IF I WOKE UP ONE DAY
Spatial elaborations from another world.
What would happen if the world woke up one day in a different place than usual?
If I woke up one day is the Living Room column in which six artists will be asked to experiment with new ways of thinking about space, both temporal and physical, in relation to the concept of limits.
Alone, Together (2018-)
single-channel video, 7min
“Alone, Together” (2018-) is a participatory, live work with residents living in London tower blocks. It utilises letters, light and music as the base of communication and creation. Letters were sent to residents, openly inviting them to listen to a particular track, on a particular night, at a particular time and to play with their lights to the beat of the music, improvising in any way they wish.
Cherie Federico, Director of Aesthetica Magazine describes the work: “Laura Besançon’s participatory film work Alone, Together (2018-) typifies modern life. Most of the population lives in cities or mega cities. We live on top of each other, and can do for years, but we may never know who sleeps below us. Besançon developed a project that began with sending a letter to the residents of a high-rise, asking them to turn their lights on and off to the sequence of a soundtrack whilst she filmed outside. The result is a perfect symphony. It’s amazing to get that level of performance and to see what happens next – maybe the residents start to speak to each other. It’s about creating a sense of community. Besançon’s piece is a highly accomplished conceptual piece with real impact, offering a greater understanding of the factions within society” (Foreword, Future Now Anthology 2020)
The project is relevant in the light of the present moment. Poignant in relation to social distancing and isolation. In the context of Manifattura Tabacchi, it reflects upon notions of community, co-creation and how a space is changed into place through residents action, participation, community engagement, the arts, music. It reflects upon “art as a community unifier, brief moments of shared experiences which create notions of place”
Still, Play! / Play Still (2020)
single-channel video, 3min
(Performance with a remote control, vhs player & malfunctioning vhs)
This is about something that cannot be played. No matter how much we try to play it, whether we play slowly or aggressively – we probably only worsen its malfunction. Some things are beyond our control, or else we have some form of remote control. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to be still. To slow down and accept that some things are just not working. If something does not work, we cannot play it, ultimately we will realise that…It is up to us whether we can see this, or make this, the beginning of something else or the end of everything (00:00:00). It can be worthwhile seeing seemingly negative things in a new light.
Still, Play! /Play Still (2020) is a work I made during my recent 14-day self-quarantine, upon my arrival back home in Malta from a trip to the UK. The place I stayed in, during this quarantine period had a vhs player & its remote control. My father delivered a couple of our home videos from the 90s. I played a few of them until I got to one that I had really wanted to watch, but for some reason it did not play. I kept pressing play impatiently with the remote control with no effect except the words “Play..Still..Play”.
“Remote Control” – these two words interested me, especially in this moment. I was also thinking a lot about “The Great Pause” that is happening, and my ongoing thoughts on stillness & slowing down. Play is the other. I keep going back to Johan Huizinga and the quote, in his book entitled Homo Ludens – “play is a serious matter”. The work is about being still or playing within the constraints/confinements. I also reflect upon our relationship with technologies and look back at older, “slower” mediums.
Laura Besançon & Caterina Taurelli Salimbeni
Alone, Together and Still, Play! / Play Still are two projects which the artist developed in two different moments. In this context, they find a new life.
Alone, Together was envisioned as a project that would take its own evolutionary course: it explores art as a means of co-creation and participation, as a game to be played in an urban setting. The idea behind Still, Play was born from the artist’s lack of resources during her period of isolation from the rest of her family upon her return to Malta from the United Kingdom. Both pieces invite us to change the perspective, by looking at loneliness as participation and stillness as movement.
Being centered upon the duality of existence, they treat two different aspects, one material and one virtual, yet are connected by the idea of space as a continuous flow.
whatsapp 6 April 2020
CTS: Hello Laura, my name is Caterina. Pleasure to meet you. I am writing to you because I have recently come across your piece, Alone, Together. It made a great impression on me. What I felt when I saw it isn’t something that happens every day. I work in Italy as an art curator and am currently the director of the contemporary art projects at Manifattura Tabacchi, an ex-industrial space in Florence which is in the process of being requalified. I would like to meet you, without any particular projects in mind, but who knows, perhaps one day we could collaborate if we find we get along. Thank you, speak to you soon.
