As autumn gets underway, Laurent Grasso is returning to the Galerie Perrotin with “OttO”, an exhibition which reveals the mysteries of Aboriginal sacred land, through objects and a film going by the same name. The artist has shared with AMA the issues underlying his practice: between the visible and the invisible, the scientific and the sacred…
A Steiner machine, sculptures in hypnotic forms, glass spheres… These are some of the different objects associated with Laurent Grasso’s new film, OttO, now showing in France for the first time. In this work, the artist continues his work on representing the intangible, and his research on aesthetic, fictional and poetic variations on scientific mythologies, theories or utopias… Explanations follow.
Your new film OttO at the Galerie Perrotin was shot on the aboriginal sacred lands in Australia. What prompted your interest in this area?
In 2016, I was invited by Mama Kataoka to take part in the 21st Biennale of Sydney, and planned to undertake a project for it in the Australian desert. I gathered material about aboriginal culture, their relationship to the cosmos and the invisible, in the earth’s imperceptible vibrations, of which they are the guardians. I decided to make a 21-minute film which has been the starting point of my exhibition at the gallery.
Your film OttO presents deserts accompanied by quite disturbing “music”. What exactly are these sounds?
The title of this film refers to figures after whom the film and exhibition are named. “OttO” is Otto Jungarrayi Sims, a “traditional owner” (symbolic owner) of Aboriginal land in Australia, from the Yuendumu community, but also Winfried Otto Schumann, a German physicist who studied the Earth’s low-frequency resonances. As well as having the same first name, these two figures share an interest in the Earth’s magnetic energy that I tried to get with a high technology material of filming. These spheres have been created and they are a tangible emission from these sacred sites.
What do you set out to express through this new film?
As is often the case in my work, I try to bring into view what is not visible, or at least give a sense of the energy, the vibrations of a place using the tools of our era.
You managed to achieve the same effect through your film “Élysée” in 2016…
Absolutely. After I was invited to participate in the exhibition “Le Secret de L’État” organised by the French National Archives, I put forward the idea of filming the rooms of Élysée, the French presidential palace. By filming the Golden Room, I wanted to offer viewers a completely different vision, for them to sense its invisible essence and show the link between the exercice of power and its use.
Getting back to OttO, this film, which is also very aesthetic, uses special techniques. Can you tell us more about them?
For this topic, I collaborated with a team of ten persons, including a photo director and a postproduction director, and it took about 2 years of work. The filming lasted around fifteen days and was pretty intense. To film the desert, these hills and the original landscapes, we used drones on which thermal and hyperspectral cameras were attached. As these cameras captured infrared and electromagnetic waves, we managed to shoot aerial-view sequences and others very colorful in which we can make out Otto Jungarrayi Sims’ silhouette. This traditional owner was our guide who helped us get the green light to film these sacred sites.
Negotiating to get the right to film key places of power with magnetic, sacred overtones, seems to be an integral part of your creation…
That’s right, the diplomatic aspect of negotiating access to sites is part of my creative process. These negotiations have been carried out through the intermediary of professor and historian Darren Jorgensen, who put us in touch with Otto Jungarrayi Sims.
How has the Aboriginal community reacted to the film? Did you show it to them?
The Warlpiris validated the film. They’re traditional owners, in other words, they have the symbolic property and not the material one. Even if I was aware of their delicate and dramatic political situation, my wilful objective was to approach the film as an artistic collaboration with them, without any authoritarian view. This was possible because Otto himself is an artist, like his father, whose work, incidentally, was shown in the major exhibition “Les Magiciens de la Terre”, at the Centre Pompidou, organised by Jean-Hubert Martin.
Film turns out to be one of your privileged tools. What role does it hold in your work?
For me, it is an instrument of power that is part of a very diversified practice. My tools are the camera, the subject, music, sound, movement… I imagine objects, immersive setups by studying certain mechanisms – forces, frequency, radiation –, and I set out to provoke questions in the viewer. Through my pieces, I try to understand what types of stories humans need to tell in order to exist.
Tell us about these stories. In this exhibition, we find objects in all forms and materials…
I create machines, active here, in order to prevent confining myself to purely anthropological reflections. I like associating proven scientific beliefs and others that are less solid, in order to create fictions around the issues of representation, but also power and control, in our society. For this exhibition, I invented machines and objects inspired by the 20th. At the entrance of the film-projection room, “OLOM” welcomes visitors: a sculpture inspired by the Multiple Wave Oscillator (editorial note: known in French as the “Oscillateur à Longueurs d’Onde Multiples”, hence OLOM), designed by Russian engineer Georges Lakhovsky in 1930 to treat patients with frequencies. There’s also “The Owl of Minerva”, a monumental work in onyx based on a series originally designed for a commission from the Institut de France which has Minerva as emblem. It also alludes to the Dreaming, which links the owl to the Aboriginal sacred site referred to in the film…
We also see paintings and all sorts of incredibly intriguing machines.
That’s right, there are paintings including one on silver leaf showing Otto, but also “Schumann’s metal-conducting spheres” diffusing resonances, an onyx electric ray to represent this fish used from antiquity onwards for medicinal purposes, some mysterious and esoteric “radionix” machines… This exhibition is about immaterial (such as argon gaz, neon, frequencies) and material that has supposed to have a certain magnetism.
Are you something of an artistic alchemist?
I work with contemporary tools like an artist of today. There’s nothing mysterious about it! But I like stirring things up by combining scientific approaches to other more irrational ones… I try to work in areas where our rational beliefs may be tested by things far less so, and that start off by being analysed in our societies. I’m always working with History, on this hazy border between the sacred and the scientific, the visible and the intangible…
“OttO”, until 6 October. Galerie Perrotin, 76 Rue de Turenne, Paris 75003. www.perrotin.com