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Laurent Grasso OttO at Perrotin Paris
September 6-October 6, 2018
Interested in science, history, epistemology and the paranormal, French conceptual artist Laurent Grasso uses painting, neon, installation and film to present half-imagined narratives as deeply researched truths.
As a fact-based discipline, science (and in particular, astronomy, electromagnetic energy and radio waves) is a frequent point of departure for Grasso, who deals with its more disturbing connotations. His 2009 installation Haarp at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, for example, was inspired by the antennas at an American military research base in Alaska, which some believe were erected to control both the climate and population. Consisting of 18 recreated antennas linked by black cables in the Paris gallery space, the density of transmission apparatuses—usually seen spread out across a vast area—resulted in an atmosphere of pointed unease.
Indeed, Grasso approaches his artworks like a film director, taking into account the minute details of his exhibitions, down to the sounds and sensations in the room. This cinematic sensibility comes as no surprise, given the artist's dedication to moving image. One of Grasso's best-known films, titled Élysée, centres around the aesthetics of power; in 2015, granted rare access to the office of the President of the French Republic at the Élysée Palace in Paris, Grasso made a hypnotic, slow-moving portrait of the room, focusing on the golden, gilded details: piles of paperwork and pens in the office where major decisions are made on behalf of the nation. Set to a soundtrack by Nicolas Godin and produced at a time of deep political uncertainty in Europe, the film examines the iconography of authority and the inanimate phenomena that stands in for political might.
Grasso was similarly concerned with the visualisation of authority in the film Soleil Double (2014). Recorded in EUR—a city district of the south of Rome that was developed in the 1930s for the 1942 Worlds Fair and intended as an homage to the 20th anniversary of Fascism—the film shows two suns shining over a plaza that includes both buildings in the style of the 1930s and more contemporary structures. Ominous and otherworldly, the two suns in the sky seem to foreshadow an immense natural disaster while destabilising the representation of truth and the trustworthiness of the author.
As a city loaded with historical connotations, Rome is rife with inspiration for Grasso. Also set there is his 2008 video Les Oiseaux (The Birds), which depicts a flock of starlings flying above the Vatican at dusk. Isolated in the frame, the undulating flock resembles an ionic particle field at the whim of imperceptible magnetic waves. Set too in the Vatican, the silver bromide prints in Grasso's 2014 'Specola Vaticana' series present historical photographs of the pope looking through a telescope—an unusual synthesis of science and spirituality, and a nod to the link between astronomical understanding and power.
With the same focus on the sky, his massive outdoor light installation SolarWind (2016) is based on storms in outer space. Projected onto the walls of enormous silos in Paris' 13th district, the permanent work translates real-time cosmic flows and solar activity into poetic, flowing and multi-coloured hues. Other public installations include Nomiya (2009-2011), a movable restaurant on the roof of the Palais de Tokyo; and Anechoic Pavilion, a minimalist, one-room cabin that was designed as a place to meditate and installed atop a Hong Kong ferry pier in 2012.
A highly skilled draftsman, Grasso is also known to paint in historical styles using antiquated materials such as animal adhesive. The series 'Studies into the Past' (2009-ongoing) saw him create Renaissance-style paintings in his own hand, mixing boiled oil with his pigments so that the works would become dimmer when exposed to light—therefore 'ageing' the images and making them look more genuine.
A winner of the Marcel Duchamp Prize (2008), Grasso studied at the Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris; The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York; Central Saint Martins, London; and Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing.
He currently lives and works in Paris.
Galerie Perrotin presents the new solo exhibition by Laurent Grasso titled OttO. Structured around a set of brand-new works and around the eponymous film, the exhibition interconnects sacred spaces, animistic beliefs and scientific theories. Each of these works concerns imperceptible and yet active phenomena that have in common the real or supposed effects of electromagnetic waves, vibrations and frequencies.
Continuing his exploration of the forms of political and scientific power, Laurent Grasso proposes new research into the power of waves, a matter which, although invisible, has tangible effects. The space of the gallery is bathed in frequencies emitted by hybrid and active sculptures whose electromagnetic activity can potentially act on the visitor's body and mind.
A Steiner machine, spiral sculptures with hypnotic forms, glass spheres featuring conductive paintings gravitate around the new film OttO, shown here for the first time in France. In this work the artist continues his attempt to represent the immaterial and his research into aesthetic, fictional and poetic variations produced on the basis of scientific utopias, theories or mythologies.
Art historian Darren Jorgensen compares the work of Laurent Grasso to Roger Caillois's research into 'diagonal science': 'In works made of gas, light, metal and stone, Grasso ... [creates] a speculative diagram that joins incommensurable domains of knowledge. In this, he performs what the surrealist Roger Caillois calls 'diagonal science,' in which 'There are discernable cycles and symmetries, homologies and recurrences. Everything fits into one or several series. There is nothing that does not have its own counterpart or double, the cypher that recalls to our mind a certain premonition of it, or nostalgia for it.'1
Whether it is the slow and virtually hypnotic movement of the spheres crossing the aboriginal lands in the film OttO or the enveloping action of frequencies emitted by the sculptures, the works on display form a whole as a result of their capacity to act physically and mentally on visitors. In line with the themes explored by Laurent Grasso, the exhibition OttO evolves in a zone of uncertainty, where science must measure itself against the sacred and where the spiritual dimension of its environment finds a form of objectification.
