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Entrenched in the invisible correlations between mythology and science, French artist Laurent Grasso has lately been attempting to visualise the sacred.
OttO, Grasso's solo exhibition at Galerie Perrotin in Paris (6 September–6 October 2018), is centred around his 26-minute film by the same name. The film was commissioned in 2017 by curator Mami Kataoka for SUPERPOSITION: Equilibrium & Engagement, the 21st Biennale of Sydney and was exhibited at Carriageworks (16 March–11 June 2018); its screening at Galerie Perrotin will be the film's first in France. In partnership with Galerie Perrotin, Ocula presents a special excerpt of the film OttO.
OttO was shot in four desert sites in Australia's Northern Territories which have been inhabited by indigenous people for millennia and thus charged with history, mythology and sacred meaning. In keeping with Grasso's artistic interest in invisible phenomena such as vibrations and spiritual activity, and hoping to illustrate these unseen energies, the artist used high-tech video equipment such as drones and thermic and hyper-spectral cameras to visualise the electromagnetic radiation of the Aboriginal grounds.
The resulting looped footage consists of slow, mesmerising and colourful shots of the landscape, focusing on 'hot-spots' rendered in vivid candy-colours such as magenta, neon purple and tangerine. These digitised shots, standing in for the 'acting presences' of those who live in them, are interspersed with eerie imagery of floating spheres. (Spheres are a motif common to many of Grasso's works, including his paintings and 2014 film Soleil Double, which was similarly imbued with an otherworldly tension.) The spheres hover over the desert's distinctive jagged expanses, salt pans and red-dirt landscapes; seemingly weightless, they rotate over the landscape, apparently mimicking the intangible. Oscillating between myth, fiction and reality, OttO's imagery appears at once alien and ancient.
The title of the film and exhibition is twofold: it comes partially from Otto Jungarrayi Sims: chairman of the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation, a member of the Yuendumu Aboriginal community and the 'traditional owner' who granted Grasso admittance to the four normally inaccessible sites which appear in the film. Indeed, Grasso acted in close collaboration with the inhabitants of the land while working on the project. Otto is also the middle name of German physicist Winfried Otto Schumann (1888–1974), who shared with Grasso a preoccupation with electromagnetic fields and resonance frequencies. Schumann predicted the existence of low frequency electromagnetic waves in 1952—a phenomenon now known as Schumann resonances, and which prefigured the video equipment that Grasso used to make his film.
OttO is set to a minimalist, ominous soundtrack composed by Grégoire Auger which vibrates through the gallery. In addition to the film, spiral sculptures emitting electromagnetic frequencies and glass spheres with conductive paintings are presented in the exhibition space, underscoring the video's themes and Grasso's longstanding interest in scientific phenomena, paranormal activity and spirituality—and the tangible effects those forces can have on viewers.
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, Grasso's 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).
Sean Kelly Gallery was founded by its British-born owner in 1991 and operated privately in SoHo until 1995 when its first public space opened at 43 Mercer Street. During these formative years, it established a reputation for diverse, intellectually driven, unconventional exhibitions. The original list of artists represented included Marina Abramović, James Casebere, Callum Innes, Joseph Kosuth and Julião Sarmento – exemplifying the Gallery's commitment to presenting important, challenging contemporary art.
In 2001, Sean Kelly moved into a converted 7,000 square-foot industrial space on 29th Street in the Chelsea gallery district. The move to this new, spacious location enabled the Gallery to mount increasingly ambitious, museum-quality exhibitions to great critical acclaim. During its early period in Chelsea, the Gallery's roster of artists expanded to include such notable figures as Iran do Espírito Santo, Antony Gormley, Rebecca Horn and Frank Thiel. In the ensuing years, the Gallery undertook representation of Los Carpinteros, Leandro Erlich, Johan Grimonprez, Laurent Grasso, Tehching Hsieh and Anthony McCall.
In October 2012, Sean Kelly opened a new 22,000 square foot space at 475 Tenth Avenue in an historic 1914 building. Award-winning architect Toshiko Mori designed the two-story gallery, which opened with an exhibition of work by Antony Gormley. Toshiko Mori was awarded the AIA Design Award in Interiors for her unique architectural approach to the Hudson Yards location. Since moving to the new space, Sean Kelly continues to add internationally acclaimed artists to its roster, such as David Claerbout, José Dávila, Candida Höfer, Mariko Mori, and Sun Xun.
The Gallery's artists have consistently been included in major international exhibitions and recognized with esteemed awards across the globe. Several of the gallery's artists have represented their countries at the Venice Biennale, including Joseph Kosuth (Hungarian Pavilion, 1993), Julião Sarmento (Portuguese Pavilion, 1997), and Marina Abramović, who won the prestigious Golden Lyon Award for Sculpture in 1997. In 2008, Abramović was the recipient of the Austrian Decoration of Honour for Science and Art and in 2009, during the 8th Florence Biennale; she was presented with the Lorenzo il Magnifico award for Lifetime Achievement. Japan’s distinguished Praemium Imperiale Prize for Sculpture was awarded to both Rebecca Horn (2010), who, in 2011, was also the recipient of the Grande Médaille des Arts Plastiques, Académie d’Architecture de Paris, and Antony Gormley (2013). Most recently, José Dávila was selected as the winner of the 2014 EFG ArtNexus Latin America Art Award, Kehinde Wiley was presented with a 2015 U.S. Department of State Medal of Arts, Candida Höfer was awarded the 2015 Cologne Art Prize and in 2016 Anthony McCall was presented with The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Art, which honors exceptional accomplishments and encourages creative work.
Since its inception, Sean Kelly has garnered extensive attention for its work with many of the most significant cultural institutions in the world. The Gallery has coordinated hundreds of exhibitions on behalf of its artists at an array of prestigious museums including the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Turin, Italy; the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France; the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland; the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel; Kunstwerke Berlin, Germany; the Musée d'Art Contemporain de Montréal, Canada; the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo, Japan; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Tate Gallery, London, England; the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; the Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Holland; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, to name but a few. As the Gallery continues to grow, its commitment to excellence and quality remains unwavering.
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