Laurent Montaron, at Monitor Gallery
Laurent Montaron (b.1972, Verlneaul-sur-Avre, France) presents, at Monitor Gallery, in Lisbon, his first solo exhibition in Portugal, until 7 November 2020.
The first paragraph of Montaron’s introductory text ends with the words: “to observe and understand the world”. How we understand the world is an extremely complex issue, covering different disciplines of study, but is also commonplace and accessible, as it belongs to the order of daily experience shared by all. And, perhaps, because it is intuitive, we do not consider that our understanding is shaped by the technology available. I’m writing this article on a device that connects small plastic structures to a luminous screen. Each gesture of mine is digitally translated, making it possible to read my words dematerialized. Less than 150 years ago, such a text would have been written with ink and paper. Writing is now completely different. Because it is so common and banal, the technology that allows me to write like this does not surprise me, nor do I question it. Laurent’s work speaks about these questions related to modernity, from the history of technology and the evolution of different belief systems and superstitions.
The exhibition is subtle. Several layers of meaning of the seven works come together to create a dialogue and a proposition for visitors. The first room seems to be an invitation. The work Lavarsi le mani – an installation consisting of a basin, a jug, a soap dish and a checkered towel on top of apple boxes, is inspired by Maria Montessori’s pedagogy, where children are forced to wash their hands before entering the classroom. On the opposite side of the room is a photograph of a child watching a beam of light inside a safe. The two works in composition, the hygienic routine and the child’s gaze, appeal to the purity of the observer. Perhaps it is the possibility of recovering the innocent gaze before the outside world and suspend the “normative vision of the world imposed by science and technique”.
In the second room, there are four works in different media. Crystal Radio is an old television that plays a looped video. In the film, we see the hands of the artist handling a radio receiver, attempting to find a signal. The introductory text clarifies that this radio is one of the most rudimentary devices, which emerged in the early days of this technology, made from the mineral galena. Today, this metal is used in computer batteries, but it was once considered a magical element in alchemical processes. The artist’s film brings to the present different understandings about this material and overlaps two historical moments, putting science and alchemy in contact.
The piece Grounded is a fencing sword connected to electricity and the ground. It is installed vertically on the wall to the right of Crystal Radio. This work refers to a conception of science – the grounding of electrical engineering – and the therapeutic practice of different modalities that concern the connection of man to earth, as an exercise in energy grounding.
Apple boxes, as in the first room of the gallery, are in the centre, as support for a piece. In this case, it is part of the work Shofars, a wax horn mould. The title and the mould refer to one of the oldest and most sacred wind instruments in the Jewish tradition. The shofar was used on solemn occasions to remind Jews of their religious services, as an awakening of earthly things.
The piece entitled Live is an ancient Sony recorder placed near the room’s glass window and can be seen from outside the gallery. The device constantly records the sounds of the exhibition, superimposing the recording of the experience on a continuous loop.
The works Crystal Radio, Shofars and Live talk about technologies related to sound and communication. Together, they create a constellation of intertwined references, between science and superstition. At different historical moments, the shofar, the radio and the recorder would be devices for transmitting information. Each, in its way, was a form of connection in society.
As a whole, the exhibition project of the French artist wants to reach the paradoxical place where any kind of knowledge is situated: to affirm the new while looking at the old.