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Exhibition view: Laure Prouvost, Lisson Gallery, New York (9 March–14 April 2018). © Laure Prouvost. Courtesy Lisson Gallery.
Eager to see the art in Laure Prouvost's first solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery in New York, visitors might breeze through its central installation: Uncle's Travel Agency Franchise, Deep Travel Ink. NYC, 2016-2018. Situated at the entrance to the gallery, it looks like an unkempt and outdated version of an art gallery's normally pristine front desk featuring a guest book, a stack of press releases, and a 3-ring binder containing an artist's curriculum vitae and relevant press materials.
With a practice that encompasses painting, sculpture, performance and tapestry, French artist Laure Prouvost is perhaps most known for her immersive and non-linear film installations. Through an ongoing inquiry into language, Prouvost invites viewers into a world where boundaries are indefinite and reality and fantasy merge.
Translation—whether between languages or artistic mediums—and its resulting misunderstandings are recurring concerns in Prouvost's work. For instance, her seven-part film and installation work The Wanderer (2012) is an adaptation of British artist Rory Macbeth's 2009 German-English translation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (1915). Macbeth, who does not read German, translated the novella without a dictionary, resulting in a story that bears only the vaguest traces to its original. For The Wanderer, Prouvost first translated Macbeth's words into film, then film into sculpture in accompanying installations. One of the video's seven sequences was filmed in a London pub; an environment that the artist later recreated as an installation in the exhibition the wet wet wanderer (2017) at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam as a vodka bar with fountains spraying diluted ink, and white neon letters from Macbeth's translation written on the wall. Prouvost's version of the story also undergoes a process of mistranslation; Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman in Kafka's story and a wanderer in Macbeth's, appears in The Wanderer as an alcoholic writer who writes with squid ink and works at an African hair salon.
In 2013, Prouvost was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize for Wantee, a film installation that demonstrates her flair for blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality. Originally created for the Schwitters in Britain exhibition at Tate (also 2013), Wantee derives its title from the German artist Kurt Schwitters' partner Edith Thomas, who had a habit of asking, 'Want tea?' In the video, the artist narrates the story of her grandparents in their English Lake District cottage. The film blurs fact and fiction as do many of Prouvost's works that include her grandparents; throughout her oeuvre, it remains ambiguous as to whether the two characters are real, semi-real or entirely fictitious. This film recalls, for example, how Prouvost's grandfather (who was apparently a friend of Schwitters and a less successful artist) dug a tunnel in order to get to Africa; one day, he disappeared down the hole, never to be seen again. In a recent interview with OculaMagazine, Prouvost commented on the potential of fiction to strengthen reality: 'I was thinking...about whether or not fiction is an answer to reality. It kind of enhances reality or through art, this kind of emotional reality. It makes you question your own reality, so that your reality becomes fictional.'
For Prouvost, the same fictional narrative can be expanded and expressed in different ways. The apocryphal grandmother from Wantee, for instance, returns in Grandma's Dream (2013), a film montage that visualises her daydreams. Prouvost also attributes to the same character the sculpture Forward looking teapot by Grandma (2017)—a whimsical glass teapot with an extraordinarily long spout that curves like an elephant's nose.
Through her installations, Prouvost seeks to create environments in which her viewers may lose themselves, forming their own, individual interpretations of her work. Swallow (2013), for example—an immersive film installation shown at Whitechapel Gallery in London—particularly aims to attract the spectator by interlacing snippets of pleasurable images. Close-ups of a freshly plucked flower, birds, bathing women, ripe raspberries and the blue sky, among other images, construct a visually and aurally stimulating sequence. The narration, voiced by the artist, addresses the audience directly—'This image is undressing you... You drink this image...'—further encouraging and anticipating our consumption of the film.
The female body (or parts of it) is another recurrent theme in Prouvost's humorous, imaginary world. In collaboration with CHART Art Fair in 2017, the artist placed posters, billboards and banners depicting parts of the female nude—mostly breasts and bottoms—throughout Copenhagen. Paired with phrases such as 'We are coming out' and 'We are staring at you', the series displaced the voyeuristic or male gaze historically associated with female nudity in art. 'The Hidden Paintings Grandma Improved' (2017–ongoing) reimagines this series and similarly depicts parts of the female body set against a black backdrop, with their respective titles such as Pushing Forward and This Is Not A Minimalist Painting written in white capital letters. In her interview with Ocula Magazine, Prouvost revealed that the artworks are a result of her grandmother amending her late grandfather's paintings of breasts with text, a gesture that references the history of scarce attention given to female artists unlike their male counterparts.
