Laurent Pernot is among those enlightened artists who are neither boring nor condescending. If his work is often backed up with the cerebral social sciences, it has a deep and immediate sensitivity, turning up that way because the topics haunting him surround individuals and society, since time immemorial, and are universal in scope. Some of them include the elusive nature of power, childhood tales and memories, death or the passing of time. Using symbols that our imagination and childhood memories can refer to –like a King’s cross on a pile of dust, an enclosed window with curtains still moving –the first level of understanding is easily reached; his approach to art, frugal, intimate, and effective.
The next step, for most viewers, will be to understand why the atmospheric power of his art lingers on for so long. Most of his works are opened-ended poems, combining joy or hope with the idea of death and hopelessness. They engage the audience on a very personal level, with craft, imagination and subtlety. The unbridled intellectual curiosity of the artist involves travelling through time -from Antiquity to the present day -to the point that it may be a question of recognising the past to provide a better understanding of the future.
This goes hand-in-hand with Pernot’s permanent development in the use of media. Indeed, at the start of his young career, he was focused on purely image-based work, being immersed in learning photography. But, he quickly realized that he was “not at all interested in the commercial pictures market”, while studying photography and multimedia under the guidance of renowned critic, Dominique Baqué, at the University of Paris VIII. That’s when he started opening up to video, digital pictures, the history of photography, semiology and contemporary art.
At 33 years old, Pernot gives the impression of a calm strength, the kind that was built slowly but surely. There is an air of the “self-educated man” around him, probably due to the fact that he came from a family with fewer cultural resources. His intellectual and personal development, as opposed to a model probably too restricted, took the path of art, travel and, of course, extensive reading. One of his recent pieces, ‘Cartography’ (2012), embodies the role of books in access to the outer world, as an object of knowledge, but also the precariousness of memory and culture for each individual. Committed to representing the globe, the artist used the ashes of his own books by the likes of Gaston Bachelard, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, John Keats, Susan Sontag and Simone Weil. But Pernot is not the type to waste time name-dropping. Discreet but open, deep and talkative when comfortable, Laurent Pernot’s is certainly an intriguing presence.
aqnb: Your work combines many media. How do you address the issue of transdisciplinarity?
Laurent Pernot: I first explored photography, then I moved to video, installation and, more recently, sculpture. But far from a conceptual approach, that would merely delve into an idea and then apply it to different media, it came naturally. Moving from a medium to another keeps me from repeating myself or falling into conformity, but it’s also a mean of satisfy my curiosity, the same way that makes me express a keen interest in science, astrophysics or philosophy.
Also my work started to deal with new subjects, and I needed more than just images to give a full account of them. With image, I was interested in the matter of time, in Henri Bergson, Roland Barthes, Maurice Blanchot or Etienne Klein. When I came to consider themes like identity, origin of the world and history of life, my questions have been further complicated and led me on the look-out for new formalisation media. I never wondered if there was a relation between my research and the fact that I’m particularly prone to use various media, but it may be linked.
aqnb: Your artworks seem ruled by the fundamental and universal notions of fragility, existence and finiteness. Are these features your driving force?
LP: The central subject is human being. Mankind is at the origin of language and, by extension, ideas with which people build worlds. Through the prism of history, biology, religion, psychoanalysis, archaeology, astrophysics or mathematics for instance, experience shows that there is are infinite worlds, which then constitute points of view, where thought is used to seek answers to our lives. I think this outnumbered quantity of worlds and possible answers makes all of us fragile, unstable, uncertain, and thus vulnerable to beliefs proposing over-simplified worlds. I am passionate about man’s place in humanity, life, nature, and the universe. As time passes, my research expands, as do my questions.
aqnb: And precisely, what are your current interests?
LP: I’m coming back to the issue of time but on a geological scale, close to the universe, and integrating religious concerns, like the conflict opposing creationists with naturalists. I’m actually reading Ways of Worldmaking by Nelson Goodman, a philosopher and art specialist who theorized how worlds are multiple and complex.
In his book, he explains that the world isseen and understood either in an affective way, or sometimes in a scientific way. The conclusion is that no way is more valid than the other. In my work, I need to rub against these plural ways. To talk about current and real-world examples, I’m experimenting with processes to stop time and trick its perception. I artificially freeze plants, objects, watches and other everyday life things, reflecting the most realistic appearance of cold. I also stop the motion of curtains in the wind and candles that, when ignited, will never melt thanks to their bronze casting.
aqnb: The project ‘Transit’, launched with Gurwann Tran Van Gie and following the lengthy transformation of an overweight actress, is totally different from the rest of your work, referring more to a personal mythology than the collective and universal memory. Can you tell us more about it?
LP: This project was born out of a meeting with Gurwann Tran Van Gie and a French actress who doesn’t want to give her name. We decided to follow this person over the course of several months or years, seeing her transformation process on an on-going basis. The issue involves the metamorphosis of the body, the changes of seasons. We film the actress at various times of the day and stages of her regime and we will cut it off when she will have achieved her goal or simply decided to move on. So this is an experimental project in progress lasting for more than two years and that will probably be in the form of a video accompanied by her texts.
aqnb: Your first film, Still Alives, earned you a commissioned video projection for Jean-Paul Gaultier’s in 2009 haute couture Autumn-Winter fashion show, dedicated to the Hollywood icons. Is there any collaboration that you would love to develop in the future?
LP: I did have intermittent contact with live performing arts. I’m thinking about taking over a theatre space to highlight things, bodies or texts. I will surely renew my teamwork with choreographers or stage directors. But I would also really appreciate meeting and joining forces with theorists I find fascinating, such as Edgar Morin, Georges Didi-Huberman or Etienne Klein.
aqnb: In 2010 you were awarded the SAM Art Projects Prize, founded by collectors Sandra and Amaury Mulliez, and aiming to foster an exchange between the young French art scene and emerging countries. Did this award represent a turning point, a stepping-stone or an endorsement in your career?
LP: Yes, there is no doubt that it is a prestigious prize. The project that I was able to produce and exhibit at the Palais de Tokyo influenced other ones afterwards, directly or indirectly. It was an extraordinary stroke of luck. Sandra Mulliez has a strong-willed, intelligent and passionate personality. She’s not the only one, but she’s a reminder that the art scene in France still has tremendous potential.**
Header image: Laurent Pernot, ‘Help’ (2008). Image courtesy of Gallery Odile Ouizeman. © Laurent Pernot.