Sylvain Estibal, 2010
A deviation consists in taking an alternative route, following another itinerary to get to a destination. We are all forced to adapt to new routes that are laid out before us in the city. Our perception is transformed as we experience the urban landscape in a new way.
The eternal quest to alter the viewer’s perception of urban landscapes is at the heart of Laurent Ajina’s work. He orchestrates new spaces with the simple trail of a paint marker, drawing attention to things that fall outside the normal field of vision. He brings life to barren walls and character to concrete; he transforms matter and redefines space. The traces he leaves behind seem to linger on the wall like a mirage, an impalpable reflection between the floor, walls, and ceiling. Each step he takes and each obstacle he encounters is an interruption...a moment of doubt, uncertainty; a new variable emerging to divert his thoughts, the trajectory of his paint marker, and the very essence of the wall.
Ephemeral structures: temporary walkways, work zones, scaffolding. They invade available space and impose themselves on the horizons, leaving cities no choice but to accept their undeniable presence; they have become an integral part of the urban landscape, bringing with them new form and meaning. Utilitarian and ephemeral, a new architectural reality comes to life creating a parallel and alternative existence. Rising above the system, these structures use the confines of urbanism to create a new stage for construction between cement and sky; for Laurent Ajina, between ceiling and floor. He experiences the urban landscape as a limitless terrain of sensory exchange: a “psychogeographical” dimension composed of static points and fluid motion. The ephemeral structures are actors in a dynamic that has overrun the cities, transforming them into vast grounds of destruction and instantaneous reconstruction; an incessant work in progress that encroaches upon historically completed structures. Skilled observer: Laurent Ajina is constantly feeding his topographical memory, carefully selecting which images to engrave upon his mind. Infinitesimal details go unnoticed to passersby, but he sees them all. He has perfected the art of awareness, of seeing the unseen, of creating an innovative representation of the urban landscape. Ajina’s work aligns with the evolution of contemporary drawing, which focuses less on the installation of a definitive piece of art – static and isolated in a neutral space – and more on the act of drawing the fractures of the urban landscape. The resulting work is an ephemeral representation of the hidden elements of our daily surroundings.
Since the dawn of time, man has felt the urge to mark his territory, to leave a trace behind: a print, a drawing, a sign of existence that would bear witness to his intelligence. This burning desire is what distinguishes man from common beast. As we look upon Laurent Ajina’s wall drawings, we are reminded of parietal art, man’s vital need to express himself, of Ajina’s compulsion to pick up a simple tool – a paint marker – and leave his trace on walls and floors, just as our ancestors once marked the walls and ceilings of caves. It is a humble form of art that mustn’t be confused with Arte Povera but should be seen as complementary. Ajina’s work focuses on the process of art’s creation and emphasizes the spontaneity of the gesture rather than the resulting final work. It is unpredictable, unrestricted, and free. The instinctive drive to leave a mark has been continually played out at the heart of the city, in the simplest of circumstances. According to legend, Cimabue came upon Giotto, at the time a mere shepherd boy, drawing a sheep on a stone with a piece of charcoal. As children draw on the ground, they transform it into a personalized canvas of expression. Ink marks the surface: it flows along contours, permeating them, giving them character. The trace left behind is reminiscent of signatures left on a wall or initials carved into a tree leaving that allow a person to leave a bit of himself behind that will outlast his transient presence. Laurent Ajina steps inside to leave his trace, choosing to bring the boundless inspiration of urban landscapes into the confines of available constructed spaces; clean, smooth, surfaces that are ready to receive his work. He stands in a limited space, but his spirit has erred in myriad places, taking in the infinite combinations of shape and form found in urban and peri-urban landscapes. Wall drawing is not a defined pathway, it is a deviation. Its innumerable paths reach out to meet the viewers and allow them to establish a new connection to the city. The image before them arouses all of their senses. If vision is essential, Laurent Ajina enjoys the sight of bared walls, but his true pleasure is found in “feeling” them. The artist touches the wall with his paint marker rather than his hand, but this in no way lessens the sensation; the fine, slender area of contact only heightens it. The paint marker is not an exterior tool that limits him; it is an extension of his very being. As Ajina skillfully navigates the surface with the paint marker, it quietly squeals in admiration and accord, as if it partaking in Ajina’s pleasure as he adorns the wall before him. The medium entices him as he savors the intimacy of the moment. The rush is intoxicating and the high is poignant; Ajina is an addict. The art has become the scale on which all things are measured; it is not about thrill seeking, but about finding meaning in it all. Laurent Ajina connects with the wall. His paint marker covers its surface, drawing out its qualities, endowing it with new forms. As a lover who understands what his beloved requires, Ajina intuitively senses what the open space is lacking and, with a stroke of perfection, fulfills its needs. He accomplishes his task quickly (covering large spaces in little time) but unlike a rushed pedestrian, he is aware of his surroundings and deftly picks his way through the urban jungle. The medium is static, but incessantly transmits a series of messages that the artist must be open to receive. Animosity or esteem, aggression or collusion; the artist instantaneously decrypts each one, embracing some and rejecting others, altering the trajectory of his paint marker and the destiny of his drawing.
