Laure Prouvost talks to Iwona Blazwick

Text by Iwona Blazwick

French artist Laure Prouvost is the winner of the 2011 Max Mara Art Prize for Women. The video artist was previously director of, our online gallery of moving mages. In this interview, she talks to Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery, London.

Iwona Blazwick Laure, how long have you been living in Britain?
Laure Prouvost Twenty minus seven - so thirteen years.

IB And what made you want to come here?
LP To escape! I did the equivalent of A-levels in Belgium and wanted to do a degree so I applied for a place at [Central] St. Martins. And I was always attracted to London; its energy, and eccentricity.

IB The first time I saw your work it was so striking. It was a film about the idea of "lost in translation". It was both funny and very revealing, opening up cracks in the rational world of communication.
LP I like cracks and mistakes. They interest me the most. Communication and language are full of them so I try and open them up.

IB I couldn't stop watching it. How did you come to marry film and language?
LP At the very beginning I struggled with it. I've always had problems with words - my French at school was terrible. This is why it was a relief to make art, because I could stop relying on words - and start playing with them instead. Film gives me the perfect chance to do this.

IB I was interested that Samuel Beckett chose to write in French to give him the same distance.
LP Distance is crucial. I treat words as objects so they become playful things to work with. But language is always at the centre: language itself and the language of cinema of course. I find it strange the language of cinema is not questioned any more. Why don't we look at the language of it? Film is so narrative-driven. We are taken from A-to-B. In French cinema it's a lot more psychological, which I prefer. People and psychology are as interesting as stories. So I try and constantly play with the language of cinema and what we expect from films.

IB And when you create a film, do you have a storyboard, or is it more intuitive?
LP It's really intuitive. It can get a bit daunting because I have no idea where it's going to take me. Usually I have a concept or idea of how I'm going to make each film. With "It, heat, it" [2010] I had the idea of using drums as a heartbeat, meaning the film becomes a living thing somehow. I then based the visual material around that. I wanted to make a 3D film without 3D and play, translating an idea through the medium.

IB And you work on your own, or do you have a team?
LP I work alone mostly apart from on the sound. For the Wanderer, my last project which I am still working on, it was a big crew. Well, big for me; 15 or 16 people, including actors. It was hard because when you are managing that many people you need to have a very clear idea of what you want. And that was a challenge because I am used to working more intuitively. I always want mistakes to come in and once you're with a crowd it becomes hard because every minute is so expensive! With that you lose the freedom that you have on your own. In the end, I had to shoot 80 hours so I could make enough mistakes!

IB I get the feeling that a lot of the work is also in the editing.
LP Yes, exactly. I spend a lot of time editing. It takes time to find the right mistakes.

IB A year ago, at Frieze, you presented an installation called the Artist with your gallery MOT International. Have you always worked across different media?
LP I did film and video at [Central] Saint Martins so that sort of narrowed me down. I really learned about my art through film so, in a sense, everything comes from my relationship with or understanding of that. I work with installation, performance and 2D pieces which are often informed or come out of my films. Like word and image I have become interested in the relationship between film and objects. It's another form of translation.

IB Now you're a winner of the Max Mara Art Prize for Women, which is an initiative that the Whitechapel Gallery started with Italian fashion house Max Mara. What ideas do you have for the six-month-long residency?
LP I have lots of ideas and things I want to try but I'm sure it will change once I am there. I am from the North of France so like the Flemish in the Renaissance. You had these rich paintings with a really lovely Italian landscape and beautiful Flemish faces; idolising a part of that world.  I want to visit Italy and see what I can learn.

IB Are you talking about national identity or art history?
LP Both, I think. I have a certain idea of what the place is like - or could be, based on my own cultural presumptions - but I'm sure it's totally wrong. I would like to think I can go there, absorb what's happening, what's being made and somehow react. Also the past, especially the history of France/Italy, is so present. It's so there, you can't escape it. I'm fascinated by the past and how it  lives in the present. There was also this idea of working on relics. I will film a lot of footage of objects, which will then become a relic that I exhibit again and create a new narrative for it. Or even if it's a narrative that I've seen it will become a different story. So there are many layers and the film can be translated into a tapestry or into a mosaic. I'm sure I'll misunderstand things and make mistakes but that's always my intention in a way. I don't speak Italian so it will be a challenge.

IB Like you, by the sound of it, Max Mara has this incredible attention to detail. You don't get the sense of mass-produced clothing, and I love the label's awareness of tailoring's traditions. So, anyway, what about being in Rome? What do you hope to get out of being in this great ancient city?
LP At first I'm sure I will be totally overwhelmed by the place - its history, activity and culture. I will develop some sort of routine and then I will try and pick out the bits that interest me. I will collect things - footage, objects and material and go from there. It's about editing and finding what I can pull. So, yes, I think Rome will be fascinating.

IB And then you're in Biella, which is completely the opposite. It's in the middle of countryside and there's nothing to do.
LP I will have to speak to the insects! It will be nice to go from Rome to somewhere that is quiet, more empty somehow. I have always liked working with nothing as much as feeding off what's around me. You have to be more inventive and performative, which suits me.

IB And at the end of the residency, you'll make a new work of art, which we'll present at the Whitechapel Gallery in 2013. Naturally, we're very excited about that. §

  • Laure Prouvost - Iwona Blazwick