LB: Hello Caterina. Thank you so much for your lovely message. I am very happy that my project reached you on an emotional level. Knowing that someone is deeply interested in my work means so much to me, precisely because I feel so strongly about what I do. Especially now! I took a look at Manifattura Tabacchi, it looks like a great project — its concept is very interesting. Its architecture, its variety of spaces and its buildings are remarkable. It is a space with a lot of potential. I am Maltese and French, so I speak more English than French. If you prefer speaking in English, it would be better for me as well. Speak to you soon!
CTS: The first time I watched Alone, Together it had a hypnotizing effect on me. This high building standing in the night, in the middle of nowhere, was actually alive. I didn’t think immediately of the way that could happen, whether it was real or it was post-produced, because what fascinated me was the emotion that conveyed. How much do you think emotions weigh in art and specifically in your research as an artist?
LB: This is something I wish to believe still exists, that something cannot be fully created in post-production, that it would not be the same. But you do get people who will dismiss it as something made entirely in post, without questioning it. This is the effect of how our consciousness and perception is being shaped and somewhat confused I would say. There is the big question of authenticity. I don’t think the emotion would have been conveyed if it were done in post. The light depended on the physical touch of the participants. That bodily gesture on the light switch and its recorded effect in true space and time will never be replaced.
CTS: This is a point, that we are realizing now more than ever how some things in art can’t be replaced, such as the relation and physical part of it.
LB: Definitely, I think some of us can even feel this in the current situation. No matter the amount of video calls we make to friends and family, nothing can fully replace that bodily embrace. With art too, especially live art and other mediums – they are not meant to be viewed solely digitally. You cannot get the full experience of a painting, a sculpture in a virtual show. In this project, especially with video documentation, there is also a lot which is left to the imagination of the viewer. I feel that it is natural and important to invest my feelings in the work, in order to connect on a mental and emotional level with anyone who comes in contact with it in any form, be it the participants or the spectators, in a gallery or online. A lot of emotions are usually repressed or hidden, as vulnerability seems to be less common and I always create out of a strong emotion, and even more importantly, my intuition.
CTS: Intuition and time are involved in photography. For Herni Cartier Bresson photography gets on the same page the sight, the head, the eye and the heart.
LB: Having started out as a photographer, I would take a photograph intuitively, knowing when to press the shutter. Both feeling and action occurring within a split of a second. An act of knowing which comes out of nowhere but out of an observation of life happening in front of me and within me. I feel strongly about intuition. In my artistic process I trust the process even if the final idea is not clear from the start. My emotions grow and keep me invested in the process – which in turn, I would hope – become visible and transmittable.
CTS: In this regard, what moved you to doing Alone, Together and how did you activate the collaborative process at its base? What was the reaction of the people?
LB: It was something that came about very organically, a combination of the many nights looking out of my bedroom window at the tower blocks and their windows, thinking about who lived behind them, reading about the qualities architecture and music share, and my love for letters/ more traditional forms of communication. I prepared letters which invited residents to listen to a particular song at a particular time on a particular night and to play with their lights to the beat of the music sent, improvising in any way they wished. Two nights before the event, I posted them myself in the individual letterboxes or slipped them under the doors. I received a couple of emails, and I had a few conversations going with some residents. Some messaged before the night saying that they were pleased to receive the letter, some messaging to say that they will not be in but would have loved to participate, and some stating their enjoyment in participating after the happening.
CTS: It is impressive the way some works are premonitory. You realized Alone, Together two years ago, and looking at it now it is enriched with new meanings. The relationship between inside and outside, private and public space, loneliness and collectivity. What do you think of this work today?
