“You are six minutes late,” you are told.
A curious observation, you think, as you just spent these last minutes figuring out whether or not to push open the nondescript door that seems to have been thrust into the center of the gallery, sensed your way through the black corridor (the darkness requires that you follow the voices filtering from the adjacent room, almost feeling your way down the hallway), along which, by the way, you momentarily pause when a spotlight flashes on a green teapot posing as a blue cup and a cake that “is so pleased to be here with you and not stuck in storage.” You then enter what appears to be a waiting room—potted plants, a coffee table with magazines, and a miniature zen garden—and, as you might in any waiting room, you decide to sit and wait, for a few minutes at least, on one of the provided chairs. While doing so, you might notice that the objects around you seem to be humming, softly, collectively, as if willing you to slow down and catch your breath.
It’s after this elaborate sequence of events, by which point you’ve most likely lost your sense of time and place, that you walk into the central video room and are told, somewhat audaciously, that you are six minutes late.
So begins Laure Prouvost’s new moving image work, They Are Waiting for You. Prouvost works primarily in film, but it would be a disservice to call her solely a video artist; she creates intricate, immersive installations often composed of painting, sculpture, and found objects that seem to spill out from the screen into the physical space of the viewer. In doing so, she breaks through the supposed fourth wall of film and playfully challenges the formal qualities of the medium—its flatness, the fact that, as the images that flash before us lament, they will soon be tucked away in storage and “kept in a USB stick.”
Like many of her other videos, this new work upends the traditional relationship between artwork and viewer, addressing us directly in ways that might feel unfamiliar, even uncomfortable. Using a complex interplay of written words (in the form of intertitles and subtitles), spoken words (usually narrated in the artist’s soft, seductive voice), recorded sounds, and moving images,she instructs us to close our eyes, demands our complete focus, and threatens to push us out of the room. She also engages us indirectly, in subtler, subconscious ways, ultimately implicating the viewer in the making of the piece. Playing on the notion that we are conditioned to read printed words using our own internal voices, she flashes words across the screen mid-sentence: a thought that may have begun with the artist’s voice is completed in our own, literally enacting the idea that her works, like any artworks, “need you to exist.” With the visual components, too, Prouvost pulls on a stockpile of moving images that trigger our own memories of similar encounters, smells, sensations—a palm tree rustling in the breeze, a finger squishing into the flesh of a wet, ripened fruit.
Prouvost uses the space around the main moving image piece to further destabilize the conditions in which we are accustomed to encountering art. Where we might have come to expect a brightly lit, white cube gallery, the installation presents the aforementioned darkened, labyrinthine corridor that interferes with our conception of an unmediated experience of art. Instead of sparsely hung walls with well-defined boundaries between art and non-art, the space is characterized by overflow and excess. Do we walk on top of the puddles of resin—embedded with dead bees, plants, receipts—that seem to melt into the floor, or do we find ourselves impossibly tiptoeing around them?
“Don’t forget what the blue cup meant,” you are told, as you leave the room. But, of course, you’re not sure what the blue cup means. Question everything, Prouvost seems to say, as you walk out of the gallery onto the terrace.