Prouvost graduated with a BFA from Central Saint Martins, London, in 2002 and an MFA from Goldsmiths, University of London, in 2010. She has held solo exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2018); Lisson Gallery New York (2018); Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2017); Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing (2016); Grand Palais, Paris (2014); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2013); Frieze London (2011, 2010); and Tate Britain, London (2010), among others. Prouvost's work has also featured in international exhibitions including the Baltic Triennial (2018); Kyiv Biennale (2015); Taipei Biennial (2014); and Art Basel (2014). She will represent France at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019. The artist lives and works in London and Antwerp.
For her inaugural New York exhibition, Laure Prouvost presents an immersive installation. The gallery space will be transformed into a subterranean travel agency, (DEEP TRAVEL Ink, 2016) with ambiguous function, purported to belong to the artist's uncle. First shown at MMK Frankfurt in 2016 and reconfigured for the exhibition, this hypnagogic environment, replete with watercoolers, plants, posters, people working at desks, as well as a waiting area and corporate infomercial, conflates time and space, compounding the quasi-authenticity of the scene and pseudo-legitimacy of the proposition.
The sound of a tranquil voice emanates from the DEEP TRAVEL Ink's company infomercial, positioned behind the reception area. "Imagine yourself there floating in the water...WE WILL TAKE YOU JUST A BIT DEAPER...WE WILL TAKE YOU JUST A BIT FURVER...get the mud off your shoes." This video is latticed with images of scorching beaches framed by palm trees, clouds bursting, stunning sunsets, squids skating on water and aspirational images of holiday homes. Combined, they coax the viewer into a wilful contemplation of escape. They are cognitively transportative whilst also offering a rational means by which to explore the installation. Travelling deeper and further into its belly, where more works can be uncovered, a concrete or psychic destination remains tantalizingly uncertain.
This discovery bears witness to familiar tropes of Laure's practice. Two film installations, alongside paintings and sculptural elements, combine under the heavy, influencing force of the travel agency. The anthropomorphic potential of objects is subjected to this specific context. In this exhibition, the objects and images that inhabit Laure's films and installations demonstrate an awareness of their own purpose and function with humorous consequence. They can embody the role of a lead protagonist or simply jostle for attention among other voices and forms, further interrupting and complicating the delivery of narrative. Disavowed of a body, breasts reclaim their agency by clearly stating their intentions. Disembodied, yet with a voice, a function and a personality, they cause havoc in the real world, running amok among the serious business of making the necessary arrangements for travel.
About the artist
Laure Prouvost confounds imagery and language, memory and narrative and examines methods of communication while disrupting traditional notions of human perception and systems of representation. Combining language, images and objects to form discursive scenarios that address the audience directly, the viewer is rendered as a conduit for narratives to unfold. This re-framing of experience transforms the passive viewer into active participant through an enduring complicity.
Laure Prouvost was born in Lille, France (1978) and is currently based in London and Antwerp. She received herBFA from Central St Martins, London in 2002 and studied towards her MFA at Goldsmiths College, London. She also took part in the LUX Associate Programme. Solo exhibitions include They Are Waiting for You, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN, USA, 2017; the wet wet wanderer, as part of Para|Fiction, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, The Netherlands, 2017; softer and rounder so as to shine through your smooth marble, SALT Galata, Istanbul, Turkey, 2017; And she will say: hi her, ailleurs, to higher grounds..., Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland, 2016; GDM - Grand Dad's Visitor Center, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, Italy, 2016; all behind, we'll go deeper, deep down and she will say, Museum Für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt Am Main, Frankfurt, Germany, 2016; Into All That is Here, Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing, China, 2016; we would be floating away from the dirty past, Haus Der Kunst, Munich, Germany, 2015; For Forgetting, New Museum, New York, NY, USA, 2014; While You Weren't Looking, Laboratorio Arte Alameda, Mexico City, Mexico, 2014; Max Mara Art Prize for Women, Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK and Collezione Maramotti, Reggio Emilia, Italy, 2013; Laure Prouvost / Adam Chodzko as part of Schwitters in Britain, Tate Britain, London, UK, 2013; The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield, UK, 2012; and All These Things Think Link, Flat Time House, London, UK. Prouvost's work will also be the subject of a forthcoming solo exhibition at Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France in 2018. Prouvost won the MaxMara Art Prize for Women in 2011 and was the recipient of the Turner Prize in 2013.
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