During a searing heatwave, a glass-paned exterior in Paris’s emblematic urban-village of Belleville displays a simple cursive line: ‘La mer rouge’ (The Red Sea). A discrete oasis, French artist Laura Lamiel’s show at Marcelle Alix proposes a sanctuary of disquieted forms.
Starting out in the early 1980s, the former painter found her vocabulary in the architectural expression of enamelled steel, systematically developing her serial contained landscapes, which she terms cellules (cells), that dually skirt the sober formality of minimalism and the implicative estrangement of conceptualism. Integrating found objects, drawings, paintings, sculptures and photographic documentation into her installations, Lamiel’s seemingly sparse spaces are nevertheless deeply occupied with material concerns.
From the slanted, narrow street, we enter a cavity-like room of scuffed French tapis tiles. Two untitled window-sized sketches, burrowed densely with ink and pencil on either wall, gaze just past each other. Our gaze is drawn to a passageway that, upon closer view, is obstructed by a half-open door, made from a two-way mirror, reflecting the layered white installation before it. This initial glimpse introduces us to an ongoing relationship that Lamiel extends to the visitor, where blind spots become vantage points of perception.
A white coat of cotton wool tufts, sewn by the artist, is laid over a white enamel chair. The piece recalls Lamiel’s sewn coat structures in the work Trois ans, trois mois, trois jours (Three years, three months, three days, 2016) shown at Villa Vassilief in Paris in 2016. Within the coat’s folds, a warm, yellow light is emitted; electrical cords extend from the fluffed hem, down the stiff chair leg, across the well-worn floor and into an exposed socket. The contrasting elements – warmth and coolness, rigour and leniency, exposure and privacy – are ellipses, outlining within them a somatic presence, a suggested body that communicates through what it has left behind.
Beyond the door ajar stands Lamiel’s workspace ‘cellule’, Les yeux de W (2) (The eyes of W 2, 2018). The intimate unit presents a dark enamel worktable and chair where the artist has placed various personal items. The desk lamp faintly shines upon a neat stack of the artist’s own black-bound notebooks, topped with a smooth meditative stone, next to a duo of marigold-orange books about spiritual wisdom, with a folded matching cloth holding incense sticks in the same colour. A pair of fatigued industrial leather gloves are separated: the left glove is mounted as a sculpture in one corner, and the right, deflated, clutches a drill bit in the other.
This view, however, is only partial. The visitor must backtrack their steps outside of the gallery and into another entrance to access this personal cell. This induced interruption reinforces Lamiel’s resistance to the art space as aesthetic vacuum. Further detours maintain this consciousness, such as the inclusion of three impulsive drawings – Tête perdue (Lost head), Langue (Tongue), Racine (Root) – in graphite, Indian ink and lipstick, creating strokes of sudden flesh, from Lamiel’s visceral ‘Forclose’ series (2018) – the Lacanian term for a type of defence mechanism – in the rooms leading up to the workspace.
Arriving from the opposite side, we can see through the spy mirror. Two sets of eyes, above the desk and chair, etched into smaller nestled sketches, peer out. Just above the desk, a newspaper clipping shows a man at his worktable, captioned ‘Giovanni Bosco at his home’ – an Italian priest who dedicated his life to the education of delinquent street youth – during the Industrial Revolution in Turin – through a method employing love over punishment.
Lamiel’s physicalized nomenclature of the gaze is keenly incubated in each cell and within the visitor’s trajectory. The connotative patterns, repetitive or divergent, simulate a call and response around our perception, which is itself foregrounded. The eyes, however, are not institutional, but personal – the binocular schism between our own and another’s coming into focus.
Laura Lamiel’s ‘La Mer Rouge’ is on view at Marcelle Alix, Paris, until 20 July.
Main image: Laura Lamiel, Les yeux de W (2), 2018, enamelled steel table, steel chair, enamelled steel chair, lamp, 2 drawings (ink and pencil on paper, 21 × 29 cm), paper, neon, hydrophilic sewn coton, various elements, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Marcelle Alix, Paris