On the fall evening of November 17, 2016, the vernissage of Viersus, the first solo exposition of Laurette Massant (1985), took place at VDK/JFK, a relatively new art gallery in Brussels.
The gallery is interested in what you could call modern classic art – and Laurette Massant is a very special artist who is just that: both modern and classic. Massant is one of those artists who are able to peel the layers of existence down to the very core with just a single image. The art is intense, and represents in itself a profound truth. If you enter the beautiful gallery in the Coppensstraat and walk into the room on your left, you will agree with me: the art does not seem to be hard to interpret, because it is figurative. But if you look closer, you will see an especially rich world of ideas, artworks that are extremely contemplative and extremely personal at the same time.
Even though the images and techniques used are varied, the artworks on display clearly belong together in spirit. In this first room alone we can see a large, multicoloured washed off photograph (inktjet and water) of a woman’s face behind a transparant veil; a small painting on wood, a self portrait in the image of Venus, with drops of gold falling down; the three art works on the other wall are special because of their technique: by using resin on glass the image is projected as a shadow on the white wall behind the artwork.
‘Le moi est fonction de l’autre’, reads one of these artworks. It is a clear indication that something is brewing behind the image. But what? In my view, the images directly and explicitly refer to a higher level, to the sublime. The artworks may be figurative, but they work on an abstract level.
It might be useful to walk up the stairs. Because on the first floor you will see an installation that explicitly indicates what this art is all about: ‘Marie Madeleine’. The artist’s wedding dress is draped on the floor. On the dress a human skull, next to that a butterfly. Clear symbols for life, love and death. The title connects these items to the Bible.
Two large pencil drawings are positioned above ‘Marie Madeleine’. One drawing is mainly white, the other mainly black. The white one, a composition centering around Botticelli’s Venus, has the word ‘Imitatio’ written on it, in very large letters. It refers to Rene Girard’s theory on mimesis. The black drawing is a variation on Duchamps ‘Etant donnés..’, in which a faceless, nude female body, lying on her back in a landscape, is seen from the opening of a cave. The positioning of the body is similar to Courbet’s notorious painting l’Origine du Monde. This drawing also contains words: white letters on an intensely black background read: Sola Scriptura (‘Only through Scripture, only through the Bible’).
The use of iconic images from art history shows that Massant’s art is necessarily rooted in tradition. Her work forms a very rich web of allusions and meanings, too many to list and explain in this article. But Massant does more than simply reproduce the images: she puts them in a new, meaningful context.
It is obvious that ‘the woman’, or maybe better: ‘femininity’, plays a key role in Massant’s work, and that femininity and the divine are equated. The title of the exhibition is an example of this: Viersus. It is a very well chosen word because it is composed of two opposing concepts: ‘Vierge’, the French word for ‘virgin’, and ‘Venus’. The title also refers to the French word for ‘life’, ‘vie’. ‘Viersus’ indicates that the virgin Mary and Venus, the alluring goddess of love, are one and the same. The pure and the sexual are one and the same, and everything else follows from that.
And there is a lot of ‘everything else’. If we walk downstairs again and enter the back room, we will see a work inspired by the film Black Narcissus right next to the door. The artwork (resin on wood) shows the key scene from the movie, in which a nun leaves the monastery because of her desire for a man. This nun applies lipstick on her lips in order to provoke the Mother Superior. In this special moment desire, religion, sex and transformation come together. Just like the butterfly on the wedding dress, on the second floor of the gallery. Transformation.
The unfinished state of ‘Imitatio’ and other artworks is meaningful. Massant does not produce ‘modern classic’ art simply to play with form. She shows how classic art is still meaningful today, But not only does she refer to classic art, she points back even further in time, to the origin of all art and all life.
Viersus was shown in art gallery VDK/JFK, Coppensstraat 3 in Brussels, from November 17 to December 3, 2016. This article was first published on deRecensent.