OttO, the film
'I wanted to make a film that visualises the radiation of these sacred spaces. The spheres that cross these territories make palpable the secret narratives of the aboriginal culture around these spaces. 'Laurent Grasso, in an interview with Philippe Peltier, General Heritage Curator, Head of the Oceania-Insulindia Collections Heritage Unit at the Musée du Quai Branly -Jacques Chirac.
Commissioned by the 21st Biennale of Sydney (2018) and its curator Mami Kataoka, Chief Curator of the Mori Art Museum of Tokyo, the film was shot in November 2017 in the Australian desert of the Northern Territory using a camera that reproduces the electromagnetic radiation of these sacred lands. Produced in complex conditions of access, in concertation with the Warlurkbrunlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation and in close collaboration with the aboriginal community of Yuendumu and its 'traditional owners', the film was shot at four sites that are usually closed to the public. Thermic and hyperspectral cameras as well as drones were used in the making of this futuristic anthropology. The film's viewpoint focuses on certain dimensions of the territory imagined as an 'acting presence' by those who live in it. This reversal coincides with the revolution that Eduardo Kohn recently undertook by situating his approach, no longer among humans, but among the thinking forests.
A reflection of this layering of hidden narratives and scientific experimentations, the title OttO postulates a dual reference. It evokes the first name of the 'traditional owner' Otto Jungarrayi Sims, whose silhouette appears in the film and who granted access to the sites according to aboriginal protocol. It also relates to Winfried Otto Schumann (1888-1974), a German physicist who in the 1950s predicted the existence of resonance frequencies in the Earth's electromagnetic field. These so-called Schumann resonances, measured only a decade later, represent for the artist the possibility of scientifically transcribing a certain sacredness.
With these floating spheres crossing the lines of these landscapes of timeless geology, Laurent Grasso materializes a fictional encounter between cutting-edge video technology and a narrative cartography that is imperceptible to the non-initiated and that offers a voyage in time marked by immaterial presences, by myths and energies emanating from the aboriginal ground.
A booklet will be published on the occasion of the exhibition, including an introduction by Mami Kataoka, Chief Curator of the Mori Art Museum and an essay by art historian Darren Jorgensen, Senior Lecturer at the University of Western Australia.
* The film OttO has been produced for the invitation to the Sydney Biennal and Mami Kataoka; with the generous support of the French embassy in Australia, the French Insitute and Mikros/ Technicolor. Courtesy the artist, Edouard Malingue Gallery, Sean Kelly Gallery and Perrotin.
1 - Darren Jorgensen, Invisible Energies of the Earth (2018), livret de l'exposition OttO, galerie Perrotin Roger Caillois, The Natural Fantastic in The Edge of Surrealism: A Roger Caillois Reader, ed. Claudine Frank, Duke University Press, Durham, 2003 Darren Jorgensen, Invisible Energies of the Earth (2018), booklet of the exhibition OttO, Perrotin Paris; Roger Caillois, 'The Natural Fantastic' in The Edge of Surrealism: A Roger Caillois Reader, ed. Claudine Frank, Duke University Press, Durham, 2003.
Laurent Grasso, biography
Laurent Grasso lives and works in Paris (France) and New York (USA). Graduated from the Ecole nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts of Paris, Laurent Grasso was laureate of the Marcel Duchamp prize (2008) and a member of the Medici Villa in Roma (2004-2005). Laurent Grasso presented his work on the occasion of many personal exhibitions conceived in immersive or labyrinthine measures: Palais Fesch, Beaux-Arts museum, Ajaccio (PARAMUSEUM, 2016); Fondation Hermès, Tokyo (Soleil Noir, 2015); Kunsthaus Baselland, Muttenz, Switzerland (Disasters and Miracles, 2013); Contemporary Art museum of Montreal (Uraniborg, 2013); Jeu de Paume, Paris (Uraniborg, 2012); Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C. (The Black Box, 2011); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (Gakona, 2009); Kunstverein, Arnsberg, Allemagne (Re ections Belong the Past, 2009); Centre Pompidou, 315 space, Paris (The Horn Perspective, 2009); regional contemporary art museum of Rochechouart (Neurocinema, 2008); IAC, Institut d'art contemporain of Villeurbanne (Magnetic Palace, 2007); MIT, List, Visual Art Center, Cambridge, USA (L'Éclipse, 2006)...
Laurent Grasso also took part in numerous collective exhibitions and international art contemporary biennale such as the Biennale of Sydney (Australia, 2018), the Gwangju Biennale (South Korea, 2012), Manifesta 8 (Cartagena, Murcia, Spain, 2010), the Sharjah Biennale in United Arab Emirates (2009), the Moscow Biennale (2009), the Lyon Biennale (2007), Busan Biennale, South Korea (2006 and 2004).
Alongside, Laurent Grasso was invited to make installations in the public space: Solar Wind (2016), permanent artwork placed on the Calcia silo's wall in the suburbs of the 13th arrondissement of Paris; Du soleil dans la nuit (2012), a 25-meter neon presented during the 11th edition of the Nuit Blanche in Paris, and installed on the roof of the Samaritaine; Memories of the Future (2010), permanent neon installation on the wall of the Leeum Samsung Museum in Seoul in South Korea; Nomiya (2009-2011), micro-architecture put on the roof of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris during two years; or the Infinite Light neon (2008), installation on the pedestrian footbridge of the Hunter College in New York, Lexington Avenue.
His work is the object of several important monographs: Paramuseum (Silvana Editoriale/Palais Fesch, 2016), Soleil Double (Dilecta/Perrotin, 2015), Uraniborg (Flammarion/Jeu de Paume, 2012), The Black-Body Radiation (les presses du réel, 2009).
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