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Centre Pompidou Presents Marcel Duchamp Prize 2008 Winner: Laurent Grasso's The Horn Perspective
Projet pour Espace 315 by Laurent Grasso. Courtesy Galerie Chez Valentin, Paris.

PARIS.- In less than a decade, employing a variety of media and techniques, Laurent Grasso has produced a distinctive body of work that unsettles the viewer’s certainties. In Tout est possible [Anything is Possible] (2002) we overhear the inner thoughts of a man walking the streets, haunted by ghosts and extraterrestrials. In Radio Ghost (2004) we float above Hong Kong, listening to stories of real-life encounters with ghosts. 1619 (2007) presents us with an artificial aurora borealis, while Éclipse (2006) seemingly offers documentary images of an exceptional event: an eclipse at sundown. Untitled (2003-05) is a long travelling shot retreating before a mysterious cloud’s advance through the streets of Paris.

Grasso’s poetics belong to a new age of suspicion. The world supposedly made transparent and comprehensible by rationalism, positivism, scientific progress and technological development is rendered once again opaque and mysterious. This is an art that plays with the idea of a hidden or absent meaning.

If science provides the artist with some of his objects and motifs, it is far from being the only source. Likewise, while Grasso interests himself in paranormal phenomena, he does not believe in ghosts or spirits. Auroras and solar eclipses are far from entirely occupying his days and nights, while the global surveillance of telecommunications and the multiple universes postulated by string theory are no permanent obsessions. If his art makes use of ghost stories or of the most unlikely scientific facts, this is partly to create works that a more restricted imaginary would not have supported, but more fundamentally in order to resist the ideal of transparency projected by a society of communication and surveillance.

For Grasso, strangeness, mystery and hidden meaning are not only to be found at military bases or in extraordinary scientific phenomena. He can equally make us feel them in a simple film of starlings in the Roman sky, or as the camera wanders the studios of Cinecitta, amid the deserted sets of Gangs of New York.

Science and paranormal are not of interest in themselves, but simply the means by which Grasso’s art seeks to bring about a significant aesthetic shift: the end of the modernist paradigm of transparency.

In 1964, two American radio-astronomers using the Horn Antenna at Holmdel in New Jersey to study radio emissions from the outer reaches of our galaxy encountered an inexplicable background hiss that finally proved to be the “fossil” relic of the Big Bang that gave birth to the Universe some 13.7 billion years ago.

Laurent Grasso has made a sculpture of this antenna, and at the other end of Espace 315 he has placed a replica of antenna of Nikola Tesla’s. Tesla (1856-1943) was one of the most interesting scientists of his time: the master of electric power transmission, the inventor of radio, the first theorist of directed energy weapons, and a pioneer of ionospheric energy research. In 1899, his antenna at Colorado Springs was perhaps the first to detect radio waves from space.

In the middle of the gallery is a double-sided screen showing a strange travelling shot, seemingly panicked by the presence of the two antennae nearby. On one side, the image is scrambled and ghostly. On the walls are speakers of intriguing design, simultaneously modern and archaic, emitting a sound almost as enigmatic as the background hiss detected by the Holmdel horn antenna. What obscure phenomenon might lie behind it? To what is it the soundtrack?

With his film, sound and technical equipment, Laurent Grasso as ever evokes a meaning that lies just beyond our grasp, producing an atmosphere, a space in which all attempts to fix meaning are countered, disturbed, paralysed. In other words, he promotes paranoia – etymologically, a state of being beyond or beside mind or meaning, back with reality.

Between the Horn Antenna and Tesla’s, space shifts, time shifts, and anything is possible.

Centre Pompidou | Laurent Grasso | New Jersey | Nikola Tesla |

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