Art Seen: International

Laurent Grasso // Soleil Double

by Stephanie Cristello

The farfetched is the closest thing to miracle.
– Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum

A Single Sun Does Not Exist

Miracles are real. Even once disproven by science, by time, by their inaccuracies and faults, the echo of their phenomena exists within the minds of those that have experienced them. Our shared history, the one taught in books, is filled with spectacular factual misgivings; the sensation of history hinges on a huge amount of faith, and our willingness to suspend the real, to give into fantastic visions over concrete evidence. When evidence is absent, when it is overlooked, or when it does not yet measurably exist, the inexplicable is often accepted as a marvel, as a singular omen of a dream made more real than reality itself. Our history is one that has frequently applied the affect of fake conviction to supplant the veracity of worldly events—and most of them have to do with the sky. As Susan Cross once wrote, ours is “a history ordered by the risings and settings of the same orb.[1]” Constellations dictate fate, comets and meteors rip through our atmosphere from an unfounded heaven; eclipses were once seen as momentarily threatening to obliterate the sun. The further back we go into history, the more we see these fragments of exaggerated fiction.

Laurent Grasso, "Studies into the Past," 2014

Laurent Grasso,
“Studies into the Past,” 2014

But even now these experiences still exist. Laurent Grasso’s recent exhibition, Soleil Double, which just closed at Galerie Perrotin in Paris after its concurrent run in New York at Sean Kelly, presents the miracle as a quantifiable enchantment, traced from antiquity to the contemporary moment. While the mystic so often depends on the inexplicable, Grasso suggests that miracles are an entirely discernible phenomenon. As cited in the catalogue, “During the First World War, the German army produced artificial fogs onto which it projected an image of the Virgin Mary with her arms open in peace to influence enemy soldiers.[2]

In a game of illusion, Grasso summons references to curiosities famed to have taken place in the far, and not so distant, past—whether in the ancient records that reported the true astonishment of seeing the first solar eclipse, or more recently in modern uses, like the crafted mirage in WWI, as a weapon. The internalization of witnessing miracles knows no bounds. Through a poignant display of historical artifacts and recently made works, visual cues and immersive experiences, Soleil Double proves that miracles are real, not only through their representation, but through their manifestation.

Laurent Grasso, "Studies into the Past," 2014

Laurent Grasso, “Studies into the Past,” 2014

The eclipse is an appropriate metaphor to begin with for this exhibition, since the work too must be consumed and considered as a whole. In every instance of the space, within the smaller galleries, open spaces, corridors, and even in the pieces themselves, Grasso creates an affect of visual doubling. As the title of the exhibition suggests, the central tenet of the collected works on view begins with an image that departs from a type of eclipse—a related image that imagines a second possible outcome—the introduction of a second sun. The experience of the world pictured within Soleil Double is affected by the logic of this identical celestial body; the apparition of a second sun is the catalyst for every image and installation presented. Rimbaud called it dédoublement; some have called it selfsame, some the other.

The two side-by-side orbs occupy many of the images on view. This sun, a twin of the original, is not legibly different from its counterpart; one sun is not the copy of the other, they are coexistent. A single sun does not exist, but there is no limit to how many suns do exist; the apparition of a second opens up the possibility of infinite others. With this single introduction, the entire conception of how we interact with the work as a whole is affected. Here, the second sun is foreboding—it gives our world a dark light, it haunts.

This metaphor is literally and figuratively applied to documents of the past, or at least to the aesthetic of the past, throughout Soleil Double. In one of the first galleries, a collection of small oil paintings entitled Studies of the Past, are installed sparingly throughout the space. The small panels, like fragments salvaged from an abandoned church, their surface uneven and curved as if they once belonged to a Byzantine dome, are painted in 18th century-style—practically indiscernible from early Italian or Flemish primitives. The imagery pictures various scenes of natural disasters—volcanic eruptions, raptures, emblazoned comets ripping like fire through mountainous villages, blood raining from the above, a magnified orb looming heavily in the center of the sky, and frequently, a second sun. In this collection of paintings, as well as all other works in the exhibition, history takes precedence. Grasso continuously privileges the fiction of history through this work. The faithfulness to falsehood, to lore, is not used to recount stories that have already been told, but to re-affect the stories we know well. The narrative of the plague is familiar, as are its representations. But by forcing a foreign body into the depiction of history, these already strange images of biblical destruction seem even stranger. Studies of the Past illustrates the damages brought to earth not by a God, but by an interloping sun—almost pagan in its mysterious force. Perhaps the narrative depicted within this exhibition is the twin of familiar history as well, a mirrored representation of our earth that belongs to the equivalent planet within the second sun’s solar system—a parallel universe.

