from 19 October 2016 to 9 April 2017 – space: SHED
The solo exhibition “GDM – Grand Dad’s Visitor Center” by Laure Prouvost, is a Gesamtkunstwerk that brings together over fifteen works, including installations, videos and projections, sculptures and found objects: together, they form a personal museum dedicated to the artist’s grandfather, a place built in shifting layers, where architecture and content complete each other.
One of the most interesting figures of her generation, winner of the Turner Prize in 2013, Prouvost weaves intricate tales full of surreal humor, in work that emulates the constant proliferation and consumption of images typifying the communication methods of our time. Laure Prouvost’s work ranges freely between different systems of representation, alternating fiction, nonsense, and an imaginary, dreamlike world with the concrete reality of everyday life and human perceptions. Her projects combine a naïf, bric-a-brac aesthetic with ordinary objects and maze-like installations, as well as unstable structures and an elaborate use of technology.
“GDM – Grand Dad’s Visitor Center” is an exhibition that unfolds through disorienting spaces and paradoxical settings: a beauty parlor, mirrored walls and surfaces, tilted and angular rooms, dark and twisting corridors, an area where tea is served and a karaoke zone. The exhibition alternates light and sound, images and written words, moments of peaceful contemplation and outbursts of euphoria, in an entrancing journey that draws visitors in and demands their total engagement.
Location: Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Artist: Laure Prouvost
Exhibition: “GDM – Grand Dad’s Visitor Center”
Allestiment: curated by Roberta Tenconi
Engineering: MOSAE srl
Team: Michele Maddalo, Alice Brugnerotto, Anna Colombo. Special consultant Stefano Monaco
Photo: Agostino Osio
Courtesy: Laure Prouvost, Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milano
Pictures in slideshow: from the exhibition
If It Was, 2015
Projected in the entryway corridor of the Visitor Center, If It Was reflects on the identity of a museum, on its activities, and on that which it might become. In the video, the artist composes quasiunreal narrations, speculating on what she might do with a museum. Images of texts written in white ink on a black background are paired with Prouvost’s voice as she considers what might happen if the corners of the building were all a little softer, or if the roof were taken off so that people could plant palm trees inside. With the line “transported to the tunnel of history,” a different chapter in this narration opens up, one set outside the museum spaces and in nature. Shots of fields, flowers and skies crisscrossed by flocks of birds take over, enveloping the inner and uncontainable power of nature in all its essential forms.
The video was realized for the Haus der Kunst in Munich, along with the carpet it is exhibited with, on which images inspired by the artist’s oneiric imagination are portrayed, alongside archive photographs of exhibitions the German institution hosted in the past. The museum, its content and its history are thereby placed in direct relationship with the artist’s subconscious, creating an imaginary overlapping of visions and suggestions.
Before, Before, 2011
As its title suggests, Before Before is the prologue of a story yet to come. The installation marks the first appearance of Betty and Gregor, protagonists of later The Wanderer (2013)—one of Prouvost’s most ambitious projects. The Wanderer draws its inspiration from a text of almost identical name, The Wanderer by Franz Kafka (2009), by the artist Rory Macbeth, who translated Franz Kafka’s (1883–1924) The Metamorphosis (1915) into English without knowing German, and without using a dictionary.
Before Before is a maze stretching out between wood backdrops and disconcerting green lights. Set up as backstage, inside viewers find objects of all kinds, including beer cans, rolled cables, boards displaying what appear to be meaningless directions, and monitors broadcasting short videos. In the background we can hear the voice and desperate weeping of a drunken Betty. This fragmentary collection of objects, images and sounds immerses the viewer in an unlikely scenario, preluding a physical and psychological journey that is about to take place. In the artist’s words, «The anxiety about what is going to happen; the characters not knowing what they will have to do; the objects ready to be activated; the anxiety about something that is yet to happen.»
