Artists: Emily Parsons-Lord X Laure Prouvost
Sense is something universally experienced and yet so intimately felt it’s often impossible to describe. To touch skin, taste fresh fruit, hear a whisper vibrate in your ear, to see and smell the threatening beauty of billowing smoke is at once familiar and transformative. It is through our perpetually shifting senses that we experience the world. Despite their different approaches, Emily Parsons-Lord and Laure Prouvost come together here within a sensory environment that underscores the mutability and fluidity of femininity and its relationship to nature.
Sydney-based artist Emily Parsons-Lord produces work that sits on the fringes of science to explore the elemental forces around us. In Sense, her works are made up of ‘future’ air, coloured smoke, potassium powder and a metal compound called gallium that, taken together, create a sense of immersion as you enter the gallery. In one room, she lowers the ceiling and turns it a sickly green – the colour of a potential future sky; in another we see a constellation of floating smoke-tinted paper suspended in dance and shadowed across the wall. In The weather people are reading a script (2018) lumps of gallium are suspended and slowly melt under the heat of the lights, splattering in pools of silver across the gallery floor like poisoned rain. Parsons-Lord intensifies and transforms her materials a warning cry against the human desire to manipulate objects in nature by pushing them to their very limits. It feels like an act of resilience and perseverance, reminding her audience that life existed well before human kind and that it will continue long after we are here.
French-born Antwerp-based artist Laure Prouvost experiments with language and mistranslation to propose alternative visions of the world. Towards the back of the gallery, Prouvost’s large scale video Swallow (2013) unfolds a series of romantic dream-like sequences of bathing nymphs, insects and birds basking in the warm sun, montaged against a repetitive motif of supple pink lips opening and closing and hands filled with ripened fruit or dripping with honey. The almost-tactile eroticism is disrupted by strange flashes of a dead fish, feet squishing raspberries and the occasional sound of a drum beat that with each hit seems to travel deeper into the psychological belly of the film, dragging it into an increasingly ambiguous and disquieting space. The audio track plays the hypnotic sound of breathing overlaid with gasps and teasing whispers flirting with Youtube’s fetishistic Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) phenomenon that seeks to induce a tingling sensation in the viewer.
Upstairs, Prouvost’s Lick in the Past (2016) further develops the story of the young women that we see in fragments (a hand, a back, a foot, a mouth) in Swallow. Lick in the Past is a more narrative driven but still dream-like film that feels like a meditation on the sensory environment around Los Angeles. The film starts with reoccurring images of an octopus floating up to the surface of a tank. The three teenage graces lie atop an SUV fantasising about their escape into nature while playing with their iPhones. As the film progresses we see flashes of disembodied tentacles and the hands of our young protagonists smearing black ink across a white-walled space. It feels like an antagonistic response to the famous Hokusai print The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (1814), which depicts a giant squid performing cunnilingus on a woman. Here, the pornographic male gaze is castrated and reimagined through the hands of young women.
Works ooze and leak throughout this show creating a seductive, playful, disorienting and aesthetically voluptuous exhibition. Here, ecosexuality and fantasy act as counter points to the rationality and paternalism of traditional science and technology, unearthing alternative ways of perceiving what is around us. It is a call to go back to our primordial senses and simply feel our way through it.
Elyse Goldfinch is a curator and writer based in Sydney and Executive Assistant and Curatorial Liaison at Artspace.