Emmanuelle Lainé’s site-specific installation “Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist!” in Hayward Gallery’s HENI Project Space brings together familiar objects, organic materials and life-sized, floor-to-ceiling imagery to explore industry, display and the contemporary workplace. Ahead of this exhibition, Hayward Gallery curators Cliff Lauson and Tarini Malik met with the artist to discuss technology, the digital image and the way that she constructs her intricate installations.
Your installations often combine life-sized, floor-to-ceiling photographic images with a variety of objects. How did you develop this approach, and how has it evolved?
When I first started making installations in my studio, I brought together lots of different objects that belonged to me and that related to my activity in that space. In these early installations it was my own history and context that linked the disparate objects; they became a kind of cloud of thinking, connected by desire. I began to use photographs within my installations because of their ability to cut time into a single moment, to freeze it and to let somebody – an audience – come inside an activity, have a look, and even construct their own interpretation of this crazy gathering of things.
Later, when I began to make work in spaces that had nothing to do with my own history, the installations became more of a dialogue with each new place and the people who worked there. This way of working – of letting the context of the place enter the core of the practice, and letting it lead or provide the style of the installation – is very important to me, in part because it goes against the idea of the artist as an isolated genius who has no attachments and no constraints, and who works for fun rather than to make a living.
Could you talk about the title of this exhibition, and your interest in places of work?
We live and work in an increasingly precarious world. I want to critique this precarity as well as to show it as a fact. For me, there is something positive about putting on view some of this mess and uncertainty. It also goes against this idea of the individual artist who comes up with a work of art that is delivered to a museum, which then acts like a big fridge and preserves it for posterity. The title of this exhibition, “Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist!”, is a quote by Pablo Picasso that I encountered on the wall of a co-working space of a society who design working spaces for cities all over the world – or at least in the United States. This quote, written in large letters on the wall, was supposed to provide inspiration for the workers in the space. Strangely, I think that the idea of the artist as a creative genius who works all day because of passion alone – and not for money – is the kind of ideal employee that you find in these co-working spaces that are cropping up all over the world at the moment.
Emmanuelle Lainé, “Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist!”, 2018 (detail) © and courtesy Emmanuelle Lainé. Photo: Thierry Bal
Could you speak about the idea of layering in your work – both conceptual and physical?
My thoughts around layering, and the way that I imagine and design these spaces comes in part from the culture of the digital image. When you’re trained to use editing software you learn to think in terms of layers. In my work, I take this idea of layering and extend it to the space itself. In “Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist!” there appears to be one large image that captures a single moment in time. In fact, this image layers together at least five or so different moments: the little girl behind the door is one moment or one photo, then there are three different views that we combined to make the panorama, and then there’s the machine. I think of the spaces that I create as being like workspaces, or shelters. I like the idea that the spaces between the layers of the picture might be a place where you want to hide, or disappear. I also like that these layers create a kind of micro-architecture.
You often make reference to machines or technology in your work. Could you say more about this interest?
That’s a long story, but I’d say that I’m particularly interested in our relationship with tools. For me, this is connected to the idea of the cyborg. I’m interested in the approach of people like the philosopher Andy Clark who argue that you’re essentially a cyborg as soon as you hold something as simple as a pencil, and that the body is not a closed circuit, but is made to incorporate tools. Our relationship with technology becomes ambiguous as soon as you ask yourself, ‘Who produces these tools, what for and what is the ideology of this producer?’. When you use a tool, it can enter so deeply into your consciousness that it transforms your understanding of your own body, as well as your understanding of the larger world – that’s why our relationship with technology is so fascinating to me.
How do you go about selecting the objects that feature in your installations?
Rather than choosing objects that appeal to me personally, I try to steal or to borrow objects from the people that I’ve met or am working with for my installations. Here at Hayward Gallery, for example, I asked for items that were lying around the desks of the people that I was working with; things like waste paper bins or notice boards, as well as coffee cups or water bottles that had all been used in the process of making this and other exhibitions. The objects that you see in this installation mostly belong to Hayward Gallery. There are also two items of clothing that belong to me – that’s more or less it.
“Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist!” is at HENI Project Space from Thursday 25 October to Monday 24 December 2018.
Hayward Gallery is open 11am – 7pm every day, except Tuesdays when the gallery is closed, with late night opening on Thursdays until 9pm.
Header image: Emmanuelle Lainé, “Learn the Rules Like a Pro, So You Can Break Them Like an Artist!”, 2018 (detail) © and courtesy Emmanuelle Lainé. Photo: Thierry Bal