• Essay

  • November 4th, 2013 11.04.2013

    On the Theory of the Invisible


    “For Kandinsky, white was the color prior to all things; it was the place of the possible, where everything can and will be born”1 writes Michael Henry, in his book Seeing the Invisible, on Kandinsky. While it is possible to consider such infinite potential of the symbolic understanding of a color, these considerations become firmly grounded the moment an artist decides to engage with the subject matter white. There is a considerable lineage of artists who have delved into such a subject: French artist Laura Lamiel is not the first, nor will she be the last. Perhaps the enduring beauty of such an engagement is not the potential of the color itself, but that of the individual who wields it. The visual void created by the color white is quickly filled with the characteristics of the human: the viewer and the artist, who engage directly with each other through the color’s thin veil. This is surely the case with Lamiel’s recent exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Étienne Métropole, where the stark space of the cabinet d’art graphique becomes imbued with each small mark and detail.

    An alternative understanding of this phenomenon can be found in John Cage’s composition 4’33”.  For four minutes and thirty-three seconds, a pianist sits motionless at his instrument before the audience. The “motionless” is a lie. The performer breaths, blinks, twitches, sags and straightens. And silence does not exist. The audience sniffles, breaths, shifts in their chairs. The work is impossibly human, a declaration that “nothing” does not exist as long as there is someone to contemplate the concept. Cage himself was inspired by Rauschenberg’s White Paintings, completed in 1951 at Black Mountain College, to the shock and confusion of the college community and the New York scene, who would not exhibit them for several more years. The shock and confusion has faded since. But the expectations by the artist who works with white are no less forceful, no less demanding of the viewer than they were in 1951, or even before that in 1918 when Kasimir Malevich’s completed White on White.  One year later, Malevich would present a manifesto to accompany the exhibition of the painting, “Swim in the white free abyss, infinity is before you.”2 While Malevich’s aims corresponded to a political ideology, Lamiel appeals much more to the individual, and to herself.

    The Prix AICA France exposition, proposed by critic Anne Tronche, is a closed-circuit. The works create a perpetual mirroring of our space and her space, as she invites us to stand back or stand close, identify with or measure ourselves against her color and material sensibilities.3 While the immediate impact of the varying whites in the exhibition, emitted by both the work and the lighting, is cold and distant, Lamiel quickly brings us closer with the invocation of a body. Ce corps qui set en moi, is the title of the first piece that caught my attention, installed just left of the entrance. It is also one of the more recent works, completed this year. It is a jacket, made of a material reminiscent of a mattress cover or duvet, with the title written in lead wire script and resting against the soft cotton. One must stand between it and the wall to view three drawings, Trois ans, trois mois, trois jours, 2012. From afar, the drawings appear to be perfect circles created by a uniform texture. Yet, upon closer inspection, it is clear that the texture is produced by a repetitive mark-making by the artist – small, neat, but far-from perfect scratch marks that spiral outward. The drawing placed in the center is not just small marks but the word a repetition of the word OM, overtly revealing the works meditative qualities of process and Lamiel’s interest in Eastern spirituality. In each of the three drawings, channels are formed by the inconsistency of the human hand, giving them a finger-print quality, enforced by the warmth of the paper against the white wall.

    This warmth, though subtle, allows us to comfortably approach the remainder of the exhibition, which often incorporates enameled steel and glass, characteristic of much of Lamiel’s work. The hard edges and cold surface of the steel is sometimes softened by the collaging of white synthetic fur or cotton, either placed directly upon the object or layered over the photograph. Images of interior spaces are printed upon the enameled steel, high gloss, and high contrast. But once again, as one draws closer, the grain of the photograph softens our immediate impression. Often the materials of the images are present in the space, either through manipulation in collage or in the installation that stands against the far wall. It is a conflation of interiors, of the space of the gallery and of her studio which is made present through the installation. A decision to include soft pencil handwriting on some pieces returns all of the work to process, to a temporal investigation and constant rearranging. It posits Lamiel in this ongoing history of the power of white, in a very personal way.

    1. Henry, Michel. Seeing the Invisible: On Kandinsky. London: Continuum, 2009. 131. Print.
    2. Harrison, Charles, and Paul Wood. Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. 293. Print.
    3. http://www.mam-st-etienne.fr/index.php?rubrique=335