Passing from the street into Marcelle Alix gallery provided an introductory primer to the metaphysics of French artist Laura Lamiel. The contrast between the run-down Parisian neighbourhood of Belville and the precise, neatly installed show was prescient. Contests – between light and dark, the presence and abstraction of forms, physical earth and ideal spirit, and the tensions they create – were the subject of Lamiel’s exhibition, ‘Sequence I II’.
Lamiel, who was born in 1948, was once a painter. Having had, in her own words, ‘her fill of oil paint’ she moved toward monochromes and Minimalism. Her flat surfaces left the wall to form three-planed, white-enamelled steel sheets housing arrangements of found objects. As seen in this exhibition, the artist has maintained her focus on composition and frame.
Lamiel’s new medium, enamelled steel, distinguishes her work from predecessors such as Robert Ryman, who set the bar in monochrome painting. Enamel is also perfectly suited to the artist’s other favourite material – light. Multiple white tonalities show from beneath the enamel; the surfaces are either left pure white or are serigraphed with found photographs, drawings and the artist’s semi-legible hand-written notes. Smaller versions of these enamels, both serigraphed and solid white, found their way into ‘Sequence I II’. Three connected installations continued the artist’s investigations into light and the energetic tensions produced through contrasts in tone and form.
Lamiel creates site-specific works for her exhibitions. Over the scuffed, maroon and white patterned tiles of the gallery, the artist installed a false floor, L’espace du dedans (The Inner Space, 2014). Two installations across the two floors emphasized the artist’s continuing attachment to picture-making, while offering correctives to its former painterly illusionism.
In the first room, a large square opening was cut into the false floor. If the painting reference was not yet clear, a frame – apparently also cut from the floor, though with slightly different dimensions – lay across the opening. Like a three-dimensional painting, objects were meticulously arranged on the patterned tile floor. Viewers familiar with Lamiel’s work might have recognized some of them, which were drawn from the artist’s ‘vocabulary of forms’. Recycled from earlier installations, they function like palimpsests, both accumulating and obliterating meaning. The presence of worn shoe soles, wooden boxes and bars of orange soap were counterpoised with their formal and semiotic opposites – blank books and small white enamels, some obscured by white silk archival wrapping, creating what the artist calls ‘formal shocks’.
Linking all of this were subterranean rivers of light emanating from a square of fluorescent tubes invisibly set beneath the periphery of the opening. In the manner of mise en abyme, smaller light tubes set inside, for example, small suitcases, contributed to the flow of light throughout the ‘picture’. Paintings normally reflect light; here, light was internal. Thin white electrical wires snaked through the composition, like drawn lines connecting and igniting contrasting objects with energy. On the perimeter of the opening was a Braille book. A cable skirted around it, but a hand-painted white line continued its illusionistic passage across, as if metaphorically illuminating blindness.
In an adjoining room, the frame shape was repeated twice more: lines were cut into the floor to make a large square. Beneath, a corresponding square of fluorescent tubes, Lieu de capture (Place of Capture, 2014), created a square of bright light. On the wall, a framed untitled drawing from 2008 was covered with a dense nest of ink lines, nearly obscuring the white paper beneath.
If you entered the gallery late in the day, when darkening rain clouds added to the fading light outside, the duelling contrasts that Lamiel orchestrates appeared all the more pronounced. The underground light emanated eerily from beneath the floorboards, as if in silent communication with the last light outside.