Saturday, September 15, 2018

Laurent Grasso, OttO @ Galerie Perrotin

Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018

Laurent Grasso’s OttO is a complex and fascinating exhibition that ticks so many of my personal “not to be missed” boxes. The experimental film that gives its title to the exhibition, OttO was filmed in the Australian outback in the region of Ayers Rock and the Olgas on the territory of the Yuendumu aboriginal community. Grasso sent drones and hyperspectral cameras into the air to video the otherwise invisible energy and activities of the earth and its atmosphere. As an Australian, I grew up knowing all about the Aboriginal Songlines that were brought to international renown by Bruce Chatwin’s 1987 novel with that same title. The Songlines are the dream paths that follow the spirits of the earth that, in turn, give life and meaning to Australia's indigenous cultures. Each of these paths has a song that is the language of the Dreamtime, which, when sung brings the aborigines together with the earth, rocks, and vegetation as they wander nomadically across their ancient land. Grasso’s cameras find their own different paths, but still in the spirit of the Songlines.
Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018
It’s striking to see the desert through Grasso’s drones, to wonder at the energies that are made visible and to think of the 65,000 years of history that are contained in the lines they trace. And perhaps most profound of all is that while we might have wrought havoc on much of the earth’s atmosphere, polluted the seas and built structures that cover over the tens of thousands of years of history secreted by the land, the Australian desert is largely untouched by human manipulation. It is uninhabitable. Deserts like this area of Northern Australia have the last laugh; together with the sea, they are perhaps the only places left where we can still connect to the prehistoric, to the history of time. Give or take the erosion and other time related changes, the desert is surely one of the last places that looks like it did 65,000 years ago. It is also one of the last places on earth where the spirit of the earth can still enter into our beings.

Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018
Grasso’s film underlines our diminished importance in the face of this land. The activities of the atmosphere and the land, the weather and the skies are unceasing and frenetic; we see flames bursting out of rock crevices, water veins suddenly appearing, and a vast, incomprehensible salt lake (presumably Swanson Lake) appear in the middle of nowhere. This landscape is a phenomenon that undoes any ideas we might have that we will ever fully understood and conquer this world. It is an infinite mystery.
Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018
The images recorded through the drone show rocks, red earth, and the wild growth of the desert floor. And then in images from the hyperspectral cameras, we see a world in brilliant, glaring colours, filled with spectres and shadows, the secrets of a magnificent landscape revealed for their vibrant and unceasing energy. In among the shapes in gaudy yellows, purples and reds, we see the form of a man in an Akubra hat. He is apparently Otto Jungarrayi, a Waripiri Elder who guided Grasso across the terrain. Otto's figure is fused together with the land and its energy, making visible his place across generations in the weaving of Songlines in the Dreamtime. The booklet given out at the exhibition tells us that Otto has a counterpart: Winfried Otto Schumann (1888-1974) a German physicist who discovered “the low frequency reflecting in between the earth’s surface and the ionosphere and its wavelength coincided with one over the integer of the circumference of the Earth.” In other words, Otto Schumann made a scientific discovery that would eventually lead to Grasso’s visualization of the invisible mysteries that have given substance and meaning to indigenous Australians for thousands of years.

Laurent Grasso, OttO, 2018
Exhibition Installation
Galerie Perrotin
The remainder of the exhibition includes images and objects that support the theme of making visible the invisible energies that surround us in a world we otherwise think we know and command. The physics, electronics and technology that Grasso uses to make his art are sophisticated, and he includes multiple historical, philosophical and artistic references to elevate his works into conceptual sculptures that, nevertheless, can be aesthetically exquisite. His materials of glass, steel, ether, copper, light, wood, stone and even screens, are sumptuous, and they remind us of the textures and reflections, the unseen turns that we overlook in the objects and images on the paths of our daily lives. Grasso’s work is riveting and not to be missed—even for those who are not tied to the Australian outback as a spiritual home.

All images courtesy Galerie Perrotin

No comments: