Why do we give certain names to objects, to persons, to feelings? Why is a mandarin called a mandarin and does the fruit not stand for something completely different – love for example? What is a good symbol for the word ‘help’? (answer: an opened walnut) And a blue-gray glass – doesn’t that mean everything a ‘mother’ stands for? The French artist Laure Prouvost (1978) found the words adults gave to things incomprehensible as a child. Instead, she came up with a different idiom. One that made the world, ourselves and also the language much richer, more meaningful and more imaginative.
Prouvost is given space on a small but fine solo – one of five – which can now be seen in the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. Under the title ‘Positions’, director Charles Esche has initiated a series of exhibitions in recent years, each comprising five small museum solos by emerging, international artists. This ’emerging’ must be interpreted broadly: in the past, artists presented themselves who had just left the Rijksakademie; now, in the sixth part of ‘Positions’, Laure Prouvost and the Indian Praneet Soi (1971) are hardly unknown on the international art stage.
‘Positions #6’ is all about the body, how we deal with it and its malleability. This leads to five qualitatively and emotionally completely different solos. The Norwegian Ajla Steinvåg (1975), for example, has very literally converted an anecdote of a criminal dental surgeon who turned out to be an organ smuggler into a room-filling installation. Despite flashing screens, plastic plants and a shelf full of prescription drugs, the American Zach Blas (1981) creates a rather blank image of the drug culture in Silicon Valley. British Navine G. Khan-Dossos (1982) painted and composed a hundred gouaches full of symbols of struggle, surveillance, murder and nationalism on the occasion of the horrific murder of the Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. to meters high tile panels. Khan-Dossos depicts in a chillingly cold way the body that is not (any longer) present, but has been recorded.
Praneet Soi has settled in his installation Centurion (2019-2020) was once again inspired by the theme of labor versus capital, and has settled in Eindhoven for this purpose. Here large manufacturer Philips was the guardian of the Eindhoven workers for a long time, until in 1990 a reorganization under the name ‘Centurion’ robbed tens of thousands of their work. Soi shows in a multi-layered installation, consisting of beautiful collages, drawings and a hypnotic video montage, how freely the Philips laboratories experimented (and with great results). He shows the love of the employees for their company, the absurdist impact of corporate architecture on working-class neighborhoods and also the way in which Philips had to brace itself to survive in a globalizing market. Soi makes the Philips company an almost living organism, with tentacles and nerves everywhere in society.
A similar, tentacle-like approach characterizes Prouvost’s work. In the accompanying film at the entrance to the exhibition, she explains that she wants to play with language “like clay”. In the Van Abbe she shows how multifaceted, playful and inspiring that approach is. In fact, Prouvost designs a new idiom of 30 words with images linked to it. These images are incorporated into a tapestry and come to life in an (older) film, and in an installation that looks like a dim desert where objects light up at the direction of a voice and take on a different meaning than you are used to. A tangerine is indeed just as much love. A nail brush can mean excitement (because try really cleaning your nails with one of these). And a goat: that’s not a goat, but that’s you, you and me. We continue our way through the exhibition – as the artist likes it – in search of new meanings and meaning. Preferably more than one exhibition visit.