LB: I’d love to say that I recently discovered that I am a prophet (haha!). Since 2018 I actually thought many different things about the work and what it represents, as it could be about a lot of different things. However, I never imagined this would soon take on even more new meanings as a result of a worldwide pandemic. I am interested in the use of architecture as a symbol or a tool to reflect upon society and the factions within it. And it is a relatively minimal, conceptual work which simplifies complexities through light, space, time, architecture and human activity – a kind of summary of reality. It plays with the seeming dualities you mention and notions of the in-between which are often overlooked aspects, or a cause of black and white thinking, ignoring the complex nature of life and the bigger picture. Thus the work’s meaning can easily change in new contexts due to the many possible associations and the inter-connectivity of all things.
CTS: And then pace configures itself through numerous facets. Which role does it play in your work and how would you read it in the light of architecture contemporary and not?
LB: I am very interested in the things that already exist. Often, I don’t look for the new, but look at what already exists in a new way. Looking at how, through an action, a gesture, a reconfiguration of the perspective of the said object or space may be altered or seen in a different light (literally and figuratively). With this tower block in particular, I was quite struck by the fact that it was alone at the centre of a large park. This type of architecture is very much contested, but I think it is very raw, beautiful and I could see myself living in such a building with such a vast open green space around it, which is becoming less and less available. I am also quite interested in how space is used and occupied, and the interactions that occur within it. I became quite interested in the playgrounds of Aldo van Eyck and his concept of the city as playground. Archival photographs depict his playground sand pits full of people, both young and old, a very different scene from the reality of today where children play more on screens and there are less interactions in these spaces. I think I wanted to bring a request to play into the buildings, a kind of reversal, maybe it could bounce back to the streets!
CTS: It is a work that has a lot to do with the not visible space, which affects the visible one. It highlights perspective as a variable which is not autonomous, not fixed in time.
LB: Yes, I see the tower as a ready-made in which space is re-invented or manipulated through the participatory process. The artwork defines the space and creates experiences within the space, creating shared moments and a sense of place. You could say that the artwork therefore “hijacks” a space that already exists, with the light travelling long distances, and the action affecting the electrical circuit between people. One has to also think about all that is not visible on screen when watching the video.The tower-block may be seen from afar or from anyone who may be looking up. I don’t know if anyone did, and I am quite intrigued about now knowing. And this is another important point – that you may easily miss things by not looking, and sometimes close proximity does not matter, undivided attention does more.
CTS: Still, Play! / Play Still is about again a dualism and a play on words. An invitation to keep on going when we are stopped by something, coming from us or from the external world, but also to stay in the moment of stillness. It makes me think to this poem, To Eva Descending the Stair by Sylvia Plath, which starts like this: «Clocks cry: stillness is a lie, my dear.» In the same way, your work activates a sort of short circuit among concepts and words, where you get stuck, but at the same time pushes you to go forward.
LB: That’s a lovely reference. The essence of everything is movement, the only constant in life is change. But one can still choose to be still, one can do something by doing nothing, nothing is something. Precisely how we are saving the world by staying home, in these moments when you think about it. This short-circuit you mention is a very interesting point. I actually thought of it primarily in “Alone, Together” as, to an extent, it could have caused one. That is another thing, risk. But risk is part of my work as it is part of life. In Still, Play! / Play Still I could have broken the vhs player too, with the constant pressing of the “Play” button on the remote and the malfunctioning vhs. The short circuit is more evident here, as the words fluctuate to combine together or against each other, until the idea becomes more evident and clear through repetition and speed.
Laura Besançon on instagram
Laura Besançon is a multidisciplinary artist.
During her undergraduate degree in Communications and Psychology at the University of Malta, Laura began to turn towards a fine art approach in researching her fields of studies. In 2017-2019 she pursued an MA Photography degree at the Royal College of Art where she developed a multidisciplinary practice.
Central to Laura’s practice are notions of play, connectivity and place explored through a playful approach which often utilises various communication tools as part of the process. She is also interested in turning things around through appropriation, reconfiguration, shifting perspectives and playful action. Her work also explores notions of interior and exterior and the in-between, breaking away from dual concepts of public/ private.
Recent works include Alone, Together (2018-) where residents living in tower blocks are invited to participate in a live work. She was a finalist for the 2019 MTV RE:DEFINE Award and was recently shortlisted for the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize.