Laure Prouvost: The Artist Book (Book Works) Art Monthly #366, May 2013

The artist’s biography that opens Laure Prouvost’s The Artist Book is, like her films, an exercise in translation and reception, authorship and authority. Or, rather, an exercise in mistranslation and obfuscation, authorlessness and – with a nod to Georges Bataille, who unwittingly provides the book’s cover – formlessness.  Or, as the ‘author’ puts it, in being ‘bloody-single-minded’. The biography is not exactly an exercise at all, though, desiccated and ponderous as that sounds;  more a series of joyful utterances. And it is not the author who does the propositioning, at least not Laure Prouvost, whoever ‘Laure Prouvost’ might be, but one of a vizarded and duplicitous band of curators, artists and writers who have been tasked with ghost-writing ‘the artist’s’ biography as an exquisite corpse, and of collating and collaging some art-school paintings.

Elsewhere, the book turns to the life of a spam e-mail by someone called Lind P, and sometimes perhaps some ‘real’ spam e-mails, the former variously flatters, seduces and raises the ire of a gallerist’s clients, threatening to exhume dormant harassment cases even though it is not clear who – or even if – Lind P is. In a series of pronouncements and exhortations, the text moves from asking the reader to ‘Imagine someone with extremely beautiful hands is turning very gently the pages of this book for you’ to ascribing volition to the fabric of the book itself, advising that ‘This page thinks all of the other pages are useless’.

To gloss Nietzsche in Also Sprach Zarathustra, joy will always triumph over grief – an inversion of the death-drive of the pious – and it feels very much as though Prouvost’s oeuvre, here and elsewhere, preserves above all else in this way the value of the ludic, yet not as a means to an end – a cynical strategy for an art career – but a route towards unfencing, delimiting, unrationalising; a force to be protected before all. And ‘the artist’ would thoroughly approve of a reference to Nietzsche.

The curious thing about The Artist Book, though, is that the echt artist is nowhere to be seen: the I has dissolved into the theys and the hes and shes, sometimes the he/shes, into the impersonators and imposters and doubles; more precisely, into the critics and curators, who themselves, writing as (versions of) the artist, send up artists and art world alike: the long-form titles of shows, the tendency towards self-reflexivity as a go-to mode; the flirtation with the ‘performative’; the unnecessary convolution of simple ideas; and the press release which further complicates, burnishes and engorges its subject, eclipsing what is occasionally a vacuum, no more. But a more authentic version of ‘the artist’ plays them off, too, describing one of his/her exhibitions for us/them, mentioning as an aside: ‘On the left a wall covered with text you don’t have time to read.’ An incomplete, inchoate business staffed by imperfect observers.

The artist and his/her proclivities are relayed in a manner by turns imploring and autocratic, scrappy and pedantic, and which invariably return to the subject of the artist’s grandfather, lost­ in a freak tunnelling accident. If the book is a portrait of a real artist, whose name might be Laure Prouvost, who might actually have a ‘thing’ for painting endless (if the paradox can be forgiven) pink bottoms, among the many red herrings, then it is a portrait summoned almost entirely by that which it omits. And if that is the case, then it adroitly and sensibly evades the critics and curators again, which it seems is exactly the right – indeed possibly the only – way to preserve a space in which formlessness activates meaning.

Forever limning at the threshold between the uncertain and empirical, the authoritative – even authoritarian – and the collusive, much of the energy of Prouvost’s work emerges from the shadow of failure or the potential for failure: the trying-and-not-succeeding, the misspelt and half-communicated, and the slippages these lapses effect. Throughout her practice, a just-intangible ideal world is invoked: ‘Ideally on this page would be the most beautiful image.’ Here, humour arises from disappointment – and the book’s humour, and the source of Prouvost’s generosity, which places her beyond reach of all pretenders, comes from her willingness, her bravery to engage with humour as and for itself.

It is playing into Prouvost’s hands to deconstruct or mediate her work, partly because to do so is to assume a position among the chorus of humourless and narcissistic bystanders; yet more so since it would fix it, rationalise it, even if such attempts are invariably assimilated by the work precisely because it is so good-humoured: because laughter triumphs over the sober and earnest.

Handsomely produced by Book Works in a limited edition of 1,000, The Artist Book collates several projects, including Prouvost’s contribution to the LUX publication 8 Metaphors (because the moving image is not a book), the concept of which is obviously pertinent, though evidently not beyond reproach, as the artist, here without apostrophes, trounces it with a facsimile of a film, the glossy stock of the section contrasting with the uncoated paper of the main text and announced by a title: ‘Chapter 4. FILM. This is a film.’ And so it is.

The Artist Book, Laure Prouvost, Book Works, 2013, 296pp, £20.00, 978 1 9060124 4 1.