things more real than they really are.” Credit: Zadig Productions/ Escalenta

REVIEW – Beautiful documentary Sapiens or the birth of art went on a hunt for mankind’s first artistic expression. The tantalizing immersion is closer to the creations bequeathed by the last millennium. A film not to be missed, this Friday January 13th at 11:10pm on France 5.

Herds of beasts, a bouquet of butts and, amidst all this prehistoric abundance, Daniel Buren. The French visual artist to whom we owe the black and white columns on the main courtyard of the Palais-Royal examines a replica of the Lascaux cave for needs Sapiens or the birth of art. The brief encounter between the artist and works painted more than 20,000 years ago is worth exploring. Facing the polychrome zoo and the horned bull in the cave, Buren, in a primitive stupor in front of this reproduction, reconnected with a shock of abstraction. He contemplated, amazed, the pure lines of the images and the moving realism of the silhouettes,like in a big painting, make things more real than real“. A wonderful exception to our tendency towards introspection, no human figure appears on the decorated walls. Confronted with so much technique and beauty, the comparison imposes itself on the artist: Picasso’s bullfighting.

A series of mobilized archaeologists and anthropologists

Slender stags, ibex, stocky aurochs and thick-haired bison inhabit the prehistoric sites explored by Pascal Goblot’s films. From the Foz Côa valley, in Portugal, to the Chauvet caves, via Niaux, in the Pyrenees, each stop highlights a pivotal moment in prehistoric art. This ancient period is adorned with exotic names that divide, among specialists, such a long prehistory: “Magdalenian”, here; “Aurignacian”, there. The documentary doesn’t bother with an avalanche of overly technical details, despite the large numbers of archaeologists and anthropologists deployed. The camera is attached to patterns, pictures. Yes, it is permitted to be enthralled by the feat and beauty of the parietal arts revealed by a few risky blows of a torch in the bowels of the earth.

The magic in the cave

However, this astonishing investigation is not limited to the wonders hidden in the depths of the cave. Prehistoric works of art were also made in the form of miniature sculptures. Just a few centimeters tall, the enigmatic ivory therianthropes – human figures with heads of wild animals – rival Gravettian Venus. These immodest statues, sculpted tens of thousands of years ago, were superfluous treasures. The cut material sometimes only accentuates the calligraphic curves with extreme finesse; more often, these statues were fleshy scrolls of scrolls and busts. Ancient interpretations see them as mother goddesses. Current research leans more towards protective amulets. A thin, less erotically carved bone, 35,000 years old and housed in the National Archaeological Museum in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, is believed to have been one of the first musical instruments.

Across the millennium

This journey through the mists of time, at the dawn of art, ends at the other end of the world. The world’s oldest cave paintings were discovered a few years ago, on the scorching Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Indonesian and Australian researchers came face to face with finger prints, plump wild boars and pygmy buffalo being hunted. This site is 45,000 years old. His age makes you dizzy. Lascaux’s paintings are closer to our time than the ancient art of Sulawesi. Traversing thousands of years in 70 minutes is no small feat. We’d be happy to ask for more.

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