Laure Prouvost

For forgetting
Curator: Margot Norton
The New Museum, New York
12 February - 13 April 2014

‘Deeper! I want it to go deeper, deeper!’ Desperate as a child, Laure Prouvost’s hands press the screen frantically. ‘I want it to be deep! Deeper! This room needs to be deeper, much deeper!’ 

Laure Prouvost’s video works display a constant naïve desire for something better, a yearning for something more beautiful, something, something … what? Even she does not seem to quite know. In her recent solo exhibition at the New Museum, her first in the United States, the 2013 Turner Prize winner combined a number of video works with a playful installation populated by mannequins, pot plants, fake handbags and Nigerian scam emails.

In the Museum’s lobby, Prouvost divided the long space into a series of rooms, the layout playing on scale, with each room at angles with the others and changing in size and light. This labyrinthine structure makes her disorienting videos all the more so, as the audience feels in turns amused and vulnerable, as the voiceover shifts from manic to dreamy and back again.

Dividing the long space is a black video room screening the film How To Make Money Religiously, which, as the title suggests, offers a get-rich scheme interlaced with spiritual fervour. Contemporary ideals of money and possession, the desire to be greater and have more, are cast in a bizarrely sweet world of personal histories and shared fears.

Prouvost draws upon the humour inherent in the forced intimacies of digital marketing, forever tailored to make the recipient believe it is them, and only them, who is being addressed. There is a point where the wariness with which we approach the internet, infomercials and constantly being sold something, dissolves into pleasure at the spectacle, each entreaty designed for us alone.

Either side of the video room, the walls are printed with murals, stock images and email texts, with smaller shelved works and monitors dotted around. There are low doorways to duck under, and through peepholes other videos are playing erratic and disconnected images. The effect is somewhere between a treehouse and an abandoned office building after the recession. Playful murals, video screens and stock images dot the space, and onscreen are flash images of tropical islands, email templates, cubbyholes and hiding places, each component speaking to the weirdly nostalgic décor of an early-millennium office building of sad dead plants and roller chairs. It is a landscape of identity theft in the post-digital economy, when the fluidity between the West and developing worlds has created shadow economies of internet scams and bank fraud.

Prouvost’s charmingly accented English is always wishing, wishing, wishing, ‘I wish the room was nicer. I wish I was better’. As though the artist and her images were inseparable, she embodies the voice of the image, in turns cajoling and mocking. ‘Even you here watching this—you are getting older. You can talk over me, I don’t mind!’ This strategy is used to great effect in the enormous billboard announcing itself to the lobby and the street: ‘IDEALLY THIS SIGN WOULD REMEMBER YOU’. 

Image can only hint at a thing, but Prouvost’s images are desperate to become the real thing, or to persuade you that they are. ‘I wish I was real! I wish I was stronger! Why can’t I make you understand!?’ They push and knock at the projected screen, desperately grasping at reality. The audience is drawn in to the interplay between digital and physical, between expectation and reality, as the pacing builds for a climax that never arrives.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Prouvost said: ‘For years, I misunderstood a lot of English words, and you go off-piste, your imagination steps in. If you misunderstand someone’s art, you create a new art’. Her body of work is built on a foundation of inaccuracy, of misunderstanding and mistranslation. Each facet of the installation offers another interpretation, the story layering possibilities for a fragmented non-linear narrative where the sensible is abandoned and nuances seem casual but are unbelievably precise.

It is a question of how to translate language, of course, but also how to translate feeling to image, the physical to the digital, the real to the representation. All art is an act of translation, or mistranslation, the difficulty in translating and the effort nonetheless to do so. The artist continues at an impossible task scattered, but with a sense of deep purpose, as though the meaning is hiding somewhere below. 

On the occasion of her New Museum show, Prouvost arrived to a talk, newborn in tow, with a bag of cold raspberries. ‘We picked these in the park for you, it took all afternoon!’, she said sweetly, handing them out to the audience. Outside, the polar vortex raged on. This finely tuned sense of the absurd, the pleasures of life undercut with anxiety about failure, also characterised Prouvost’s Turner Prize winning work, Wantee, which combined deep idealism and charming absurdity with the sense that the audience is only getting half of the story. Despite using acts of language in opposition to perception, Prouvost herself is wary of drawing clear motivations from her work. ‘I think the image speaks it better than me.’ About a sly dig at the Pope, she jokes: ‘That wasn’t me—I would never say anything like that. It was the image!’

Impulsive and charming, Prouvost’s work isolates the contemporary moment when concerns about internet security, privacy, and the digitisation of daily life are at an all time high. On one hand, technology will make us more connected, better workers, better friends. On the other, we are increasingly manipulated by advertising and the media. ‘It looks like this—this will happen—you will feel this way.’ The work combines playfulness and naïvety alongside an overt manipulation of the emotions and senses, great humour tempered by a knowing undercurrent of provocation. In the films, quick cuts and immersive colour combined with flashing text give the impression of meaning, but the intended message always remains slightly obscured. 

Laure Prouvost, How To Make Money Religiously, 2014. Stills. HD video, 8:44min. Courtesy of the artist and MOT International, London and Brussels. From the exhibition For forgetting, 2014. New Museum, New York. 

Laure Prouvost, How To Make Money Religiously, 2014. Stills. HD video, 8:44min. Courtesy of the artist and MOT International, London and Brussels. From the exhibition For forgetting, 2014. New Museum, New York. 

Laure Prouvost, How To Make Money Religiously, 2014. Stills. HD video, 8:44min. Courtesy of the artist and MOT International, London and Brussels. From the exhibition For forgetting, 2014. New Museum, New York. 

Laure Prouvost, How To Make Money Religiously, 2014. Stills. HD video, 8:44min. Courtesy of the artist and MOT International, London and Brussels. From the exhibition For forgetting, 2014. New Museum, New York.