Laure Prouvost’s latest outing in New York was up front about its own capriciousness. Upon entering the gallery, you encountered a printed sign reading: “Keep left (to the right).” If you did go to the left, you saw It, Heat, Hit, a film made in 2010 by the London-based French artist, in a recessed black-box room. Its opening title card says, “THIS 6 MINUTE FILM REQUIRES ALL YOUR ATTENTION. EACH DETAIL OF PART 1 WILL BE ESSENTIAL TO PART 2.” Yet Prouvost’s film is not conducive to focused concentration. Images and sequences appear only momentarily. Garbled snippets of text flash as intertitles between segments of video. Rattling percussive music clamors throughout, becoming increasingly erratic, and Prouvost utters cryptic messages and responses to on-screen imagery (“It smells damp,” “It feels wrong”) in both intimate whispers and commanding pronouncements. The film’s text and the artist’s interjections form a murky diegesis centered on domestic encounters (“YOU ARE WELCOME TO HELP US IN THE KITCHEN”) and poetic visualizations (“DROWNING AND SWALLOWING THIS TEXT”). At certain points, Prouvost’s voice counts down the time left in the film. “THEY USE SOME RED TO SQUASH YOU TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SCREEN,” reads the last title card, before two palms clasp together, barely visible against a hostile scarlet monochrome. The experience might be seductive if it weren’t so aggressive.
When It, Heat, Hit was shown at the 2014 Taipei Biennial, rows of sculpture flanked the film’s black box. But at e-flux there were no sculptures, and the theater occupied most of the gallery without distraction. The structure’s tunnel-like shape drew the viewer into the viscera of the film, where glass breaks, charcoal burns, skin sweats, gelatinous substances rot and cars take off in plumes of exhaust. The film’s logic is not one of continuity or categorical affiliation, but rather one of surrealist association. Throughout It, Heat, Hit, comma signs flicker on-screen to the sound of a thin snap. Like the commas in the near-homophones of the title, the film accretes connections without explaining them. Phonetics can connect words as much as meaning; affect can chain images together no matter what they depict. Reading the film is a task of synesthetic sense-making.
Prouvost supplemented the film with a second room that housed a small iron sculpture of a tree and a collection of printed responses to the film by an audience Prouvost selected in London. Each text was labeled with the writer’s name and day job. A neuroscientist drafted her response in the form of a scientific paper: “Perception and Association of Visual Information in the Imagery of It, Heat, Hit by Laure Prouvost.” A ghostwriter responded with an aestheticized description in elliptical sentences. Scanning the texts, you started to understand the fallacy of both the analytic and the poetic readings. It was the iron worker, the tree sculpture’s maker, who seemed to get it right: “When I watched the film I felt comfortable. It felt relaxing, like I was paralyzed. The story is like a new galaxy, a new world . . .” In Prouvost’s provocative aesthetics, the sensorium learns to trust its instincts, absorb phenomena, feel it out.