A camera slowly scans the imperious office of the French president in the Élysée palace; a seemingly Flemish painting portrays a group of knights ogling a looming eclipse; a neon hints simultaneously to art history and extra-terrestrial life. These are but glimmers of Laurent Grasso’s complex conceptual practice that delves into science, history, mythology and supernatural phenomena to weave a research-filled narrative bordering the actual and the inconceivable. Oscillating between multiple temporalities as well as geographies, Grasso engages our notions of time and locale, creating work that tests our knowledge in a manner tending on the epistemological.
At the heart of every thread in Grasso’s practice is a film; an otherworldly sequence that is of this lifetime yet extends far beyond our limits of experience. The early work ‘Eclipse’ (2006), for example, seemingly portrays a solar eclipse set against a sublime setting sun. Seducing and alarmingly realistic, it appears at once as a semi-miraculous capturing, nearing on scientific document. The visuals, however, have been manipulated by Grasso, inviting a discourse around the construction of false miracles and the fine line between joyless suspicion and healthy skepticism. Beyond its individual filmic significance, the motif of the Eclipse is woven into further works, from fine neon creations that present the moment of lunar superimposition in its clearest form, to his ‘Studies into the Past’ paintings that employ Flemish or Italianate techniques to present extraordinary scenarios in settings of time past.
Accompanying every body of work is a rigorous process of investigation and research. For the early film work ‘Radio Ghost’ (2003), for example, Grasso interviewed filmmakers in Hong Kong, collecting their stories of spirits on set, casting these as the narrative backdrop to the film’s voyaging reverie. More recently, for his solo exhibition ‘Soleil Noir’, Grasso spent two years researching Japanese history, in particular the prehistoric Jomon civilisation as well as inexplicable occurrences, such as Utsuro-bune, an unknown object washed ashore in 1803 in Japan’s Eastern Hitachi province. Additionally, his major permanent public installation ‘SolarWind’ in Paris – a direct collaboration with scientists from the CNES Space Observatory and optical engineers – translates in spectacular, poetic form the amalgamated data emanating from the luminous cosmic flow of geomagnetic storms.
Each work is moreover attuned to a subtle consciousness of space and architecture. Grasso’s striking ‘Anechoic Pavilion’ (2012), for example, is a clean, life-size, wooden cabin that isolates the viewer and suppresses sonorific intervention. In the context of an exhibition, such as his solo show ‘Uraniborg’ at the Jeu de Paume in Paris and Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal in 2012-3, Grasso purposely adapted the settings of display to enhance an aura of curiosity and surprise, whilst for his recent solo exhibition ‘Soleil Noir’ at Maison Hermès, he created wooden panels akin to Japanese silk screens that as well as displaying the works, became a part of them, whilst breaking as well as complimenting the open Renzo Piano exhibition space.
Ultimately, Grasso is a chief conceptual artist who through his works, individually and collectively, transports you intellectually as well as physically into a realm of questioning and discovery, impossibility and actuality, knowledge and belief. Each piece and exhibition, is a detailed visual articulation of months of research, processing and consequent formulation. As such, in presenting to you what he’s uncovered, Grasso opens the floodgates to the cornerstones of our own remits of cognisance.
Laurent Grasso lives and works in France. He has held residencies at the Villa Medicis, Rome and ISCP, New York. In 2015 he was awarded the esteemed Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture, and in 2008 was awarded the prestigious Marcel Duchamp prize. Grasso has been widely exhibited at MASS MoCa, North Adams (2017); Pompidou-Metz, Metz (2016); Fondation Etrillard, Paris (2016); Jeu de Paume, Paris (2012). In 2016 Grasso unveiled ‘Solar Wind’, a major public permanent installation in the 13th District, Paris. Moreover, his work is held in collections around the world, including the Centre Pompidou, Paris, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo and Leeum, Samsung Museum, Seoul.
 Laurent Grasso, Eclipse, 2006, MIT List Visual Arts Center