The Wanderer (God First Hairdresser/Gossip Sequence), 2013
Upside Down (Shut Your Lips), 2012
Barber chairs, mirrors, wigs and posters portraying African hairdos give shape to an unusual beauty salon, a place where it’s possible to take a seat and watch the video God First Hairdresser/Gossip Sequence, as well as the hypothetical set in which the video itself was shot. This installation is one of the six chapters of the feature-length film The Wanderer—one of Prouvost’s most ambitious projects, including performances, videos, a series of installations and a feature-length film—each focused on a different theme connected with communication.
Just as Macbeth’s translation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis had very little real correspondence with the original text, in Laure Prouvost’s version the story takes on even more improbable connotations. The protagonist is a white man whose mother is of Ghanaian origin and owns the London beauty salon “God First.” The opening sequence of the video shows mother and son arguing over a client’s pigtails, and is emblematic of the entire video, playfully based on the incomprehension deriving from mistaken translations and cultural misunderstandings in which the search for identity plays central role. Dialogue between the two charac – ters is presented out of sync with the images, further emphasizing the difficulty they have in understanding one another.
In God First Hairdresser/Gossip Sequence, the artist creates her own specific interpretation of film language, using different means to reveal the fictional narrative to the viewer, for exam – ple adding the kind of a laugh track usually employed in sit – coms and other television programs to accompany gags and comical moments. Prouvost thus accentuates the hilariousness of the situation, creating a parallel between the story as a form of oral or written exposition of a series of events, and gossip, which plays out in beauty salons and talk shows, creating a reflection on different forms of communication and entertainment.
Upside Down Shut Your Lips is installed nearby, at the exit of the corridor. Composed of an office hung upside-down from the ceiling, the artwork is inspired by the set of a scene in The Wanderer, entitled The Wanderer (Bunker) (2012)—the fifth chapter of the project—which takes place in an underground bunker where characters and the surrounding environment are literally turned upside-down. Completely eliminating the force of gravity, Prouvost projects the viewer into a world that’s estranging and devoid of rules.
Going Higher, 2014
The video—installed at the top of a spiral staircase—pushes the boundaries of viewers’ perception exemplifying a recurring characteristic in Prouvost’s practice: the use of a hybrid structure that weds technological aspects with human figures. Going Higher is also emblematic of the artist’s attention for an environment familiar to her, where the natural elements and the people close to her become raw materials for her work. Through a series of images that display blasts and explosions directed upwards, the artwork embodies Prouvost’s investigation into the unknown and the wilful loss of one’s self.
The Artist, 2010
With The Artist, Prouvost introduces the figure of the grandfather into her work, playing around with conventional forms of narration. The video moves along contrasting visual and sound rhythms, where the sound perceived does not correspond to the image on screen, or comes slightly late, even as it conserves a fascinating, seductive quality that enriches the narration.
Prouvost intersperses images of an artist’s studio with a series of writings, turning directly to the viewer and inviting her/him to sit down (“Take a seat”), have a cup of tea (“That tea on the table is for you. I just made it”), or telling her/him which way to look (“Look this way”). A short-circuit is created between the space-time coordinates of the place in which the artwork is being projected and the images on the screen. The video focuses on the studio and on the production of the artist, on how to improve his work and to make it appear more popular; telling a little gossip: a story of how the artist worked, so fond of his wife to continuously draw her. But also on what is hidden behind every corner, the hidden histories of one room. By the point of view of a woman, if it would had been her work she would have made it differently.
Gran dad where are you, 2014
Prouvost is once again creating a perceptive subversion, achieved in this video by exchanging the role of images and that of the viewer’s, who becomes protagonist of the artwork. Grand dad where are you features a crowded theatre audience looking at the video camera as the cameraman, whose presence is usually concealed and imperceptible, is set up on stage. The audience sings in unison, “Grandad, where are you?”; “We will buy all your sculptures”; “Come back, please”; then erupts in loud applause. The lens captures the spectators’ reactions and their involvement in a declaredly ironic interplay of farce and reality.
