Margareta Sandhofer, 2011
Paris, CentQuatre, water tower, April 6, 2010: Laurent Ajina started his project in northern Paris, in a water tower which was part of the city’s former funeral home. He worked until October 10 of the same year creating "Ascension Inversée" which could be seen until this same date: a mural drawing completed with white chalk on the interior walls of the water tower. The exhibit was coupled with a video projected on the ceiling and accompanied by strange sounds. The work was conceived to be temporal and ephemeral and therefore corresponds to its original substance and the historic fingerprint of the location. The entirety of the vast architectural complex was recently transformed into an Artistic Institution of the City of Paris where several workspaces were made available to visual and performing artists.
The water tower, once used as a watering hole for horses that pulled the hearses, rises freely on one of its extremities to the side of the architectural complex. You must pass through two immense halls before arriving at the water tower which rises up far from the main structure ensuring a strong presence. The castle represents a world of its own unrelated to its immediate surroundings. The thick cardboard on the windows shut out the exterior world. The 19th century facade allows the artists installation within the castle to go unperceived.
Laurent Ajina had already rearranged spaces giving them new identities through graphic on site interventions. In 2010, a few months before his project began in Paris, Ajina travelled to Vienna to another historic location, the former Wiener Werkstätte studios, where he createdDeviation, a monumental wall drawing in black paint marker.
After years of research through various means, Laurent Ajina discovered the merits of an oil-paint marker as an appropriate tool that would enable him to translate his visions with the precision and contemporary aspects that express the architectural spirit in his work. He uses this marker on paper, on canvas, on Plexiglas, and on walls. With the installation In Between, a sculpture or architectural intervention, allowed him to highlight the bivalence of the matte Plexiglas through the drawing he elaborated on both sides of the material (Château de la Crée, Santenay, 2009).
The marker releases a strong line (an inherent characteristic of the tool) of a consistent density. Ajina commands clear lines, either solitary or united in dynamic structures in space. A few elements such as electrical outlets or door frames provide a base for volume in space, a springboard for a dynamic network or lines, comparable to the work a spider accomplishes as it carefully weaves its web. Ajina masters a delicate balance that fills the entire space, seemingly subject to laws of their own. The lines stretch out then come back together forming centers of energy that compartmentalize space. The structure of these spaces evokes architecture at times, and at others, landscapes, teetering between construction and nature. It seems to have poured its energy into broken segments, or to draw them back and unite them in dense knots. Deviation is an impressive and exemplary interpretation of space by a marker. Ascension Inversée is radically different from his prior works. The problem stated is more complicated, and the artistic mission much more complex leading to a more subtle outcome.
Inside the Parisian water tower, the artist is forced to adapt to the unique conditions of the location: the walls do not allow him to use his trusted tool, the marker. The arched windows break the continuity of the wall. A metal stairway occupies the central space that leads to a roof in the form of a pyramid. Inspired by the morbid history of the location, Ajina decided to preserve the patina aspect of the walls and chose the opposite of a black paint market - white chalk. Chalk is one of the ancient means leaving traces and signs, its ephemeral aspect being its appearance and its very nature. The line is rough, dividing and interrupted giving an arid, fragile, and sensitive effect. The particular esthetic is explained by the fact that chalk, as a substance, is pure without any binder to help it adhere to the wall. It leaves its trace simply through the abrasion of the pigment against the stone, and preserving what has been drawn is very difficult. The paint marker is infallibly resistant, and the chalk unquestionably ephemeral. Laurent Ajina does not weave a web in space, but anchors it in complex strong points, the line originates at the base of the wall on the floor and reaches up from the ground. It is a burst of energy that projects forward in the form of a spiral over the length of the wall. In a pulsating rhythm, the line fans out at one point forming meshes whose fibrous edges give the illusion of precarious spatial dimensions. The compartmentalization of space indicates instability and the effort made to create the meshes. They are not anchored in space, but seem rather to glide along the line that becomes a sort of Ariadne's thread on the walls. Even those that are near to the floor and are dense seem massive and heavy. Compact in the center, these meshes fray near the edges getting lost in the immense walls. Higher up, the surface of the meshes (trellises) lessens just as the weight of the design seems to lighten in the eye of the observer; the spatial construction becomes clearer and more architectural. It has yet to be decided whether Ascension Inversée was driven by the constant development of an overflowing pulsating energy source, or whether it is simply a mutation in time of one and the same element, which continually grows from its roots reaching higher to attain the spiritual realm. Time, just as a fourth dimension would be, therefore becomes inherent. On its own, it remains undefined; the movement corresponds to an elevation. This situation is stressed by a particular lighting scenario intentionally established by the artist. The only light source is the glass door at the entry which allows natural light to enter. The higher zones of the location are plunged into the shadows, which only get darker as you move up toward the tower making a contrast and thus quite an impression when the video is projected on the ceiling. The projection of the video on the various facets of the pyramid produce an artificial blue light creating a cold atmosphere. The buildings in the area, void of human presence, are filmed from the perspective of someone walking; the images illustrate fragments of their walk as they continue forward, their back to a deep blue sky. It succeeds in creating a strong electrical sensation congruent with the mural design, as it gently rotates. A strange paradox was thus born, and the observer can no longer turn back. This sensation is intensified by the resonating audio track that was designed specifically for the video. It is difficult to determine the origin of the surreal sound. Just as the drawing teeters between organic nature and structured architecture, the sound vacillates between metallic mechanic sounds, synthesizer sounds, and organic sounds similar to those of a human body or an animal. It is up to the observer to decide whether the abyss of a human body has created the noise or whether it is an artificially generated sound. Whatever the case, it leaves a strange feeling that echoes inside and destabilizes.
As far as the graphics on the wall are concerned, and compared to the other works occupying this same space, Ascension Inversée aims to be a pure reduction leading to the very origin of the most elementary senses. The artist leaves his permanent marker aside and opts for the frailty of white chalk; instead of elaborated a complex network across the walls, he traces a line of ascension. Ajina not only uses sound and video to broaden his pallet of mediums, but also to add another level to the spatial and temporal dimension of his exhibition. He uses them to echo what he already expressed through his chalk drawing and throws all the mediums together to create a surprising force, rough and brittle, all the while carefully put together and contained.
The title Ascension Inversée implies the notion of assumption and also implied the paradox created by the spatial experience within the water tower: the video played on a loop creates a sense that time has been marked with this extreme perspective. Highlighted through the sound creation and video, the installation draws the observer in and fascinates. We are tempted to try and enter into this strange loop of time and come ever closer. But the sound of footsteps on the metal stairs seems to get in the way. The stairwell has become an instrument, a means of intervention. The observer enters into this universe regardless of whether he chooses to, his very presence, both physical audible are foreign objects in the exhibit disrupting what has been put in place. By signifying the moment in time, the observer disturbs the notion of eternity. In theory, the observer could accompany the sound loop under the pyramidal roof of the tower where the images are projected, thus becoming part of its continuity, but a strange feeling draws the observer to this area, towards the ground and the light, leaving the Ascension Inversée. What type of space does Ascension Inversée belong to? Does it have characteristics of a real, cosmic, spiritual or spherical concept? Laurent Ajina transformed the abandoned water tower into a non classifiable space. It is a pure creation abounding in metaphors, which brings together in one place various places that were never intended to meet. The result is a complex system that yields a subjective vision that is both intense and irritating. Ascension Inversée is a utopia best defined by the notion of heterotopy as defined by Michel Foucault.