Vue de l'exposition "Soleil Double" de Laurent Grasso à la Galerie Perrotin, Paris, 2014

Vue de l’exposition “Soleil Double” de Laurent
Grasso à la Galerie Perrotin, Paris, 2014

Grasso’s imagined concept looks forward as much as it does backward. In one of the second floor galleries of the space, a neon piece hangs on the center wall. Two perfectly bent circles in different hues of white neon—one warmer, one slightly cooler—subtly overlap one another, creating a marginally uneven glow. Entitled Eclipse, the neon piece appears like a sliver of a Venn diagram, where the similarities make up most of the entire whole, while representing the work’s title in its simplest geometrical form. Flanking either side of the left and right walls of this piece are archival photographs of spectators at the Miracle of the Sun, near Fátima, Portugal, in 1917. The crowd stares together toward the double neon sun. In the distance, we hear a delicate ambient sound, like the dissonant and unpredictable moan made by your finger when you run it around the edge of a crystal glass after dipping it in water. The embodied installation of this gallery (equally sight and sound) enacts the material experience of anticipation; the photographs, neon sculpture, and audio all serve to enlist their final material—the viewer. For Grasso, the spectator in the gallery is implied no differently than the spectators in the photograph. The hierarchy between human experience and the status of the object is broken. Though alone, you watch Grasso’s Eclipse in company.

Vue de l'exposition "Soleil Double" de Laurent Grasso à la Galerie Perrotin, Paris, "Soleil noir," 2014.

Vue de l’exposition “Soleil Double” de Laurent
Grasso à la Galerie Perrotin, Paris, “Soleil noir,” 2014.

Soleil Double frequently breaks these boundaries between the viewer and the work. The fissures between past and present create a type of sublime regressive-ness to the experience of the exhibition; the viewer is constantly refocusing, and being refocused, in time and place. In an adjacent gallery of the second floor space, we learn the source of the sound heard in the other rooms—it is the accompanying soundtrack to Grasso’s film installation, Soleil Noir. The projection occupies the entire wall of the gallery, from floor to ceiling, where a camera very slowly spans the varied terrain of a volcano, filmed from high above. Here, the viewer becomes a voyeur, surveying the questionably dormant territory below, intermittently filled with passages of pluming smoke, and mountainous ridges that resemble desert dunes. The landscape is pregnant with expectation, as if the rupture is imminent. After all, a volcanic eruption is the closest experience we have to touching the surface of the sun.

Of course, disaster never strikes—though the camera continues to indifferently record the volcano beneath it, unconcerned and clinical. While the detachment between the camera and the subject may be severe, the landscape is no less sublime, no less tantalizing, for the viewer. In Soleil Noir, we anticipate the same beauty and fear Fátima must have inspired in the spectators photographed in the other room. For us, the miracle never comes. The displacement of expectation is the final piece.

In an observation that belongs to the exhibition’s subject itself, viewing Soleil Double is like staring straight into the sun—its brightness continues to echo in your vision long after you look into it. Close your eyes and you see the ghosts of its many shapes in a rainbow of colors, beating a pattern against the black screen of your eyelids. Soleil Double is itself only a script, each viewer’s perception their own cinematic screen. Though a world with two suns might be experienced in terrible brightness, its invention is a necessary device. This exhibition is not about experiencing the literal illumination of a second sun, but of the possibilities a false pretext opens to reexamining facets of history once accepted as unequivocally true. Deception offers us a closer look. Strict reality, the tangible, tells a shallow story of our world; a mere shadow—an eclipse without resolve. As Grasso suggests, there is far more truth to be won in fiction.


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Stephanie Cristello is the Editor-in-Chief for THE SEEN, and a Senior Editor US for ArtSlant.

Soleil Double at Galerie Perrotin ran from September 6–October 31, 2014.


[1] Finch, Spencer, Susan Cross, Daniel Birnbaum, and Suzanne Perling Hudson. What Time Is It on the Sun? North Adams, MA: MASS MoCA, 2007. Print.

[2] Laurent Grasso, Exhibition Catalogue, Galerie Perrotin, 2014.

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