An early adopter to an ADD aesthetic that has since become more prevalent, Laure Prouvost formerly dispensed her shattering kineticism in small doses via her moving-image works. Several of these short videos employed screeching smashcuts to switch from the whispering intimacies of her own soft voice to other sounds and images that were overwhelmingly sensuous and impressionistic – car crashes, descriptions of smell, smoke, feathers, breaking glass – creating a compelling poetry of desire and repulsion. Others were short, comedic, surreal vignettes, presented by the artist as personal stories.
Prouvost has been recently channelling her particular visual syntax into a project of larger scale and ambition: a feature-length film adaptation of artist Rory MacBeth’s text The Wanderer by Franz Kafka, in which he attempted to translate Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (1915) from the original German, with no working knowledge of the language. Prouvost’s film takes as many liberties as MacBeth’s, and is divided into seven sections, each with its own accompanying gallery installation, of which this iteration is the fifth.
MOT gallery has been flipped upside down – the floor has become the ceiling and vice versa. In the viewer primed by knowledge of Prouvost’s project, this topsy-turvy space immediately brings to mind Gregor Samsa, Kafka’s famous protagonist, waking to find his world overturned, realising that he has become a ‘monstrous vermin’ and fallen on his back, unable to get up. A coat rack with a grubby beige dressing gown extends from the ceiling, as do desks with dangling phones and fluttering fans, and a set of temporary, grey exhibition walls on which hang a series of sketchy cartoonish paintings of faces and shapes. Picture lights curve up rather than down, and Prouvost has suspended small objects in front of them, which throw amusing shadows on the images. Strategically hung mirrors alert viewers to a common Prouvostian device – backwards messages scrawled in hidden places, only visible with conspicuous reflective devices – which effectively ignite curiosity and draw viewers into a crime-scene-like atmosphere of investigation and enigma.
As for the film itself, the production values are high (testament to the enabling powers of an award from Film London Artists’ Moving Image Network), and in this section, the action takes place in a bunker whose furniture, too, has been turned on its head. A group of uniformed men attempt to locate an elusive ‘Gregor’ in a baffling environment that is ostensibly ‘Cold War era’, and yet the characters are constantly interrupted by ringing iPhones, emails and contemporary modes of communication: a source of irritation that will be all too familiar to viewers. “Communication is going a lot faster,” an officer bellows at one stage, frustrated that his colleagues appear to be busy using devices of one sort or another and are not listening to him. “What is so important that we can’t communicate?” Well, quite.
Prouvost’s exhibition skilfully layers up the multiple slippages between languages and systems of communication. From phones to speech, text to email, paintings to scrawled messages, all forms of communication wheel around multiple mutations of Kafka’s original tale. Outlandishly, however, all is not lost in this process. ‘Gregor’, for whom everyone searches, is as much a missing object as he was in Kafka’s work about a man trapped in the body of a cockroach. Gregor’s form became his being, his medium his message. Might we be trapped too, by our language and our modes of communication, mutating all the while? In Prouvost’s film we see several closeups of text-message exchanges on the ubiquitous iPhone. ‘You’re missing everything,’ says one message. ‘You’re missing everything,’ comes the reply.