Explosion Ma Baby

Pauline Curnier Jardin

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Looking Up: Week #3 Explosion Ma Baby
Pauline Curnier Jardin

9 Minutes

Artist Cinemas

Repeat: April 24-25, 2023

It’s August. Feel the suffocating heat of the sun penetrating your skin. All around you, an abundance of flesh is spinning. Thousands of men offer up the naked bodies of baby boys to the angelic icon of San Sebastian. Screams, colours, chants and explosions. Money-garlands. Imagine no wo- men except me. Wait, yes, behind us women are following with devotion, all dressed up in well pressed clothes and their stocking feet.

Now, come back here. Imagine how badly I fell in love with this. I desperately want to be part of it. To be there. I wanted to belong. But I know that I can’t. And so I try to capture it on film. I go there and film it every year, over and over, again and again. One day I will tell the story of a poor and sterile man who wants to replace San Sebastian. But more summers will have to pass before our hero will appear.

Explosion Ma Baby is the third installment of Looking Up, an online program of films and accompanying texts convened by Jorge Jácome as the twelfth cycle of Artist Cinemas, a long-term, online series of film programs curated by artists for e-flux Film.

The film is presented alongside a response by Daniela Delgado Viteri.

Looking Up runs in six episodes released every Monday from March 18 through April 24, 2023, streaming a new film each week accompanied by a commissioned interview or response published in text form.

Explosion ma babyOn That Which Loosens the Limbs
By Daniela Delgado Viteri

On January 1, 2023 at 12.56 pm I received a picture via WhatsApp. My friend Chiara was walking around Marseille and had come across a collection of erotic magazines left out in a scattered heap on the street. The collection was huge and encompassed all the forms of commercial graphic erotica you could fit on paper.

Chiara took the photo with the carelessness of overhead street photography reserved for WhatsApp, with agenerous oversight that invited the photographer’s feet to be visible at the bottom left edge. Chiara’s boots were brown and her feet had a mysterious posture, arched inward. Chiara was clearly ecstatic.

Yes, on January 1, 2023, someone abandoned their erotica collection in Marseille, and my friend Chiara, who is a sensitive person, reacted with the bewilderment and rapture that prompted her to take a careless photo. Who abandons such a collection on the first day of the year, left out on the street to be blasted by the unkind January weather? How else could Chiara have reacted? With outrage? No—it’s more complex than that. Abandonment in eroticism, eroticism as a ritual of destruction—this demands a complex type of fascination and understanding.

Like that mysterious abandoned collection, Pauline Curnier Jardin’s Explosion Ma Baby (2016) invites us into a blast of eroticism in its purest sense. The film follows an explosion of colors that accompanies the perspiration of a group of men who, dressed alike, wave their arms as they offer babies and money to Saint Sebastian, a figure of homoeroticism. From there on, everything is pure outburst, something that can only be understood through the logic of Eros, he who “makes bodies go limp, mastering their minds and subduing their wills.”[1]

Boys and Girls

When I say the men are dressed the same way, I mean the same way: a white cotton tank top with one side pulled off the shoulder and under the arm, revealing their sweaty muscles. One of those misuses of clothing that could be either accidental or miraculous, you can never tell. And of course, the excessive sweating under the August sun is a key element of the attire. They all sweat in the same proportion. The camera does justice to that wonder, showing shot after shot of that miraculous combination of sweat, white cotton, and sunlight enhancing their musculature, to the beat of the drums, kneeling to their own virility.

The women—apparently absent, expelled from the patriarchal ritual—are omnipresent in the film as Jardin’s camera which, with its low framing and ecstatic editing, imposes a distance and humor that elevates virility to a cathartic sphere of representation. It is in this place of catharsis, through the camera‘s anti-patriarchal gaze, that consecrated masculinity abandons itself in the rite, to the rhythm of the drums, bursting out of itself and meeting eroticism once and for all. Indeed, it is through eroticism that the camera manages to alienate masculinity from its painful performance, to explode it beneath the angelic ephebe Saint Sebastian, in front of the eyes of the women.

