Laurent Grasso interview

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Power takes many forms but lies at the heart of politics, business, art and virtually everything. Reflecting on this theme, Élysée, Laurent Grasso’s latest solo exhibition, has the ability to speak volumes to all sectors of society, from the one percent to the 99. Skilled in any medium he puts his mind to, Élysée showcases everything from Grasso’s paintings to his video work. The pieces blur the lines between past and present, reality and fiction, floating somewhere between the real world and an alternate realm of fantasy. 

We speak to the Marcel Duchamp Prize-winner about Hong Kong, history and his plans for the Presidential offices…

How did you first get into art?
I studied at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris and had the opportunity to do exchange programmes with the Cooper Union in New York and Central Saint Martins, London. After studying painting, I focused on images and started to create films, followed by objects related to these films.

What is it that fascinates you?
I create ambiguous objects mixing different temporalities and cultures. My work explores zones where the impossible becomes conceivable. I focus on scenarios that broaden our perspectives of the world. I use various research fields as a point of departure for my projects – science, history and the latest discoveries, like string theory. Amongst my recent exhibitions, I’ve worked on the following issues: a history of catastrophes, the relationship between power and astronomy, the secrecy of the Vatican, and all sorts of mythologies that mix the past and the future such as ‘ancient aliens’, a vision that digs into art history in trying to find signs of a potential extraterrestrial life.

Can you tell us about your stunning permanent public artwork SolarWind? How did you conceive of it? 
SolarWind uses real-time data of the sun’s activity and transforms it into a luminous animation. It’s a sort of barometer of cosmic weather, a way to create a luminous language. Thanks to the communication around this project, viewers are able to understand the underpinnings of the work. I collaborated on the one hand with scientists to collect data produced by the sun from different laboratories, and on the other hand I worked with engineers in order to create a very intense light that is visible from extremely far away.

Several million drivers pass in front of the work on a daily basis, since it’s installed on the border of the Périphérique, the Parisian orbital highway.

Your series Studies into the Past playfully reinterprets classical paintings, but they’re not really about the paintings themselves. Can you detail the creative process involved?
This series speaks about our relationship with time, with history and time travel. It’s a way of using different periods of history to deal with issues such as our relationship with catastrophes and magic. It’s also a way of inserting an element of my work into art history. All the motifsappearing in my films are transplanted into primitive Flemish or Italian paintings. These paintings are a sort of technical challenge, which consists of creating objects that can perfectly mimic old paintings, therefore generating an ambiguity regarding their date and origin.

You’ve done a video piece, Radio Ghost, that was filmed in Hong Kong. What aspects of it attracted and inspired you to work in Hong Kong?
Radio Ghost is a film about the belief that ghosts appear on film sets during movie shootings. It’s a reverie in which the camera flies over Hong Kong, giving the impression that strange voices float above the city. These voices describe first-hand accounts of paranormal experiences, lived by different people working in the film industry who I met in Hong Kong.

What are you working on now?
My latest film, shot in the Élysée Palace and more specifically in the office of the President of the French Republic, is about the relationship between power and aesthetics. Architecture and furnishings service power and contribute to its staging. In my film Élysée, the camera scans through the President’s office and captures the magnetism and the history of this specific space, as if unveiling the State’s secrets.

What’s something you would like to explore further in the future?
I would like this project looking at places of power to become a series, I’m planning to film more presidential offices!

Élysée Edouard Malingue Gallery, Mar 22-Apr 30; edouardmalingue.com.

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