The Musée de Rochechouart is currently presenting the first monographic exhibition in France by artist Laure Prouvost. Born in 1978 in the small village of Croix and residing in London since she was 18, in 2013 she won the Turner Prize. Despite this prestigious award, her work still remains relatively unknown in her native country, an oversight that this exhibition seeks to remedy through the presentation of three sets of works: Wantee, an emblematic work by the artist, Visitor Center that was devised in relation to the latter, as well as a new production created for the Musée de Rochechouart and entitled The Smoking Image.
The visit of the exhibition begins with the oldest work, Wantee dating from 2013. We enter a confined space, saturated with objects, furniture, kitchenware and modest paintings... Plunged into the half-light, the various elements present in the room are independently lit and confer a sense of theatricality to the environment. Around a big wooden table, about a dozen patched-together chairs are made available to us. For 14 minutes, Laure Prouvost, with a handheld camera, gives us the tour of her grandparents’ lounge and takes this opportunity to tell us their story. She patiently explains that her grandfather, a former conceptual artist close to Kurt Schwitters, started building a tunnel around 20 years ago, starting directly from the lounge and supposedly to enable him to reach Africa. She then relates her grandfather’s disappearance, 3 months ago, and the search undertaken to find him, anecdotes about her grandmother and her use of her husband’s and Schwitters’ sculptures as DIY elements (doorstop, chair, soap-holder, etc). The tension in the video stems from an image sequence with a sustained and perfectly mastered rhythm, to which the artist associates a musical backing track, a voiceover and the presence of texts that punctuate the video and energise the whole. Through this system of synaesthesia, Laure Prouvost manages to play with a very broad range of emotions (including joy, fear, and melancholy).
Through a mise-en-abyme of the space of the habitat, the filmic space and the exhibition space, the artist manages to animate the objects and their evocative power. The accumulation of anecdotal objects – stuffed animals, a tea set, all kinds of recipients, etc. – recalls 19th century interiors. These elements thus form a family: that of the artist, evoking those who are absent (the grandparents) and come back to life when we lay eyes on them or when lips tell their story. Through the eccentricity that the artist offers us, she contributes to endowing simple objects with a surprising aura, reminding us to what extent the ability to wonder depends on the storyteller’s own propensity for it.
The exhibition continues in a second room with Visitor Center, from 2014, and extends the familial myth instigated by the artist with Wantee. In the middle of the room, there is the model of a museum project dedicated to her grandfather’s works. A kind of ship in futurist forms, made out of recycled materials such as iron wire, clay , wood and even a stuffed fox, all of which is accompanied by explanatory images, acts as a funny allusion to increasingly elaborate museum architecture. The artist explains, through the presence of texts, the importance of this museum for her grandmother and her grandchildren, who wish to pay tribute to their grandfather, who is still reported missing.
Through this channel of disparate elements, images, blurbs, and writings, she consolidates the family chronicle, leaving the door open for the narrative to continue.
The visit ends on a work especially created for the occasion, entitled The Smoking Image. This work is presented in two separate sections in the attic of the château, which thus assumes the appearance of a barn, with eggshells, scattered feathers on the floor, and mopeds. The first part consists of a large tapestry, produced out of collages by the artist that retrace, like a mind map, the route between Rochechouart and Los Angeles. Combining the ancestral skill of weaving and traditional iconographic elements such as plants with eminently contemporary visual elements (cell phones, teenage faces, cars, etc.) Laure Prouvost creates a highly appealing assemblage. On the back of the tapestry, we can see the video made by the artist in the village of Rochechouart, with teenagers from the region sharing their thoughts. For a little over 8 minutes, we watch a series of images and sounds that disorganise the structure of the story in order to better intensify the emphasis on the transition from childhood to adulthood. All of the teens talk about their desire for freedom, to leave the countryside in order to fly towards “the city” (here, Los Angeles). Images of various secretions – milk, saliva, and egg white – are interspersed throughout the shots like subliminal images. For anyone having spent their adolescence in the countryside, this video highlights this period of life through the question of mobility, of bodies undergoing transformation and in-depth conversations.
Laure Prouvost has an acute awareness of the construction of images and their ability to invoke, and to spur desires and intentions. By subtly combining ways of thinking about visuals, text and sound, she succeeds in breathing life into stories that ignore all desires for delimitation, constantly oscillating between fiction and reality, fact and invention.