Taking Pleasure in the Perfect Crime

About Emmanuelle Lainé’s exhibition at the Fondation d’Entreprise Ricard

by Sophie von Olfers

This ambitious exhibition is Emmanuelle Lainé's largest solo project in Paris to date. Having lived and worked in both the city and the Fondation Ricard, it is a kind or revisit during which, over the course of three weeks, the artist temporarily “moved into” the gallery space, taking over the entirety of the institution’s facilities and human resources, putting into action her strong collaborative approach along with an interest in the exhibition space as a site of production.

As is common in her practice, Lainé relied on the assistance of multiple workers and professionals to develop her work at the Fondation Ricard. These collaborators include artists from different art academies in France who operated in conjunction with the artist to install various objects throughout the gallery space. They used things like lava rock, gravel, clay, plaster, latex, paint, and a variety of furniture found in the storage of the Fondation - most noticeably Le Corbusier’s “Cube” chairs - to build molds that would cast two sculptures which appear and re-appear throughout the show as compelling protagonists. Somehow figurative in shape, the sculptures are the result and apex of a narrative plot: They have been molded, draped from the ceiling, laid down, dragged, stood upright, carried, repositioned, and finally - arranged to be photographed in different scenarios. The resulting images, all high quality productions handled by a specialized photographer and long-term collaborator of the artist, were then mounted onto the walls of exhibition space, resulting in a curious feeling of extension of the exhibition space through optical effects.

Surrounded by glass figurines, fake flowers, christmas decorations, porcelain tableware, residue from the install, vases, framed photographed objects, IKEA shelving, a bongo drum, a pair of golden scissors, dirt, bits of plaster, piles of gravel, and more, the protagonists are staged in an way that is reminiscent of a crime scene. What we see is a perfectly constructed environment by which we are enthralled and deceived. Not least the title of the exhibition, which translated into “taking pleasure in the confusion of borders”, emphasizes this blurring of perception. What happens now is beyond us. Our understanding of what happened, how we got here, the way we try to analyze the objects, leads us nowhere. The deeper we get, the further we are from understanding anything. Eventually we are forced to give up. We discard the notion of dead bodies and start thinking about objects turned images and thus immortalized. We think about sculpture and photography. We see layers of evidence, traces everywhere. We get a sense of the invisible. We wonder about what was where first, and at which moment in time. We question materiality, and we think about temporality. We might also remember Eugène Atget’s photography and his incessant effort in immortalizing the streets of Paris prior to its modernization at the turn of the 19th century. The radical absence of human presence in Atget’s documents influenced Walter Benjamin’s observations for his extensive Arcades Project. Later, while deep in the investigation of photography as an art form in his oeuvre The Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935), Benjamin wrote about Atget’s work in relation to crime scene photography:

“The scene of a crime, too, is deserted; it is photographed for the purpose of establishing evidence. With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance. They demand a specific kind of approach; free-floating contemplation is not appropriate to them. They stir the viewer; he feels challenged by them in a new way.”

Creating such spatial coalescence without showing off its meticulous conception or the tricks employed to achieve it is characteristic of the work of Emmanuelle Lainé. Adding and erasing, making visible and invisible, creating new forms by repurposing existing ones, the artist (pseudo-)effortlessly manages to keep the organic and performative aspect of the production present. Lainé’s strength lies in freeing the work from the lens of labor, allowing the viewer to consume, indulge even. This is precisely where lies the criticality in the work. While Lainé’s art certainly reflects a profound affiliation with classical sculpture, even with still life and landscape painting, it addresses above all the way we consume art, meaning how we understand it or don't understand it, what we can do with what we understand, and where those ideas come from and may lead. We are caught between a number of analytical approaches and aesthetic "appreciation," which can take us in endless directions in our quest of uncovering what really happened. Everything is taken into consideration… Lighting. Composition. Camera angle. Dimensions. The mask. The bunny. The Golden Scissors.