Artist interview: Laurence Payot
Science Fiction: New Death curator Omar Kholeif talks to Laurence Payot about her work One in a Million, You currently on display at FACT, narcissism, and cults
9 April 2014
Omar: Do you think we live in an era where the cult of narcissism has taken over?
Laurence: As an artist creating work which is often performative, I have been exploring the issues and also the exciting possibilities of documentation. I am fascinated by the way images can create new versions and new layers of reality - it being a true documentation of an event, or a completely set-up image.
In a way, it doesn't matter so much if the 'event' was true or not. What's important in the final image/video is the meanings and emotions it evokes in the viewer. I never saw Adrian Piper walking around the streets with a tissue in her mouth (Catalysis III, 1970), but the photographs she published gives me a sense of her work beyond the event, and maybe a stronger sense of it than the performance would have done.
We're kind of doing the same thing with our own lives – with the way we pose on photographs, edit the 'best of' by only posting and tagging the ones we deem to represent what we really are or want to be... This element of personal curatorial decisions is quite fascinating. We are building archives of our lives, creating our own history/story.
I don't see this so much as narcissism, but just as a new way to present ourselves to the world, beyond our physical body. In the digital world, we have more control over what we show of ourself than we have in the public realm. We can become someone else.
These thoughts have been a starting point for 1 In A Million You. I wanted to disturb this supposedly 'true' documentation of reality by inserting an unusual element within it. The mask started to appear on people's Facebook profiles, or on friends' images, in the background. From an outsider point of you, you wouldn't know if the person wore the tattoo-like mask all the time, if it was in fact a tattoo, or if it's something that only happened for the instant of the photograph.
For most of the participants, It was not the event as such that was photographed, but it is the act of photographing that became and created the event. People were asked to document themselves wearing the mask and that led them to perform.
Omar: Has the anonymity of the digital sphere enabled new kinds of multiplicity and possibility?
Laurence: The infinite possibilities of connections between strangers around the globe is one of the wonder of our era. We could end-up anywhere in the world, meet people we wouldn't have thought of. The internet has opened infinite lines between us, and made us realise the scale of our multiplicity. There are so many of us, so many potential connections. I find this exciting but also very overwhelming. Where do I stand in the crowd? How do I make myself visible? How do I belong in this huge global mass of people? I think the new trend for selfies is a way to say “I exist.”
The 1 In A Million mask was a way to reflect on this duality of trying to stand out by feeling unique and different (by wearing the mask on your own in a public place), but also of wanting to feel connected and to belong.
Omar: Your work to me evokes something cult like in its mode of participation. Was this something that you ever considered? And if so, do you feel that society has become more cultish in general? Or more fractured?
Laurence: Personally, I feel a bit lost trying to figure out where I belong. I feel part of a global community but at the same time, it is full of strangers. And being a french person living in England also displaced my sense of belonging. We are experiencing a complete shift in the definition of community, and this is becoming an experimenting ground for me. While these concepts are being reshaped, I can suggest new ways of creating small moments of togetherness, imagine new utopian and temporary communities, open up possibilities.
The cult-like look of this particular work is just a result of that. To belong, you need a sign to show you are part of something, to invest a bit of yourself toward to common goal.
For more information about Laurence Payot, One in a million you, and the exhibition, visit our project page.
1 In A Million You was supported by SkyAcademy Arts Scholarships, in association with IdeasTap.