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Reviews

‘Undiscribable’

16 December 2013

I’ve been wondering what to say about Laure Prouvost’s work for two weeks now. In that time she won the Turner Prize. I wrote a few things down, deleted a few things, nothing seemed right. I asked some people, and everyone told me: her work is about translation and misunderstanding. Sitting in front of her film Monolog at the Contemporary Art Society I get that, but still, it doesn’t feel like the most important thing here.

© Contemporary Art Society and Joe Plommer

Monolog is witty and clever, highlighting the fallibility of language as a tool of communication through the use of words that are not from the artist’s mother tongue: ‘ideally here would be something undiscribable’. Something undiscribable. And finally it comes to me: the search for meaning is the meaning itself. Laure’s work is the something indescribable. What a relief to have found a category to put this work into. And I notice what a deep human need it is to pin things down, to ascribe meaning and to feel control.

Monolog is a nine minute film that humorously splices together so many seemingly random bits of footage and text and voiceover that I’m delighted but baffled. What am I watching? A sort of stream of consciousness, surreal but lucid, personal random associations that collide with the boundaries of what I’m able to take in without being forced to laugh. Is this ridiculous? Is that?

© Contemporary Art Society and Joe Plommer

One minute Laure’s headless torso points at a pile of clothing and tells me, in her beguiling French accent, that she’s folded the laundry while I’ve been ‘not exactly doing zat much’. A dog barks. She asks its owner to leave the gallery. She can’t concentrate on making a video whilst a dog barks. She’s messing with my comfortable categories again. I want to believe that I’m here now watching a video she made earlier. She doesn’t want to allow me that illusion, the illusion of a fixed space time relationship, an easy life of straightforward narrative continuity. She wants me to think for myself, to experience what is actually happening rather than resting on the comfortable lies I’ve been fed for the last 40 years.

Laure Prouvost

Laure Prouvost © Contemporary Art Society and Joe Plommer

The next minute I’m watching her friends holidaying in the sunshine. The next she’s asking me to imagine the fellow next to me without clothes. Then: ‘a very fat man with a red moustach stood up in front of the screen… it was so enjoying… my jumper was going all distorted’.

It’s absurd and charming and brilliant. Profound even. Prouvost is inviting me to let go of my erroneous belief in my ability to control. At the same time she’s asking me to come to my own conclusions about her work. She’s asking me to acknowledge that in so many ways I’m creating her work myself. It’s a collaborative effort between artist and viewer, a different thing to each of us. That’s how I see it. It will be different for you. For you it will be what you make of it. You will create your own thunderstorm and lightnings. For me Prouvost is the artist of a generation. For you she may not be.

‘Laure Prouvost: Monolog’ is at the Contemporary Art Society, London, until 17 January 2014.

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