Commissioned by Laure Prouvost Light Hall at the National Museum of Oslo
Perched atop the new national museum in norway is the Light Hall, an iridescent marble box enclosing an open, cavernous space. Used for various group and thematic exhibitions, it will also host The Fredriksen Family Commissions, a series of five biennial projects in which international artists are invited to create a work or an installation – Laure Prouvost being the first.
The whole place was a construction site when the Brussels-based French artist made her first visit there. “There were pipes coming out of everywhere and I was like, could we just let nature take over, stop building and let the birds in?” she said, recalling a core of an idea that developed over subsequent visits. Flying north of Belgium, looking at the clouds, thinking about migration and a bird’s-eye view of the earth, the artist began to conceive of the Light Hall as an artificial cloud levitating above Oslo, and set out to create an ethereal and experiential atmosphere. inner world.
Climbing a staircase to the top of the museum, a narrow passage with a rising and falling floor acts as a threshold into Prouvost’s new realm. A huge video wall divides the Light Hall in two, this first side is what the artist calls the valley – “the valley of humans, production, consumption and consumerism, but also of belonging to nature “. Meandering pipes intertwine architecture and artifice, seeming to leak oil onto the terrazzo floor into pools trapping the detritus of consumerism and nature. However, in this dark environment, there are hints of how we humans might float away from earthly despair and into the clouds.
An intricate tapestry hangs, decorated with facts about migratory birds such as TERNS FLY 5700KM IN 7 DAYS WITHOUT ANY BREAK and MOST BIRDS TRAVEL ALONE. Prouvost says it was woven by his “grandmother” (a recurring character in his works) and cousins in Flanders, and that even though it is now hanging, “it really must be airlifted or a big bird to climb up and fly away from the museum.’ Another tapestry forms an enclosed, dark and cozy space in which the reassuring voice-over of the artist invites us to “stay forever if you want, lie down, do not hesitate to nest yourself”.
The looping film projected on the dividing wall contains a recurring and haunting song that Prouvost wrote with the Ghent musician Tsar B, performed by Singing Molenbeek, a children’s choir with which the artist became involved, which, according to she, “come from a disadvantaged district of Belgium and all come from different migratory backgrounds”. Grand Ma – omnipresent in the installation – also appears in the film, flying in the sky naked, smiling and weightless.
Prouvost tells us that Grandmother swings every Sunday on a rope from her husband’s plane: “She gets naked, jumps, feels the elements, the sky, connects to levitation and becomes something else. Like this story, we are never quite sure what is true or false in Prouvost’s creations, and his world is richer for it.
The architectural trompe-l’oeil gives the impression of holes carved deep into the ground beneath raised, sunken bridges behind the screen; the voices of the pipes recall dreams of floating; a rotating sculpture seems to levitate above a piece of Norwegian rock; and overturned hanging wicker baskets turn out to be VR headsets that offer an eerie replica of space, but with naked female mermaids gently encouraging the viewer to join them in levitation and ascend into another realm.
A cave-like tunnel runs from the valley, narrowing as it curves around the vast projection wall, hugging the body before leading it out into this other realm. Here, the space is a contrast, iridescent Nordic light penetrating the marble walls, and instead of oil slicks, the floor is blanketed in vaporous mists. It is a brighter and more optimistic world, to which the Boschian glass birds – made in Murano by Studio Berengo – have also migrated, as have huge boulders (real Norwegian valleys and fabricated simulacra) that float in empyreal weightlessness. In the film, Grand Ma once again happily flies through the air, but this time viewers joined in her exuberant ascent.
A soft central mound of a pattern replicating the terrazzo floor invites us to linger beneath twisting chandeliers of consumerist trash, as if it’s been sucked into a vortex from the valley floor and even them, the worst trash plastics, could turn into something of delicate beauty. Here it is time to lie down, sink into the cloud and slowly contemplate Prouvost’s delightful provocation to our earthly situations. She created a landscape – and a sky – of nurturing and welcoming, awash in motherly nurturing and dedication to craftsmanship – elements she describes as introducing his history in history.
Prouvost and his collaborators – human and non-human, and whether they sing, craft or steal – have created a space of fewer borders, above the Anthropocene, but a place from which to look through the clouds and imagine a better way, with a lighter touch, more magic and less hierarchies.
“Laure Prouvost. Above Front Tears Yes Float’ runs until February 12, 2023 at the National Museum of Norway. nasjonalmuseet.no