In her new exhibit at the Walker, They Are Waiting For You, Laure Prouvost raises the question: Do we really need language? Sure, language is helpful, convenient. We use language to communicate, to be understood and to understand others. It’s a tool we employ every day, without thinking about it; it’s a habit, a routine. And yet, language often fails to fully express what’s on our mind, a limitation that Prouvost intelligently explores in her enthralling new exhibit.
It is not immediately clear that language is one of the main themes of Prouvost’s exhibit. As I enter Gallery 7, where the exhibit is installed, I’m greeted by a masked woman, clothed in white. She looks at me, and utters a hesitant “they are waiting for you.” Slightly confused (but still intrigued), I decide to turn left and step outside to enjoy the last light of the day. There, on the balcony, frozen puddles of fake ice are strewn on the concrete and trees with papier-mâché breasts decorate the space. These elements cleverly enter in conversation with the cityscape and green spaces adjacent to the museum, blurring the line between museum installations and “real” life, between artificial objects and nature. The tall windows of the gallery enhance that feeling, making it hard to tell where the exhibit ends and the outside world begins.
More than trying to reconcile the inside and the outside, the artificial and the natural, Prouvost seeks to show that there aren’t really any separations between these elements save for the ones created by language. For the artist, our obstination with defining everything with words is pointless, because “things” are much more than what a simple word could ever say. In fact, a chair is not only a functional “chair”; it has a smell, a taste, a history; it brings back memories and interacts with other elements that surround it. Prouvost seems to recognize the academic conversation around language’s limits, based on the work of scholars like Ferdinand de Saussure and Nietzsche, but goes deeper into this argument — that words can only describe a tiny part of the myriad of components that make up an object.
Having introduced the limiting aspect of language, They Are Waiting For You then becomes an invitation. Prouvost welcomes us to live, to smell, to touch, to feel, to experience the things around us without necessarily trying to name them, and does so with a great variety of multimedia elements. In the gallery, a large, triangular box sits diagonally in the room, with a narrow opening on its end. On the floor, tree branches, subway tickets and candy wrappers are stuck in puddles of fake ice, and scattered around the gallery.
I notice the masked woman who greeted me earlier wandering about the space, slowly. Everything feels so palpable, each element appealing to one of my senses. I enter the triangular box through the opening; inside, a large screen plays a looping movie. It pictures Prouvost touching various things around her house and in her garden, cut with images of nature and narrated by the artist. At first, the numerous close-ups and essential nature of the film make me slightly uncomfortable. But the more I watch, the more the movie’s content seems to echo that of the gallery.
The multitude of dimensions at play in the gallery adequately reflects the artist’s hectic life. A French native, Prouvost quickly moved north to London, to study design and the arts, before eventually settling down in Antwerp, Belgium. She has created several exhibitions these past few years, and in 2013 received the prestigious Turner Prize, a British prize which recognizes contemporary visual artists, for a multimedia installation called Wantee.
Although They Are Waiting For You is not Prouvost’s first venture, it feels unique. The way the space and the exhibit itself interact (through the ice puddles, the large windows, the masked woman…) is decidedly compelling. “It was a collaborative creation,” explains Prouvost at the talk to celebrate the opening of the exhibit. Prouvost and the Walker sent ideas back and forth, and rather than her arriving a week before with her artworks and her vision, “it took a few months to prepare everything.”
If the exhibit felt blurred and undefined at the beginning, it definitely seems more intentional after I experienced the space, the film and Prouvost’s thought-provoking yet liberating vision. “So who is ‘they’?” I ask Laure Prouvost after the talk, referring to the title of the exhibit. “Who is waiting for me?”
“Well,” she explains, “it’s the chair, it’s the trees, it’s nature, it’s the things around you, it’s life.” She pauses. “It’s a bit cheesy, but it’s real!” she tells me, laughing.
They Are Waiting For You runs through February 11, 2018 at the Walker Art Center, 725 Vineland Place in Minneapolis. Admission is free from 5 to 9 p.m. every Thursday night, $9 for students otherwise. To close the exhibit, Prouvost will show her first stage production, a blend of dancing and multimedia supports, on Feb. 9-10. Look out for tickets on www.walkerart.org.