by Pamela J. Alexander
I didn’t know what to expect as I entered MOTInternational for Laure Prouvost’s first solo exhibition in Belgium. I knew the artist by reputation and by some of her videos I’d viewed outside the context of their installations—but that did not prepare me for seeing her work in situ. The French born, London-based artist, most recently celebrated for winning the Turner Prize for her installation Wantee (2013), is known for stepping away from linear narratives, unhinging commonplace connections between language, image, and perception in her films and installations. So naturally her installation and new work, The Meeting, created expressly for MOTInternational’s Brussels gallery, was something of a mystery.
Prouvost’s commanding visual displays literally speak to us, the viewers, inviting us to join their conversations. The installation begins with The Chair. Standing complete with a chair whose seat and back are constructed using oil paintings, the piece is reminiscent of Prouvost’s 2013 video Grandma’s Dream, in which Grandma takes works of art and uses them as functional objects in her home. An adjacent video requires, begs, and perhaps even demands that we take a seat on The Chair in order to fully observe the tiny screen. Sitting on the window ledge next to the video is one of the cups from Wantee. We are caught between the past and the present. “It's like history. It is we that need to find out where we belong,” explains Prouvost.
Next we encounter a group of “people” with soldered iron stick bodies and Styrofoam model heads. They sport the same handmade paper masks seen in the video How to Make Money Religiously, which was shown earlier this year at the artist’s solo exhibition at the New Museum, and can be seen as a visual starting point for The Meeting. These stick-figure characters face paintings and videos as if they are the onlookers and we are the outsiders. “We become the object interacting with the art,” Prouvost confirms, “It is we who must navigate our way around them to see the art.” Phrases tumble from nowhere and everywhere through speakers. “You just have to do what I tell you to do.” “Please sit here.” “Please have a drink or a cigarette if it will make you feel more relaxed.” We become voyeurs, eavesdropping on someone else’s conversation. I spot some raspberries on a tray, harkening back to another previous work, Swallow (2013), but it appears that the berries are being presented to one of the installation’s “people” not to us, the object/audience. Flanking the rear of the room is another soldered iron body with a Styrofoam head and mask. This smaller installation is called On My Own and the character, affectingly called Dominic, sits alone watching a video of two-dimensional trompe l’oeil objects like bread, ignoring us all.
Passing through the hall to enter into another room, I notice the plants, which on entering seemed to be nothing more than oversized foliage crammed into a tiny space. They have, in fact, been participating in the conversation carrying signs with their own melancholy cries: “I can hear my leaves falling,” “Never asked to be here.” In the next room, we sit on benches in front of a multichannel video installation, We Know We Are Just Pixels, as it carries on a silent conversation. The videos talk to each other as well as to us, further blurring the line between the idea of object and audience. The inanimate speak; the animate remain mute.
As the lines between object and audience are blurred, we participate in the exchange, listen to what is said in the headphones, sit in the chair, watch the videos, read the signs, and consider details from every angle. The way Prouvost manipulates us while also asking that we create our own experience results in both a deeply moving and intellectually stimulating encounter. Prouvost intertwines phrases, images, and sound to evoke motifs of the past and the present, decay and loss, and the relationship between insider and outside. She creates an evocative, ironic, entirely relevant encounter in which we are an integral part of The Meeting.
—Pamela J. Alexander
(All images: Laure Prouvost, The Meeting, 2014, Mixed media, Installation view at MOTINTERNATIONAL Brussels; Courtesy of the Artist and MOTINTERNATIONAL London & Brussels)