The god of little (no)things

Roxana Azimi

 

The art world has its ramblers (Hamish Fulton), those who stride along (Stanley Brouwn) and those who walk (Jacques Villeglé), but there are also those artists who saunter along in the manner of Robert Walser, who display a falsely dilettantish air, but actually capture the nuances of reality better than anyone else. Pierre Laniau is such an artist. By day and by night, camera in hand, he stalks a parallel world whose waste constitutes a rebus, a puzzle to solve. In what he calls his “Fétiches de Rue” (street fetishes), his pleasure in showing close-ups of little details or in revealing what lies hidden is apparent, as is his refusal of the monumental in favour of unassuming objects. As the art historian Daniel Arasse so aptly said, we don’t see anything, not even what is right before our eyes: one century earlier, Eugène Atget propounded the same idea, documenting the typical buildings of the Paris of years gone by. As for Pierre Laniau, his aim is not to make an inventory, but rather to collect these little nothings, these moments before they are swept away by the town cleaners. There is something metaphysical about this clepsydra-like body of work which gives pride of place to the ephemeral: it’s not the method that counts, but the magic that comes in this brief encounter as chalk meets cheese, creating images that go off at a tangent. In Pierre Laniau’s work, there is the same fondness for short circuits, for the “hasard objectif” (objective chance), which was so dear to André Breton. And chance can be cruel - take this Louis XVI style armchair abandoned in the street like some down-and-out aristocrat, or the domestic squabble between two old and dented washing machines which, after the fight and ‘out on their feet’ have nothing left to say to each other. Elsewhere a fridge rubs shoulders with a scooter, like the distant cousins of ‘an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table’. And what about this incongruous juxtaposition of an apple cold-bloodedly impaled on railings next to which stands a bicycle? Sometimes in the play of lines and shapes the coincidences turn to pure abstraction, for example in an image of a mysterious ‘mille-feuille’ of suspended ceilings. On another photo, our gaze rebounds as the frail lines of a clothes dryer rack set at a right angle to a wall involuntarily create a visual echo of the cobbled pavement. Recurrent and heady, abandoned planks often expose the mineral characteristics of neighbouring materials, for example revealing a faded pink wall, against which a lonely, sky-blue school bag stands out in contrast.

However, Pierre Laniau attention to detail never becomes excessive and manneristic. By pointing the lens of his mobile phone camera at these ephemeral collisions, he is not trying to embellish them in any way. These deliberately poor, out of focus and muddy images go perfectly with the subjects and, whereas technology today strives to take all that’s trivial to a higher level, Pierre Laniau leaves objects in their metaphorical rags, preferring their fragile poetry, the dignity of the beggar, to any false nobility.

 

Roxana Azimi