Les Zozios is a series of photographs of sculptures which Millet quickly assembles from objects found in his home. He approaches the work with spontaneity, taking no more than ten minutes to complete and photograph each piece. His delight in shape and color brings to mind the works of Joan Miró and Cy Twombly. Millet compares the lines of his sculptural creations to a skeleton, and suggests that the act of photographing grants it life.
The lightness of Les Zozios is a departure from Millet's earlier work, whereas Monolithe continues his exploration of complex sculptural installations built and photographed against an abstract shoreline. As the title indicates, the subjects are massive black structures which are at once impenetrably solid and yet oddly transparent, like doorways through which the viewer might step.
When Laurent Millet's first solo exhibition opened at Robert Mann Gallery in 1999, Margarett Loke of The New York Times praised his "unabashed, almost innocent delight in the low-tech, magical interactions between man and nature." Millet's work is included in public collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris. In 2002, he was among the artists profiled in Lyle Rexor's book Photography's Antiquarian Avant-Garde: The New Wave In Old Processes.
Art on Paper
French artist Laurent Millet's whimsical photographs and installations are so unexpected and, in some ways, so indescribable that reviewers have frequently invoked some combination of other artists to get at what he does: the Village Voice suggested that his images were like a chance meeting of Zeke Berman and Kahn & Selesnick, and the New Yorker said they brought to mind Paul Klee and Alexander Calder getting together to make photographs. When Millet was asked if there are any artists he finds inspiring, he mentioned photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard and sculptor Cy Twombley. The two seem to have little in common, but their sensibilities, strangely enough, are evident in Millet's photographs, partly because he borrows freely from sculpture, drawing, and installation, never failing to create something beguiling.
In an early series, which was on view in New York at the Robert Mann Gallery in the spring of 1999, Millet used old-fashioned techniques, taking pictures with a nineteenth-century box camera, then toning the prints with selenium and walnut stain made with nuts from his grandfather's walnut orchard. The subjects of the photographs—titled "The Petite Machines"—are spindly contraptions that Millet created out of old fishing traps, tree branches, twine, and rocks, and planted in the water just off the shoreline. Some bring to mind elaborate wind chimes, or a mystifying arrangement of fishing poles or animal traps.
Millet's latest series, "Les Zozios," is more contemporary, if equally fanciful, in tone. ("Les Zozios" is a French slang term, which, according to Millet, means roughly "a bird, or a strange creature with a strange personality.") The color photographs show sculptural "drawings" that he has done on the walls of his own house, which is located on the estuary of the Gironde river in the Southwest of France near Bordeaux. The installations are like quick sketches, as opposed to the more complex and time-consuming "Petite Machines": they contain bits of wire, to-do lists that were pinned to the wall, snapshots of friends and family, as well as brightly colored circles or misshapen squares of color that do, indeed, recall a Calder mobile. "I had always considered the landscape as a page," says Millet, "and my ambition was to find another page, and see how it would react with my sense of the world, with the sense of line that I have."
The "Petite Machines" were clearly labor intensive, both in the creation of the contraptions themselves, and in the printing of the photographs. (He made some of the larger versions of the series with a trailer-size camera obscura that produced 24-by-20-inch negatives.) With "Les Zozios," Millet intentionally gave himself a set of constraints: to work quickly, and to use what was at hand: in one, a white radiator is incorporated into the installation; in another, an electrical outlet marks one point at the end of his line, the line being an electrical cord that powers a small light bulb. In an especially fanciful photograph, called Petits Rouges, bright circles of various sizes seem to float within a wire construction built into the corner of a white room. "I try to use all the little things that are already here to make my drawings," he says, "to reduce my intervention as much as possible."
In contrast to the light and loopy "Les Zozios," the 2002 series "Monolithe" is darker and more imposing. To create it, he returned to the shoreline, but he replaced the quirky "Petite Machines" with pitch-black squarish shapes resting in the water. "I was looking for very minimalistic shapes," he says, "that could be seen, on the one hand, as almost three-dimensional, and on the other hand, like a black hole in the picture." The images were inspired by Richard Serra's engravings, but he also had in mind the history of the beaches at Normandy, where the Canadians tried to disembark during World War II but were killed because their boats couldn't land on the rocky shore. "In my imagination," says Millet, "I was seeing these engines, half-covered by the water, like geometric shapes." It's not necessary to know what he was thinking when he made the pictures to feel they have a somber quality. And yet there is a delicacy about them too, in the irregularity of their outside lines, and in the flimsiness of the shapes themselves. "I have a strong necessity to build things," he says, "but now my constructions have become faster and lighter."
Like spiderwebs, Millet's contraptions seem organic, and ephemeral—performance pieces captured by the camera before they are disassembled. Intensely personal without being in any way confessional, or even, for that matter, very revealing, they are as much about line—about the presence of the artist's hand—as they are about photographic qualities. To paraphrase something Millet said when discussing what he finds compelling in the work of both Meatyard and Twombley, he has translated the vibration of the hand and the heart into the lines of his drawings and photographs.
The New Yorker
October 17, 2005
Millet photographs his own ephemeral, improvisational sculptures and then dismantles them. For this appealing new group of images, he uses a series of white rooms to stage spontaneous installations—each lasting no more than ten minutes—that suggest drawing in space. Calligraphic loops of wire connect apples, carrots, glass globes, handwritten notes, or scraps of bright paper in compositions that recall Calder and Miró at their most carefree. Another series, of what appear to be monolithic slabs set up at the shoreline, can't compete with all the sprightly insouciance in the room.