In October a new contemporary cultural space opened in Paris. Conceived by an American scientist and novelist, David Edwards, Le Laboratoire, www.lelaboratoire.org
, is a meeting point for artists and scientists to share thoughts, ideas, visions, and see what happens as a result. Two leading figures in these respective fields, who in all likelihood have never met and may not know each other’s work, come together to explore concepts and “push the limits of understanding,” as the mission statement declares. The production is (more or less) spontaneous, and attempts to lay new groundwork. It’s a tricky concept to pull off, which why the name of the space, Le Laboratoire, is a good one, because in actuality the work developed is truly experimental.
The space takes up the ground and lower levels of a building in the 1st arrondissement, just up the way from the Louvre. The façade is all glass with shades of gray and black paint and white neon signage. Set into part of the façade is a ‘theatre optique,’ a niche that has been carved between the glass façade and the interior to display video work. On view now is a piece by the artist Patrick Sorin as well as a more informational type video that presents David Edwards describing his vision for the space and how the project developed.
The inaugural exhibitions have been in the making for over a year. The main space presents work by the French artist Fabrice Hyber that developed out of his encounters with Robert Langer, a leading scientist in stem cell research at MIT. The two met for one week last January when they decided to focus their project on the experience of a stem cell transforming into a neuron. Hyber took all of the scientific data and information gleaned from their ongoing exchanges, continued his own research and from this created a series of paintings, sculptures and installation work. Hyber subtitled the project “food for thought,” and several of the works, such as a figure constructed out of fruits and vegetables or the two vats of champagne with fruits in the process of fermentation, deal explicitly with this theme of transformation, decomposition and bodily function. There are several large paintings that look like studies form a notebook with words, formulas, numbers and charts, and an inflatable sculpture that resembles an esophagus. The whole experience is part funhouse for science and part artist’s studio.
In a smaller space set right next to the entrance is an exhibition titled Bel-Air, and it is the result of collaboration between David Edwards, and the French designer Matthew Lehanneur. Using research and observations of NASA scientists, the two artists created a type of air filter that is part design object, part environmental gadget. The artists learned that early on many astronauts had returned from space flights with high levels of toxic chemicals in their systems due to the synthetic materials of the spacecraft. NASA scientists soon began studying certain types of plants that were said to act as natural filters, absorbing and metabolizing the gases to help combat this effect. Edwards and Lehanneur take this concept into the contemporary home, a space that is also filled with synthetic materials, and they have created a small, pod-like structure that houses a small plant. The pod is white with a clear top and it rests on the floor. The filter supposedly passes dirty air past the surfaces of the plants, thereby strengthening the capacity of the plants to absorb the toxins and rendering the plant “more intelligent,” i.e. able to ward off a higher amount of the gases. If all this is true, which it seems to be, Bel-Air is a truly innovative concept housed in a chic design object. This exhibition seems to succeed a bit more than the other in part because the two were coming from a shared interest and a more collaborative working process.
It will be interesting to see how Le Laboratoire develops in the coming months. Being privately funded allows for flexibility and real experimentation and the program has an ambitious agenda that should make for an exciting addition to the Paris art scene.