On 1 January 2008 French artist Matthieu Laurette sent, to a number of curators, collectors and friends, a text message stating, ‘I am still alive. Matthieu Laurette’. This revival of On Kawara’s now-legendary telegram series marked the beginning of the artist’s year-long solo show Exhibition Non Stop, an attempt, in the artist’s words, to ‘define the new status of the ongoing show’.
So far it has comprised variously a display in Blow de la Barra’s exhibition space, a solo presentation in the gallery’s booth at the LA Art Fair and an intervention in the Mexican fashion magazine Celeste. At the time of writing, Exhibition Non Stop’s only physical manifestation is, we are told, in the odd text messages that Laurette continues to send, as if the artist was somehow compensating for the fleeting nature of his project by a constantlyrenewed assertion of his own existence. But with still three months to go before the exhibition officially ends, there could be a few other (apparently confidential) developments in the pipeline.
SMS aside, Exhibition Non Stop fully embraced the standardised exhibition apparatus at first, with a private view, press release, and works on the walls: ten large canvases silk-screened with Andy Warhol’s will and death certificate. This series, humorously merging the visual lexicon of pop and conceptual art, clearly indicate Laurette’s two main poles of influence. Not exactly radical, this ‘first chapter’ only lasted the traditional few weeks, but in May, another display cropped up in the gallery, this time gathering a selection of the ongoing ‘I Am An Artist’ series, an assortment of hotel stationary hastily scribbled with the self-assertive message. Drawing both on Martin Kippenberger and Keith Arnatt, these borderline pastiche works are meant to function like autobiographical snapshots, embodying the ups and downs of the artist’s nomadic lifestyle.
Challenging exhibition conventions has been central to Laurette’s practice ever since what he calls his first solo show in 1993. While still an art student, he took part in the French TV show Tournez Manège, a then popular programme much like Blind Date, and sent out invitations giving, instead of a date and place, the day and time of the broadcast. Because Laurette answered ‘artist’ when the presenter asked what he aspired to become, this episode is often interpreted (including by Laurette himself) as his ‘artistic birth’, but Tournez Manège was also, and perhaps more importantly in relation to Exhibition Non Stop, the artist’s first experiment with the exhibition-as-broadcast.
Laurette has always operated predominantly outside the exhibition space, and television has often been his medium of choice. Between 1993 and 1995, he appeared in the audience of a string of TV shows—clips of which were later compiled in the video work ‘Apparitions’—as if subtly infiltrating mass entertainment to point out the mechanisms of the society of spectacle (Guy Debord, referred to in many works, is one of Laurette’s all-time heroes). These ‘Apparitions’, soft-core versions of Chris Burden’s 1972 ‘TV Hijack’, may have been artworks more than shows as such, but they nonetheless initiated a process that led Laurette to test and sometimes invent a large number of exhibition formats, reaching far beyond the exclusive contemporary art milieu.
In 1996, Laurette mixed the principle of his ‘Apparitions’ with his ongoing ‘Money Back Guaranteed’ project, a ‘method of survival’ based on the exclusive consumption of ‘satisfied or your money back’ or ‘first purchase reimbursed’ products. On the set of Je Passe à la télé (‘I’m on TV’) he presented his technique of free-eating and not only won a medal for being the contestant who most interested the audience (Laurette calls it his first bronze sculpture), but also started repeatedly to be invited to feature in the mainstream press, becoming for a short while a sort of media phenomenon. The ‘Money Back Guaranteed’ project subsequently took the shape of a promotional van touring in Nantes, Poitiers and Paris, as well as guided tours of supermarkets, multiple-site displays, flyers, and a website, each development existing both outside and inside the art world, and being altogether an amusing newsworthy story and a genuinely in-depth investigation of the possibilities of art diffusion.
From the canonical Seth Siegelaub’s ‘Xerox Book’, 1968 and Gerry Schum’s 1969 ‘Fernsehgalerie ’ (Television Gallery) to more recent initiatives such as Anna Colin’s ‘Radio Gallery’, 2006 or Claire Davies and Sam Gathercole’s Telephone, By Phone exhibition, 2008, there is a lengthy history of artists and curators attempting to redefine the exhibition format. Yet there is a fundamental difference between these experiments—aiming in different ways at promoting art—and Laurette’s media parasitism which, at least in its early days, never directly advertised its status as an art intervention.
Thus most of Laurette’s former projects truly existed outside the art institution—and there lay their strength. The idea that an exhibition could follow and develop alongside an artist’s work for a year is appealing, as is the notion of a more fluid and responsive type of shows. But in Exhibition Non Stop, Laurette is content to link traditional display formats with a few text messages: a disappointingly easy call for an artist who in the past has proved so much more engaging.
Coline Milliard is a writer based in London