Babies and Money

Money and babies participate in this ritual of virility as symbols of life and power. And like all symbols of life and power, they exist to be transgressed. Shot after shot of naked babies screaming and crying… Faulty and pathetic, they serve to interrupt the perfection of the muscular men’s virility. Before us is an organized and ritualized violence in the realm of the sacred that transgresses those great prohibitions of culture: death and sexuality.

Transgression, as Bataille describes it, is excess, a will to annihilation. It is a plethoric state that is both distressing and voluptuous. Transgression is thus pure eroticism. As Bataille puts it, eroticism, which had always been part of the sacred ritual of death and sexuality, was expelled from the realm of the sacred by Christianity, relegating it to the profane. Permanently essential, eroticism flourishes in the footage of a pagan film camera, whose vocation to transgress is fulfilled by reclaiming eroticism to the very epicenter of the sacred.

Color Explosions

The erotic experience is the annihilation of the limits that define an object. It is the outburst—it is that which explodes. Hence the double sensation of vulnerability and voluptuousness that characterizes it, because it is an explosion that puts our conceptualization of virility and power in crisis. The result of this crisis is both distressing and exciting, just as those images we see throughout the film of men waving their arms towards an exploding sky.

Pauline Curnier Jardin came across a ritual about the power of patriarchy and made a film about its erotic dimension. Bodies vibrated and everything else exploded.

Explosion Ma Baby is a film that, through this explosive logic of eroticism, puts in crisis the bodies that submit, and are submitted, to the systems of domination and subordination—by loosening their limbs and making them vibrate.


On January 1, 2023, a person in Marseille abandoned their extensive collection of erotic magazines in the street, leaving them in a scattered, chaotic heap that only the discarded know, disturbing pedestrians. People stopped and took pictures of the event. They shared them with their close friends on WhatsApp and Instagram. It was strangely exciting for everyone. Why?

Once these had been shitty magazines, a patriarchal interpretation of the erotic experience. Now they were colorful bits of paper after someone had burst them out in the street on the first day of the year—a ritual of destruction that fascinated pedestrians in Marseille.

The anguish and ecstasy of every explosion is both death and liberation. A collection of pornographic magazines, condemned since its inception to be an instrument of subjugation, finally broke free and encountered eroticism in its most immediate logic: abandonment and explosion. A fascinating crisis in the streets of Marseille that makes us ponder the significance of all explosions.

[1] Hesiod, Theogony, trans. M. L. West (Oxford University Press, 1996).

Daniela Delgado Viteri (b. 1987, Ecuador) is a writer and filmmaker based in Madrid. Her films and installations are essays that explore migration and postcolonial relations through the fictionalization of archives, collective speculation, the invention of languages, group naps, and radio shows for insomniacs. Her book Olmedo y Quito 201, a fiction essay around fires and the photographs of Walter Zambrano, will be released in October 2023 by Fulgencio Pimentel.

For more information, contact program@e-flux.com.

Film, Religion & Spirituality, Sexuality & Eroticism, Feminism
Video Art, Rituals & Celebrations, Documentary, Europe
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Pauline Curnier Jardin (b. 1980, Marseille, France) is a Berlin- and Rome-based artist working  across installation, performance, film, and drawing. Her cinematic installations create unorthodox universes, tell stories, and propose alternative narratives. She is the recipient of the 2019 German Preis der Nationalgalerie, the 2021 Villa Romana Prize in Firenze, and the 2019-2020 Villa Medici fellowship in Rome. Her work has been presneted over  the last years in CRAC Occitanie, Sète (2022); FRAC Corsica (2022); Fondazione Memmo, Rome (2022); Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin (2022); LIAF, Venice (2022); Hamburger Bahnhof-Museum für Gegenwart, Berlin (2021); INDEX – The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation, Stockholm (2021); Steirischer Herbst Festival, Graz (2020); Manifesta 13, Marseille (2020); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2020 and 2013); the Bergen Assembly, Bergen Biennial (2019); International Film Festival, Rotterdam (2018); the 57th Venice Biennale (2017); Tate Modern, London (2017); Performa 15, New York (2015).


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