'I wanna catch a fish with my bare hands': Laure Prouvost on politics, mythmaking and her 'grandma's' cure-all tipple

The French artist, for whom interviews are treated as a piece of performance art, is showing work in Art Basel's new Meridians section

Prouvost: an art world provocateur who uses absurdity to spin new narratives Image: courtesy of Alexandre Guirkinger

Prouvost: an art world provocateur who uses absurdity to spin new narratives Image: courtesy of Alexandre Guirkinger

Simple interviews are elevated to a form of performance art for Laure Prouvost. For this one, for example, the French-born Antwerp-based artist sent back four sets of revisions to her answers and advised that misspellings were a “part of it”. Like her installations and videos, which often feature outsized boobs as well as titular stories, the artist-cum-trickster mixes fact and fiction into one amusing, sometimes unsettling narrative.

At Art Basel in Miami Beach for its inaugural Meridians section, she is presenting DEEP TRAVEL Ink (2016-ongoing), a “pseudo-functional” travel agency that is part of her fictional family business, iterations of which were previously shown in Frankfurt and New York. According to her gallery, Lisson: “This hypnagogic environment replete with water coolers, palm trees, fans, people working at desks, as well as a waiting area conflates time and space, rendering any concrete or psychic destination tantalisingly uncertain.”

We spoke with Prouvost about politics, mythmaking and her “grandma’s” cure-all teatime tipple.

The Art Newspaper: You’ve had a non-stop year: representing France at the Venice Biennale off the back of a 2018 retrospective at Paris’s Palais de Tokyo, your largest solo show ever in Antwerp, a major commission for London’s Art on the Underground and now a large-scale installation at Art Basel in Miami Beach. What’s keeping you going?

Laure Prouvost: I don’t want to be here licking my TV every night, turning into the plastic that is slowly covering us. I would rather keep drinking Grand ma’s spécial tea (always with a little drop of gin). But you know I am just following the work, it’s my Uncle’s project—I am just there to support him. The works happen with many beautiful little tentacles helping me and my family always, it is fascinating to be touching and feeling the world. 

The artist’s DEEP TRAVEL Ink (2016-ongoing) in Art Basel in Miami Beach’s new Meridians section Photograph: David Owens, The Art Newspaper

When it comes to your Meridians installation, is bigger better?

If you come some squid will show you the way, throwing some ink, showing us how to find the raw feelings. We are installing a franchise of the travel agency, Deep Travel Ink. Ideally, it would be 5 times bigger... the ambition of my Uncle’s Deep Travel Agency is huge. I have told him that big is not always better but he does not listen. He wants to open a franchise in each corner of the globe. If you come and if you do everything we tell you to do the film will make you richer a lot richer we’re really happy if you make the effort to come. 

What is the importance of storytelling and mythmaking to understanding reality, and how does art, yours or otherwise, help write those stories and resituate reality?

You realise that you own everything, that everything is yours, just by reading this you might make a bird fly, you’re so powerful, rolling yourself in the sand, you own every little bit of sand touching your body, you’re so rich now, the stars are yours, you own the stars you can even grab the stars in the palm of your hand, reading this text made you richer. I am not making up much you know, I am mostly just driven by family demands... Keeping these limits and these systems are very important, keeping playing and imagining with the wild.

Prouvost with her work © Laure Prouvost

You recently said in the Guardian newspaper that visitors to your London Underground art installations should bring a shovel to dig a new tunnel from the UK to the European continent as a response to Brexit. That’s far from resolved and maybe still good advice, but what would you advise visitors bring to Miami Beach?

We could go far, far away... follow me, I will show you the way. I wanna catch a fish with my bare hands. The advice I can give is to follow the feeling hanging on your sleeve as tentacles feel and think, immediately as they touch. And keep a shovel in the over hand to brake walls.

Your work is funny, because it has a certain amount of absurdism in scale and concept, but it is also political in that it addresses ideas of the body, gender, climate change—all the big socioeconomic topics. To what extent do you think absurdism is needed to understand our political reality today?

With my hand deep in the ground, I feel the heart beat of the earth. If we carry on like that, we will just dig the future out of its past. It’s our way to feel above the little political games and keep a distance to the big deeper things and keep joy and amazement central within the absurdity of it all. 

Why are boobs and bums important symbols in your work?

It’s the soft parts of our body, to soften the world.