If you are up for a charming stroll through one of the artsiest parts of Paris, check out Galerie Odile Ouizeman, located in the third arrondissement. Ms. Ouizeman’s gallery aims to support emerging artists, and she has a good eye—she picked out the current artist showing, Laurent Pernot, from some of his work displayed on the internet. Pernot’s show, Le ciel est devenu noir (The Sky Has Turned Black) is a collection of photographs and video installations whose overall theme suggests a coming-to-terms with life’s changes or dark lessons. Pernot’s strongest work includes his 2005 video Still Alives, a short video meticulously timed to dramatic music. For this work, Pernot used 19th century and early 20th century photographs, zooming in on one specific facial feature, like an eye, which would disturbingly morph into another’s eye, and so forth. After recording the mutations of eyes and lips, the camera then relaxes its tight zoom, focusing instead on the photographs in entirety. The larger view is of groups of people stiffly posing for the camera, and then the images of the faces lift from the bodies and start floating upwards. While the clearly outlined faces drift slowly above the bodies, what is left on the head is a disconcerting rounded blankness, very distressing to the eye that can’t help but search for features. The faces then make a gliding trajectory into the dark sky, and the video ends with a close up of an eye, blinking in real-time.
Although it was made in 2004, the complimentary video to Stay Alives is Confusion, which films a naked man rocking back and forth, using his arms for balance; swirling slowly around the area of the head are faces similar to the floating ones from Still Alives. After seeing these two videos, if you haven’t already wondered about the similarities between yourself and your ancestors, perhaps you will. These two works suggest connections between today’s living and yesterday’s dead, and the title Confusion may be Pernot’s commentary about how difficult it can be to figure out who you are. The catching music and the disturbing visuals make it impossible for the viewer to refrain from weighing in his or her own thoughts, even if ever so brief, about ancestry, forms of afterlife, and self-identity.
Although Pernot does well in eliciting a response from the viewer with these two video works, he is less successful with his installations and photographs. In fact, Pernot often fails to grasp any content at all, as in the installation Help, in which the word “help” is written in white neon cursive, installed into a corner behind clear beads strung in the shape of a spider-web. The representation of being trapped like an insect in a web (or in this case, behind it) is too cloying to actually be appealing. In his videos, Pernot handles the tricky subject of nostalgia beautifully, keeping away from sentimentality, but here he kills any success by being too obvious. His two series of photographs of people are not portraits, and nor are they commentaries; the viewer is left wondering what exactly Pernot is getting at. His series of otherwordly landscapes is visually appealing, but again, it lacks a clear idea. Finally, the video Le Quid in the gallery’s basement (a great raw space) is plain bad animation—was he feeling wistful for Atari?—but overall, this emerging artist is definitely one to watch.
--Kate C. Lemay
(*Images, from top to bottom: Laurent Pernot, Le temps egaré (sans titre 1), série 2007, photographie couleur sous Diasec, 60 x 90 cm. Laurent Pernot, Still Alives, 2005, vidéo monobande, 2:30 minutes. Laurent Pernot, Confusion, 2004, vidéo monobande, 2 minutes, vue de l'exposition à la Fondation Miro, Barcelone, 2004. Laurent Pernot, Help, 2007, installation neon, fils, perles.)