Matthieu Laurette

MATTHIEU LAURETTE IS A SORT OF MODERN-DAY HUNGER ARTIST. Currently based in Paris, Laurette became well known in his native France for having survived almost exclusively on products with money-back guarantees. He ate the food, then asked for a reimbursement, claiming to be somewhat less than “100 percent satisfied.” Since then, his projects have moved beyond a preoccupation with free consumer goods to a consideration of how to profit from the media's insatiable need for images. Evidently influenced by Guy Debord, the artist attempts to exploit the transformation of life into an endless accumulation of spectacles.

For his recent Berlin show, Laurette made nothing more than a fleeting appearance. As a part of the ongoing public art project c/o berlin, which has been introducing the work of French artists to the city, Laurette contributed Applaus (Teil 2) (Applause [part 2]), 1998–2000: images of the artist in an applauding crowd, shown on the large-scale information screens at Alexanderplatz, Galeries Lafayette, and Zoo Station. The clips, which last little more than five seconds, were taken from popular French television game and talk shows, in which Laurette participated as a member of the studio audience.

The piece, however ephemeral, punctuated the continual flood of news, weather reports, and advertisements flowing past on the monumental screens with these moments of happy affirmation of some collective consensus. Due to Laurette's presence, the camera's sweeping scan of the audience—what he calls television's “wallpaper”—is at once personalized and redirected to a whole new set of spectators, who are invited to catch a glimpse of the artist in the crowd. Unlike other projections in public spaces, Laurette's work remains entirely dependent not only on the existing screens, but also on the television shows, which essentially pay the production costs of his video clips. Before appearing, Laurette signs a release agreement, definitively giving up all rights to the image of his face, which the television station is free to use for its broadcasting and advertising purposes. The show claims the rights to his image and distributes it publicly on the airwaves. whereupon he copies it from his own television set and then redistributes it as an artwork. Ultimately, the release agreement puts the artist's signature on a powerful social portrait, which demonstrates that the passive spectator can indeed become an active producer.

Having found yet another loop in the system, Laurette remains fanatically true to living off the perpetual motion of contemporary capitalism, be it generated by the object or the image. To date, he has preferred to exploit the existing means of production, refusing to make separate art objects, instead taking what others have produced and recontextualizing it. His work amounts to nothing more—or less—than the fine art of “appearances,” supplemented only by the familiar promotional materials that typically accompany them: videos, T-shirts, posters, and postcards. Through an extreme economy of means, Laurette has pushed the dematerialization of the art object to its limit, embracing consumer culture to the point where his works cannot exist without it.

Jennifer Allen