Laurent Ajina perpetually goes through the same motions, creating countless drawings of a same series, all part of an insistent schema. The notion of repetition and series is omnipresent in the world of skaters. Skaters are notorious for repeating a trick over and over again, going through the same motions, never giving up, never giving in until at last they can say that they’ve ‘got it locked’. Ajina draws out his tricks, recreating the lost notion of urban speed. The procedure never changes: he fixes his eyes on an element and reproduces it hundreds of times. Just as a skater rides his board on the pavement, Ajina’s charcoal slides along the surface of the graph paper, his own half-pipe that gives him the lift he needs to execute his trick. The exercise of endlessly drawing the same image is arduous but necessary to get the image ‘locked’ in his mind. These are the only drawings he does in front of his subject, capturing angles from all around the world as he seeks the ultimate location: Istanbul, Zuoz, Basel, Naples, Vienna, Paris, Los Angeles, New York.
Movement plays a crucial role in Laurent Ajina’s work; his flexibility, fluidity and capacity to foresee where his next step will lead him are essential to the esthetics of his work. With a clear mind and paint marker in hand, he pushes off towards the ultimate adrenaline rush: drawing. The paint marker is unforgiving, leaving no margin for error and forces him to perform his trick without protection – no pads. Whether it has just taken off or is gliding across open space, Ajina harnesses its power and guides the paint marker along. Like a tight-rope walker who skillfully maintains his balance, Ajina sends out a series of lines with quick, convulsive motions; constantly innovative and seeking new trajectories. The motions are brisk, but he does not falter; he has mastered being on the edge. He carefully weighs his artistic mastery and audacity to take risks, able to find the perfect balance to successfully complete his task and perceive the world in a new way, much like the tricks of skaters elevate them to new heights, enabling them to see the world from new angles.
Ajina’s drawings appear in infinite variations, each one a clear testament to his desire to conquer every inch and detail of a given confined space, of a floor or a wall. He executes his art on-site, bringing a living and palpable presence into the area he will transform. His world exists somewhere between the abstract (the content: the currents of energy, the messages transmitted) and the concrete (the container: the architecture, the structure) where he is free to interpret things in his own way. He explores the surface, opening it up, taking it over, redefining all existing notions of distance, space, and time. Volumes of open areas are covered with a traveling panoramic that allows him to perceive the urban landscape from unusual angles; a perception rooted in personalized scenarios.
Contemporary society imposes a new divergence of time, forcing us to take the shortest path between two points. By inflicting optimal and logical routes upon us, our time in transit simply becomes lost time, moments of suspended time and space, void of all meaning. These restrictive trajectories are mere intervals in our sterile lives. Through drawing, however, restrictions and constraints vanish. Time engenders unprecedented sensations and pleasures. It gives meaning to the artist’s encounter with the wall, and allows him to occupy the space all the while penetrating it, a permanent deviation from the norm. Before occupying a space, Ajina scopes it out and knows it, but once he arrives to mark the walls, he stands before them as if encountering the space for the first time. Daring to stray from the light of the beacon, he spontaneously changes direction, goes off to course to explore unknown waters...in the city. He takes on a vast area of open space free of any limits, devoid of clutter and congestion, of the rules and rituals of daily life. He notices distinctive features in an everyday urban environment that was designed to be predictable and familiar to us all. He uses the city in a prodigious way, refusing to be bound by the shackles of society’s mores and imposed interdictions. He upsets the balance of things, leaving behind the artificial conformism that was pioneered by the promoters of urban functionality. This empowers him to temporarily self-appropriate a space that is otherwise inaccessible. He frees his creative energy to reveal a drawing that invites us to transgress the boundaries of our perception of the urban landscape. Determined not to conform, he opts for the deviation. Ajina explores open space in the same way that nomads wander the horizons – freely and spontaneously, open to the unpredictable and unknown. The site is the catalyst that enables the artist to find his rhythm and create a series of lines and pathways that extend outward and come together in a unique display of unfettered expression. He is able to find a new continuum at each venue, each one just as perilous and uncertain as the last, empowering him to achieve his ultimate goal: to bring out a new value in urban spaces.He turns walls and floors into his instruments, making them surrender to his artistic desires. Ignoring their primary function, he reduces them to a medium, a mere backdrop for his artwork. Laurent Ajina’s work is part of a new kind of architecture that ignores technology and seeks other ways to live in the city. Creating the foundation for a new human autonomy, he continually displays unique psychogeographical dimensions.
The artist uses each space differently; keeping the structure and function of the space in mind, he immerses himself in the creation of his drawing, cleverly eluding the traps that the surface sets before him, grinding along the obstacles with his paint marker. The momentum dares him to take on windowpanes, door frames, stairways, angles and corners that allow him get his drawing ‘locked’ on the wall. He doesn’t plan his movements; he senses them. His intuition leads him, enabling him to crack the codes of the open space before him. When Ajina walks in the city, he thinks; when he draws, he feels: inspiration and sensations. Laurent Ajina’s work is an escape, a moment of solitude, a time to close himself off from the world; a simple act of anti-competition that challenges the artist to conquer new territories in a perpetually fragmented world. He strives forward for himself and against himself.