KIMBERLY MARTEAU EMERSON, 2020
When I first met Laurent Ajina last Fall in Los Angeles at the urging of a couple of Vienna and Berlin collector friends, we sat above my tennis court and talked for two hours about art, tennis, architecture, social justice, human rights, the world, and of course, Los Angeles.
Like one of his black lines, Laurent drew me into his vision of creative expression and opened an artistic inquiry in my own mind about the original universe he explores, dives into and tenaciously, energetically catalogues with his marker. Laurent’s drawings burst with the seismic energy of an artist intent on making connections, creating ties within worlds and between worlds, building layers of structure and meaning hampered only by their one-dimensional confines. As a global citizen and human rights advocate, I was drawn to Laurent’s efforts to tie the world together with his art. Initially, as one contemplates his line drawings, first impressions are of chaos and frenzy, a scribbling intensity of spirit. As Laurent draws, however, and viewing his performance of his work in his films is key to experiencing the work, there is a deliberateness, a kind of internal order, that emerges from the seeming chaos. And when you spend time with Laurent’s drawings, straight lines and geometric shapes emerge. These are the expression of a disciplined hand and intentional mind. It is no small fact that Laurent first trained as an architect before turning to fine art. Architecture has evolved as one of Laurent’s main influences —- especially the architecture of urban areas, with their sometimes grid-like, often messy layouts. Los Angeles, the urban epicenter of the West Coast, is a magnet for Laurent, with its concrete sprawl, its randomly tangled web of roads and streets, and limitless highways vanishing into the asphalt-stained horizon. In his work in LA and around the world, Laurent explores these arteries, these literal and figurative paths which connect us to each other, carrying the civilization equivalent of oxygen and nutrients: people, families, ideas, food, trade, commerce...and especially, access and freedom... but roads also transport refugees, slaves, prisoners, criminals, war, and in this era, a pandemic. In other words, this complex artistic architecture reflects not only our opportunities, but also our turmoils and challenges. These are no simple drawings. Laurent connects us on the surface and drags us down deep to contemplate all sides of our urban lives and humanity. And yet, his work is not always high intensity. In his Southern California desert pieces laid carefully with choreographed rectangles in bright colors abstractly representing tennis courts, pools, golf courses, flowerbeds and buildings, the civilizing of nature’s toughest environment, and always his crisscrossing lines, Laurent lifts us to hover above and peacefully appreciate this man made vibrancy in the starkest of landscapes. And in his photographic pieces, set, among other places, in California’s Joshua Tree wilderness, the Hungarian border, and Beirut, Laurent’s drawings on cardboard become transitory symbols in the landscape, seemingly random interventions themselves that jolt viewers into a heightened and sometimes ironic awareness of what they are visually experiencing. They are also somehow calming, as if the cardboard just showed up and sits contentedly in its new location amidst the serene grandeur of nature, or amidst the masculine visual noise of a construction site, reminding us that connections are everywhere, coming from somewhere, going to somewhere. Even in his choice of materials, Laurent is making very specific choices. For example, his employment of used cardboard as a base for his line drawings folds into his idea that this material has traveled from somewhere, to somewhere, containing something - it has an individual journey - and now will travel again in a different use, as part of a work of art also containing “some things.” This time those “some things” are ideas emerging and camouflaged in both intentional and auto-drawn lines that connect the cardboard to a greater reflection, a reflection on the power of connectivity and, with it, the possibility of transformation in the cardboard’s journey and, in a meta way, in all of our journeys, be they in Vienna, California or elsewhere. Through his artistic algorithms, Laurent teases the idea of reincarnation, of unexpected new life. And that brings hope.