Un Chant d’amour from 1950 was the only film ever made by the iconoclastic writer Jean Genêt (1). It depicts prisoners in the solitude of their cells devising unique and unusual erotic acts. Everything is a sexual substitute, every object open to eroticization: a belt, a foot, a sock, a pistol, a cigarette, a straw. The prison guard watches the prisoners, then molests them, all the while dreaming of an elsewhere where they can abandon themselves to the desires of his fantasy.
Laura Lamiel’s piece entitled Les Yeux de W [The Eyes of W], recently shown at the CRAC in Sète (2), includes, amid various personal objects, a still frame from Chant d’amour. This clue steers the reading of the installation towards the discovery of intimate, political and erotic allusions. Created using spy mirrors, the piece arranges the space into two parts, similar to the layout of the exhibition in the gallery. Obeying the direction of the visit, one observes, through a one-way mirror, a desk and chair bearing the signs of a ghostly presence. A short straw like a thin cigarette is the only thing connecting the two spaces. Inside the installation, the chair and desk face a mirrored wall, reflecting them ad infinitum. Like the jailer in Genêt’s film standing outside the cell (3), in the role of voyeur, I peer eagerly inside. Once on the other side of the one-way mirror, in the role of the prisoner, I find myself in the safety of this enclosed space yet deprived of freedom, facing my own reflection. The solitude quickly becomes vertiginous as my gaze becomes lost in the repeated image. Only the thin straw borrowed from the film provides a way out of this self-engrossment: sending out a breath that someone on the other side of the partition might receive, like a cloud of smoke — a distant kiss or embrace.
In Laura Lamiel’s mirror pieces, the space of the studio and that of the cell are as one. To be seen without knowing who is looking at us: the installation is a metaphor for the very device of the exhibition — organizing the spectacle of the artist’s work without the artist being immediately present.
By using the one-way mirror, Laura Lamiel elaborates, beyond a mise en abyme of the exhibition, a profound reflection on our relationship to others. Whether addressing a peer (the prisoner in the cell next door) or the Other, whom we imagine to be the most alienated (the prison guard), communication is close to impossible. Separating the gallery into two spaces (the second space unreachable yet visible from the first space that is accessible from the street) replicates the divisions that we experience daily. Who are the “Others” who greedily watch “us” from the outside and whom “we” cannot see? Isn’t what we take as our reality just an illusory community defined by an arrangement of mirrors? How do we begin to understand one another when a thin straw is the only thing connecting us?
To circumvent the layout and gain entry to the inside of the cell, visitors are invited to retrace their steps and re-enter the gallery through the second entrance, thereby breaking the dialogue between voyeur and observed subjects. They can also choose to leave without experiencing the other side of the mirror.
In all this, Laura Lamiel’s work shows its political potential and resonates with contemporary social concerns. At the start of the installation, a coat patiently sewn by the artist out of cotton wool is placed on an enamelled chair, as if to warn us: bodies, like artworks, are vulnerable.
(1) Available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYJQgAIWg4c&t=1224s
(2) “Les Yeux de W”, CRAC-Centre Régional d’Art Contemporain, Sète, FR, 16.02 – 29.05.2019 (cur. Marie Cozette)
(3) Since the early 2000s, Laura Lamiel’s installations have carried the generic title of “cells”: monastic, penal, and also the cells that make up all beings. Cells represent our institutions and our environment, as well as our bodies.
(Translation: Francesca Devalier)
Laura Lamiel lives in Paris. Kunstverein Langenhagen, Germany (cur. Ursula Schöndeling), La Verrière, Brussels (cur. Guillaume Désanges), La Galerie – art center in Noisy-le-Sec, France (cur. Emilie Renard), Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne, France (cur. Anne Tronche, at the occasion of the AICA award) or The Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro have all organised solo exhibitions of her work. Her works were also shown at Malmö Konsthall and Biennale de Rennes (cur. François Piron), Mac/Val (Vitry-sur-Seine, FR), Biennale de Lyon (cur. Ralph Rugoff), Fundacio Joan Miro, Barcelona and Centre Pompidou, Paris among other places. Laura Lamiel is currently part of the group show “A Day with Mary Vassilieff” at MABA Nogent-sur-Marne, FR (cur. Mélanie Bouteloup and Emilie Bouvard). An important monographic publication has just been published by Paraguay Press at the occasion of her latest personal show at CRAC-Contemporary Art Center in Sète (FR, cur. Marie Cozette).
Warmest thanks to Josselin Vidalenc, Antonin Detemple, Laure Leprince, the team of CRAC-Sète and Léna Ortiz.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)