Laura Besançon’s ‘Playful Futures’: ‘A kind of visual orchestra, a shared moment’

 Maltese-French multidisciplinary artist Laura Besançon on her exhibit ‘Playful Futures’ in conversation with Audrey Jandin

Laura Besançon (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Laura Besançon (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

After being forced to be suspended during the lockdown the exhibitions are back for all to enjoy.

Laura Besançon is a Maltese-French multidisciplinary artist delighted to exhibit ‘Playful futures’ with six international guest artist until 6th  June at Valetta Contempory. The exhibition includes photography, photographic-sculptural work, moving image and participatory-based works.

Playful Futures is a bid to refresh our perspectives and attitudes towards ever changing contexts beyond our control. It questions the parallels drawn between the interrelationship between the state of mind and destructive manifestations of untamed landscapes. A more utopian and sometimes even a humorous perspective is adopted to act as a starting point to diminish the effects of disorientation in the conscious mind.

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 multifaceted practice.  

She was a finalist for the 2019 MTV RE:DEFINE Award by the Goss-Michael Foundation and recently, the 2020 Aesthetica Art Prize. We met her.

You have a background in communication and psychology. How does this feed your art practice?

Before pursuing my MA at the Royal College of Art, I had never followed any kind of formal art education, but always wanted to ‘do something more’. I had previously pursued Communications and Psychology at Undergraduate level, as they were both broad subjects centered around the complexities of human life and our daily reality – human nature, social dynamics, interconnectedness, perception and reality. I realised I wanted to explore and research these complexities from an artistic perspective and to use all communication tools for an artistic purpose, rather than for the media world, especially in such an image-saturated world. I often utilise communication tools in my artistic practice, combining both older, slower mediums and new technologies and communication tools as part of the process, or the final work. A lot of the work is more conceptual than retinal, hence why I feel that having a varied background, rather than a formal art education prior to my MA, has been beneficial. I am interested in ideas, concepts, more than the final visual product, although I strongly place importance on both. In my opinion, ideas are more important in today’s world.

Still Life by Laura Besançon
Still Life by Laura Besançon

Tell me about your exhibition... What has influenced you for this work?

My artistic research and practice, which centres around play and playful action, was a key starting point to the development of my practice and the creation of the works in this exhibition entitled “Playful Futures”. My current practice and ongoing research has developed from one of my main projects, which is included in this exhibition, called Alone, Together (2018-). This is a participatory, live work with diverse communities living in a London high rise in east London, called Landmark Heights. What remains is its video documentation. I sent letters to residents to listen to a particular song at a particular time on a particular night and openly invited them to play with their lights to the beat of the music, improvising in any way they wish. The result is a kind of visual orchestra, a shared moment and a co-created artwork. One that can be seen by any passerby in real time, at that moment, anyone who is looking up, away from their phone screen. The work has also resurfaced during these times, and can be seen in new light, in the pandemic context.

I also wanted to bring the spirit of collaboration into the exhibition, where I invited five artists (who I met in London) to exhibit works which fit the thematic very well, many of which have a very photographic-sculptural practice, as I would call it. These are Tom Lovelace (UK), Gökhan Tanrıöver (Turkey), Tom Medwell (UK), Dawoon Kim (South Korea), Ignacio Barrios (Spain).

What role does music play in your work?

I am influenced by music, without a doubt. My MA dissertation was entitled “Seeing Music”, centring mainly around the formal qualities that architecture and music share. Many artists and architects saw similarities or were deeply influenced by music in their work. I find myself looking for a certain musicality in visual art. My musical influence is definitely evident in Alone, Together – a music track is used as a tool, as part of the process, with the beat, rhythms converted into action and light in the windows – a visual, collaborative piece with the result being a kind of visual orchestra. In other works, I also see and create with a musical, rhythmical attitude. I live around music all the time, listen to music hours on end, research music and I also plan on going back to experimenting with audio production. I had created my first track, which I had sent to another building as part of the ongoing Alone, Together project and feel that it is time to get back to it. It is a part of me that I feel I need to explore further.

Where does your inspiration come from? Are there any artists who inspire you?

My inspiration comes from an intuitive reaction to my surroundings and daily observations. An intuitive need to create a particular work in a playful manner. Works that tend to speak of contrasts and apparent dualities. It is probably about the complexity of life and the fact that change is the only constant.

I live in the present and react to the present. Life is full of contrasts and the more I focus and navigate them, becoming aware of the changing nature of things, the more I find that I can deal with, progress and remain future positive. The way I look at the world is with curiosity. I like to use some of the most common things in my work, playing with them in one way or another to shift one’s perspective of it – like with the street sign frames.

I just imagine, what if it had a photograph inside of it instead of the text “Diversion”? These moments in life where I think, what if? A gut feeling, an intuition and an invitation to play with what’s there.

Regarding whether I have any favourite artists – a very interesting question because although a visual artist, I feel inspired or look up to music artists or architects like Tadao Ando or especially, in my current practice, Aldo van Eyck, the dutch architect who dedicated his life to playground architecture, as mentioned before.

His playgrounds are an artwork in their own right, therefore blurring the boundaries between art and life. I am becoming increasingly interested in the idea of there being no divide between the two – this blurring of art and life, which was very evident in works from the 1960s. It is time for active participation now more than ever.

How do you work? What are the different steps before and during creation?

It usually starts with a curiosity. I see something and think upon it, I do not usually react right away. I keep thinking, and wait for the idea to develop at the back of my mind. I don’t like to rush things. I actually like to go through a slow process, living with the idea in my head. Even though you can forcefully develop an idea, it can be interesting to wait and see, maybe something else might come up and link to the original idea/starting point thereby adding multiple layers or facets to the final work. It is the idea which then dictates the medium.

What message do you want to convey through this exhibition?

To think about the present and the future. To think openly and rethink ways of doing things. The importance of individual and collective action. The importance of play. To think about playful, collaborative futures. Play is oftentimes overlooked, but it is vital and a biological, psychological and social necessity. We should continue playing throughout life. Play is serious.

Has the health crisis been a source of creation for you ? How did you experience this period as an artist?

I had works which were seen in a different light, in the light of the pandemic, especially speaking of Alone, Together. After travelling to York to show Alone, Together (2018) at the Aesthetica Art Prize I came back and was required to self-quarantine. During this period I created a video work “Still, Play! Play Still” (2020) which is about being still or playing within one’s constraints/confinements, which is also included in the exhibition. I have been making quite a few works as of late, with the latest ones being the result of my reaction and feelings towards the degradation of our environment and all the newly constructed eyesores. I also had some time to slow down and be still, but also think about international residencies and opportunities.

How do you see the post-COVID period from an artistic point of view?

I feel excited about making more public artwork or participatory works. Now that we have spent a lot of time indoors, I feel that people are going to appreciate their time outdoors and socialising outdoors more than ever. Therefore, it might be interesting to think of working outdoors and creating more spontaneous interventions in the public space.

Do you have any current projects? What are your future projects ?

My lifelong project is to continue creating work at my own pace. Also, I would love to go back to a city, for a residency, possibly Berlin. I am also looking forward to being part of a project taking place at a primary school, involving the co-creation of something... but more details out in the playful future!

Interview by Audrey Jandin