Karine Laval | Bringing Art to the Park with Exhibition "Réfractions Paysagères/Landscape Refractions"

On view at Chateaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau.

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Tamara Jiji

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Installation view of Hetyerotopia #82 (2017) in Parc de Bois Préau.

Brooklyn-based, French-American artist, Karine Laval is no stranger to the concept of immersing the public in her art. Using the world as her canvas, the artist has brought her art to metro stations in New York, department stores in Paris, and airports in San Francisco. Recently, the artist returned to her roots in bringing the works of her enchanting, tropical-inspired series, 'Heterotopia,’ to the gardens of the Château de Malmaison and the park of Bois-Préau. In doing so, the artist designed an artistic route with free access to the public—tying into her intention of displaying art both for those who came to see it, as well as passersby who happened upon it. 

"Réfractions Paysagères/Landscape Refractions" is comprised of “photo-sculptures” from Laval’s on-going series, ‘Heterotopia’—all taken in private and public gardens throughout the US and Europe, as well as a new series of images the artist produced during a residency at Château de Malmaison in 2021. 

Flaunt spoke with the artist on the importance of context as an artist, her inspirations behind the works featured, and more.

Installation view of Malmaison #4 (2022) in Parc de Bois Préau.

You enjoy juxtapositions of contexts, yet, despite their differences, they often find harmonium. Describe your relationship to context as an artist. 

I’ve always been interested in juxtaposition or displacement of contexts. That’s why I use the oblique view mirrors generate, both literally and metaphorically, and the way they reveal what is “hors-champ”—not within the frame of the camera. I photograph through these reflective surfaces to fragment and multiply the image of the garden as if the mirror becomes a metaphorical fertilizer and nature transforms and expands itself in a sustainable way into hallucinatory landscapes that seem at once familiar and alien. The “photo-sculptures” in my exhibition “Landscape Refractions” at Chateau de Malmaison are a mix of images from my on-going series Heterotopia (taken in private and public gardens in the US and Europe) and a new series of images I produced during a residency at Malmaison in 2021 in the gardens of the castle and in the adjacent public park of Bois-Preau. It helps to know a bit about the context of these gardens, which were created by Imperatrice Josephine after she bought the property as her and Napoleon’s second residence in the 19th Century. She was a passionate by botanic and took advantage of her husband’s conquests and exploration travels at the time to bring back to Malmaison species of flora and fauna from around the world, which she planted at Malmaison, thus creating a new form of “exotic garden”, anticipating the botanical gardens that flourished during that period. At the time, it was revolutionary and must have been fascinating for the people who visited the garden to be confronted to such an unusual and exotic nature for the first time. She then propagated many of these plants around Europe by offering specimens to the diverse royal houses of Europe, contributing to the establishment of new and alien trees and plants in Europe in an ironic reversed colonization of nature. Today, many of these trees and plants subsist in harmony with the native vegetation at Malmaison whereas others that were preserved in large glass houses have disappeared. I never knew this history and context of the formation of the gardens of Malmaison before. For the exhibition, I created tableaux of transformed and imaginary landscapes within the gardens like windows into the fantastical gardens of Josephine. Like she did, I decided to juxtapose images of gardens I had photographed in distant countries or continents with the images I created in-situ.

Malmaison #1 (2022)
Installation view of Malmaison #1 (2022) in the gardens of Château de Malmaison.

In your new Landscape Refractions project, you position seemingly private entities and destinations in this public format. How has your relationship to the notion of public / private evolved over time?

For the past two decades, I have explored the notion of space as both a physical or geographical place—and also as a more intimate psychological and imaginary space that includes our relationship to nature and the environment we live in, between the natural and the artificial. After examining man-made places of leisure (i.e. swimming pools, beach resorts) and remote territories free of extensive human activity such as the Arctic Circle, I’ve become interested in another form of man-made environment: the garden. I am intrigued by the very concept that it represents a microcosm of our planet in which plants and organisms that wouldn’t normally coexist in the natural world are placed within the confines of a relatively small, delineated space. Over the years, I’ve become more and more interested in bringing my work outside the confinement of traditional art venues and integrate it within and in relation to different contexts to share it more broadly and directly with publics who don’t necessarily go to museums and galleries. Some of the public spaces where I have presented or installed my work are a metro station in New York, the airport in San Francisco, department stores in Paris such as Bon Marché and La Samaritaine (Hotel Cheval Blanc), Hermes and Louis Vuitton stores, a gigantic tower entrance hall visible from the outside in London or my own garden in Brooklyn, playing on the boundaries between public space and private space, leisure areas and transit areas, or places of contemplation and places of consumption. That way, I’m able to reach audiences who have come specially to see the work and the many people who come across my installations by chance. I hope that these ‘environmental installations’, this use of imagery of nature and the natural world will also have a significant and profoundly positive effect on the health and well-being of the visitors or passersby as the therapeutic benefits on the mind, body and spirit of being connected to and surrounded by images of light, color and nature are well-documented and profound.

What color do you feel causes the most emotion within you? What color do you feel leaves you emotionless?

I don’t think there is any specific color as there is a spectrum of emotions that can be triggered by different colors. I find that I’m most sensitive to colors found in nature. For example, I find the blue of the sky and sea calming, the green of the vegetation that surrounds me stimulating, and the rainbow of warm colors of the sunset uplifting. I recently bought a place by the water in the North Fork of Long Island and have spent much of my time there, which made me realize how strong the impact of nature and its colors have on me, in a positive way. I don’t think there is any color that leaves me emotionless. Even the blackness of the night out there, although surprising at first, fascinates me. Color is also a powerful creative tool to evoke an atmosphere or mood and trigger emotions in the onlooker. It is central to my work, and I have used it to create images of transformed reality that can activate the imagination of the viewer.

Malmaison #4 (2022).
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Karine Laval, Chateaux de Malmaison et Bois-Préau, Heterotopia, Réfractions Paysagères/Landscape Refractions