I Need to Take Care of My Conceptual Grandad, 2010
The video is made up of a single sequence showing Laure Prouvost’s hands as they rub a book belonging to the artist John Latham (1921–2006) with cream. Prouvost worked for several years as a studio assistant for Latham, one of the leading conceptual artists of Great Britain, who included in his artworks destructive and parodying actions that targeted systems of knowledge, like the famous ceremony organized in 1966, during which he asked guests to chew up and spit out pages of the book Art and Culture (1961), by American critic Clement Greenberg.
Grandma’s Dream, 2013
Grandma’s Dream addresses themes connected with the role of the artist and viewers’ expectations as they experience an artwork. Presented within a small, pink room, the video recounts the desires and pains experienced by Prouvost’s grandmother, who was left alone when her companion artist did not come back one night as he was digging his last conceptual work.
Images of skies and fluctuating clouds are superimposed with renderings and digital animations of curiously manipulated objects, for example an airplane flying out of a teapot or an iPad transformed into a pan, on which an egg is frying. The video makes broad use of fades as an editing tool, suggesting a suspended, supernatural atmosphere through wide panoramas and the superimposition of disparate images. The fusion of images and sounds alternates moments of pure calm with dream-like sequences, where things appear and go. The artist’s voiceover interprets the video in a sort of irreverent parody of a lost person, assuming the female point of view whilst focusing on the male figure.
The installation Wantee narrates the disappearance of Laure Prouvost’s grandfather, who, while digging a long tunnel between his studio and Africa, disappears one day and never returns, leaving his wife the sole custodian of his works. From the story, we also learn that he is a conceptual artist and a dear friend of Kurt Schwitters’ (1887–1948), a prominent figure in the twentieth-century European art scene. The artwork was realized for a major retrospective of Schwitters’ work, held at the Tate Britain in London in 2013, and the title alludes to the artist as well: Wantee is a play on words that sounds like the abbreviation of “Would you like some tea?”—the question the video begins with—and refers to Schwitters’ fiancé’s nickname.
Set inside Prouvost’s grandparents’ living room, the video is an extravagant succession of anecdotes and stories of the artist’s troubled adventures and that which can happen to a work of art. Her grandfather’s sculptures and paintings have now been transformed into everyday objects: devoid of their status as works of art and essentially forgotten. The grandmother has brought them back to daily life and turned them into everyday objects like teacups and platters. Through Wantee, Prouvost reflects on commonplace concepts and clichés connected with the value system of contemporary art, as well as the museum as a place charged with the conservation of artworks and their fruition. As Prouvost says, «The work is somehow surreal and tends to play with plausibility, but also with the idea of missing information, being out of place and possibly getting it wrong. New meanings could appear just by not managing to make sense out of things. That’s when you bring surreal elements to the point of being plausible again.»
For the exhibition at Pirelli HangarBicocca, the video is displayed together with a series of objects, ceramics and drawings in a neverbefore-seen presentation of the artwork with which Laure Prouvost won the Turner Prize, British art’s most prestigious award, in 2013.
The headless bust of a woman appears onscreen in Monolog. A door closes and a voice exclaims, “I’m back, it wasn’t very important,” implying a pre-existing relationship with viewers. The woman thanks us for coming and gesticulates, directing the viewer’s attention to all that’s missing or that which should be improved in the projection “I wish the screen was a little bit bigger… It would be nice if you could see my head, my legs…” going on to wonder how she might make the experience better for viewers (a bigger screen, a more comfortable seat, beautiful music). Autobiographical notes appear in the video, suggesting that the protagonist is, in fact, the very author of the artwork, Laure Prouvost.
The video is a parody of both the artist as a director and of the audience’s role, and focuses our attention on the space and inherent limits of a broadcast. Monolog also creates a temporal blurring between the image and the viewer’s experience: revealing how temporal reality—editing and broadcasting through video—does not correspond to that of the viewer, thereby destabilizing the concept of time. Citations from the field of quantum physics run across the screen, further exploring the theme.