French artist Laurent Grasso (b. 1972) has a practice centered on the immaterial, often-scientific facets of existence—ranging from time to electromagnetic energy—and the myriad possible ways these phenomena can be translated through artistic means into something corporeal. Taking inspiration from cinema, art history, and international cultures, Grasso’s signature point of view is perpetually in flux and shifting, lending to works that invite the viewer to reconsider their own perceptions and perspectives.
Grasso’s multidisciplinary practice has been the subject of dozens of solo exhibitions worldwide, including his current solo show “Time Leaves” at Tao Arts, Taipei, which is on view through July 15, 2023.
We recently reached out to Grasso to learn more about the show and the motivations behind and processes used in his work.
Your solo show “Time Leaves” opened at Tao Arts, Taipei, this month. Can you talk a bit about the theme(s) of the show, and the type of works included?
“Time Leaves” is a contraction of notions that make up my exhibition, including, among others, the notion of time, time travel, and leaves. These leaves can be interpreted as both layers of time that are superimposed, and a reference to the silver leaves used as a background in some of my paintings. There is of course the vegetal aspect which, associated with time, refers to a dreamier, growing dimension.
My exhibition is also about the invisible and immaterial. The three exhibition rooms are immersed in a mysterious atmosphere. The walls have been painted in a very evanescent blue; the lighting is quite low. The silver backgrounds of some of the paintings show the reflection of the film and neon lights that are presented. As is often the case, I try to create a climate and atmosphere where the works vibrate and radiate. There is a play of reflections which creates a back-and-forth dialogue between the works.
In the first room, we see eyes on silver backgrounds. These eyes belong to masterpieces of art history. The neon creates a spectral and disturbing atmosphere. They evoke the eyes of surveillance and diffuse power that Michel Foucault talks about, but also the vision that Derrida had of specters, notably when he says: “I believe that cinema, when it is not boring, is the art of letting ghosts come back.”
In the second room, I present my film created for the 21st Biennale of Sydney along with a triptych that mixes spheres visible in the film with a decor inspired by an engraving by Kirchner from the 17th century, created on a silver background.
In the third room, a mutant flower with a double heart evokes a new species of flower from the future, this is my series.
What type of viewing experience do you hope visitors to the show have? Is there a key takeaway that you’ve aimed for?
I try to intertwine several forces, narratives, and ideas in one object. For me, the exhibition is the work. I like that one does not understand everything at once and that your state of consciousness can be modified, distorted. The film, the installation in the space, as well as the sound and lighting, allow a kind of alternative consciousness. I try to amplify this state and what will happen there.
Your oeuvre is very materially diverse, ranging from film to installation, painting, and sculpture. What does your creative process look like, where do you start? Would you describe it as more intuitive or more strategic?
I start from a theoretical point of view while also incorporating a visual, conceptual, and historical point of view, so that all my preoccupations are brought together in a work. Research is very important to my practice.
I have a strong taste for certain real or theoretical territories where our point of view on the world will be challenged, will vacillate. I also look for places with a great strength, either because of the beliefs that are invested in them, or because of their political dimension.
For my film , shown in the exhibition, I chose sacred sites that were almost inaccessible, never filmed, and several hours’ drive from the first city. I had to enter diplomatic relations with an aboriginal community. My idea was to film sacred sites with scientific tools and thus bring together opposite poles: thermal and hyper-spectral cameras with ancestral lands that are the object of beliefs to which we do not have access—because the aboriginal rites are secret. The traditional owners gave me their consent to film these sites. They were interested in the world being aware of their cause.
Generally, my work starts with the creation of a film that requires a lot of research. Each project is like a new chapter that I try to write. At the same time, objects appear, with different mediums, evoking different eras. They give the impression of having crossed the screen to exist in the exhibition space and create a feeling of déjà vu
Can you tell us about the use of silver ink in many of your works?
A lot of my work is rooted in research, collaborations with scientists. But I also like to find simple ways to create a certain magic and to make the works active and alive, through a strange feeling that they embody.
I like the idea of a magical action, of creating an interaction with the viewer, conscious or unconscious, something sensory. So, in this respect, I continue to use quite simple but very evocative techniques like neon light installations and reflective silver surfaces.
The silver background is a way for me to create the appearance of an image according to a point of view. Depending on the position of the viewer, the image will be visible or invisible. The environment blends with the work through the reflection it provokes. This reflection evokes for me the speed of light and the fact that what appears to our eyes already belongs to the past.
Series like “Studies into the Past” were begun over a decade ago and are still ongoing. Do you foresee these ever concluding? Why or why not?
The “Studies into the Past” project is a time travel project. The idea is to play with history and to create an ambiguous object, so that the painting cannot be immediately dated. Some elements of my current work appear in historical compositions and give the impression of being references on which my work could have been based. This series is quite vertiginous and fascinating in its conception and execution. I really like the idea of putting works from a certain period in front of other works that are much more futuristic, and thus having opposition between different temporalities.
What role does art history play in your work? Are there any specific artists, movements, or periods that have influenced or inspired you the most?
I am interested in a variety of different subjects. There is a very nice text by Amelia Barikin* in my catalogue which discusses the relationship that exists in my work between art history and quantum entanglement. For me, it’s not a question of making a referenced work, but rather of creating the conditions for time travel, a fiction that often relies on scientific elements to reinforce a form of belief in the narrative that I propose. It is even more plausible when it is about things that are theoretically possible.
* “Quantum Entanglements and the Construction of Time: Do We Need a Science-Fictional History of Art?”, , pp. 17-24 (Dilecta, 2015).
What are you currently working on? Is there something you’re hoping to tackle next?
Following my project at Tao Art, I would like to continue my experience in Taiwan and organize a shoot for my next film. This new film will feature a rectangle moving over landscapes completely untouched by human intervention. This rectangle would be an imaginary shape, with a power of action, which would not be readily obvious to the viewer.
Ideally, I would like to be able to organize this shooting quite quickly and thus extend my Taiwanese experience.