Artist Laure Prouvost Is Giving Away Massages at Her New Exhibition

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TGood CGEB install LPROUVOST 13 09 2019 _6094-Edit
In Reflection We Rest by Laure Prouvost

We speak to the Turner Prize-winning artist about her current Berlin exhibition, a playful yet thought-provoking space designed to inspire R&R

This year has seen the French-born, Belgium-based artist and Turner Prize-winner Laure Prouvost do many things: open her biggest exhibition to date, a retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp; perform at the Brussels performance art biennial, Performatik19; infiltrate advertising sites across all of London’s 270 Underground stations as part of TfL’s Art on the Underground scheme; and of course, represent France at this year’s Venice Biennale with a poetic musing on personal identity. What she hasn’t been doing is resting. Until now, that is. Her latest show – newly opened at Berlin’s Carlier | Gebauer gallery and titled In Reflection We Rest – is devoted to the concept of relaxation.

“After Venice, I was like, ‘How can I do another show? I need a rest,’” the artist says with a laugh, perched on a small table in the centre of the show, the day before its opening. “I worked really hard on resting all summer, and I wanted this to be a place where you could let go a bit. That’s why it’s kind of a mess,” she says, indicating to the many assistants helping to add the finishing touches to the display’s myriad components. “It’s a kind of campsite, a bedsite, a massage parlour.”

On the opening night, a masseuse will offer attendees back rubs in designated chairs, Prouvost explains, while one room is dedicated to a vast “breathing tent” for visitors to recline in. In the middle of the largest room is a double bed, upon which the ever-playful artist hopes visitors will make themselves at home. On it is a hand-painted duvet, which Prouvost tells me she stole from “grandma”, along with others strewn about the space. (For those not familiar with the artist’s amusing personal mythology, which blurs the line between fact and fiction, she has a fictional grandparents, her grandmother an Elton John-loving eccentric, who weaves Prouvost’s many tapestries.)

A number of these are presented here as floor coverings. “They’re grandma’s leftovers – ones I complained about and we had to do again.” A lot of the works on display are what Prouvost refers to as “leftovers” from recent shows: “because leftovers can be the best sometimes.” In a small dark screening room are two Venice leftovers – short film clips projected onto paintings.

“The narrative of these works is falling apart; the pixels are falling apart,” Prouvost explains of the visually enticing film fragments, featuring gaping fish mouths, and various fictional characters from her aquatic-themed Venice show. “It’s much more abstract than the Venice piece though – it’s like a subconscious reminiscence.” Elsewhere, monitors switch between imagery and typed phrases (Prouvost is known for her surrealist, often humorous wordplay). One, placed next to a “cooling system” comprised of a blown-glass cone, sprouting small, flower-like shower heads, informs us that “we might find [this] of use” in the midst of the global warming crisis – however whimsical, Prouvost’s work frequently carries a socio-political message.

Prouvost enjoys surprising visitors to her shows, poking fun at the serious nature of art – she shut off the main entrance to the French Pavilion in Venice, and forced the public to enter through a dank basement. The entrance to this exhibit is particularly entertaining: the artist has constructed a clay “airport security gate”, adorned with breasts (one of her trademarks) and phallic shapes. “Art is almost this entry to another state, but at the same time you’re really just clicking your brain into a different mode – you still belong in the same world,” she reflects. “I included potted plants in the show too, alongside the sculptures. I love if the work extends outside or the outside comes in; it’s lessening limits between what’s meant to be art and what’s not.” 

Entering the exhibition space itself requires you to ascend a staircase and wobble precariously down a giant slide. “You can roll into this show like when you were little on grass, and just stay there,” Prouvost says gleefully – and in this politically farcical time Prouvost’s calm, curious world is one we could happily remain in.

In Reflection We Rest is at Carlier | Gebauer in Berlin until November 9, 2019.