One Photographer Explores the Ultimate Alternate Universe

Artwork: Untitled #45, 2014, from the series Heterotopia.

In the mirror of the mind’s eye, a parallel universe exists, one that is neither here not there but instead a state of absolute otherness. French philosopher Michel Foucault described this space as “heterotopia”—neither utopia nor dystopia but rather, a space of duality and contradiction. In essence, it is the use of paradox to explore reality. For French artist Karine Laval (b. 1971), Heterotopia is a space ripe with possibility. It is also the name of a series of work that is currently on view in Karine Laval: Artificial by Nature at Benrubi Gallery, New York, through July 1, 2016.

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Born in Paris, Karine Laval graduated from the University of La Sorbonne before moving to New York to study at the Cooper Union School, the School of Visual Arts and the New School. Working in photography and video, Laval’s images challenge our expectations of the familiar, bridging the space between reality and illusion with grace and ease. Her works are reveries through time, place, memory and perception, moving towards an abstracted form of expression. In Laval’s work, we enter into an incredible world, an alternate universe where the garden becomes ripe with metaphor. Here reality is distorted to become enhance our perceptual experience, as light and color is manipulated with exquisite skill, making each image an alluring affair, seducing us with a pleasurable palette of hues that is at once a sumptuous sensation for the eyes.

Laval_Heterotopia 13

Untitled #13, 2014, from the series Heterotopia

For the works in Heterotopia series, Laval adds sheets of glass and mirrors into the composition to luminescent effect, creating a stained-glass window effect. Using skewed perspectives and extreme crops, the images become vivid prints of a lush and exotic netherworld. Neither here nor there but infinitely beckoning, the works bring us deep within a layered world. The result is one that feels as infinite as space itself, images of an extraterrestrial landscape that seems to come alive. It is Laval’s mastery of light that allows her to use the photographic plane to traverse the one corner of the visible universe.

Also included in Artificial by Nature are selections from “Black Palms.” In this series, Laval creates solarized images of Los Angeles palm trees. The effect is one that recalls the light of film noir, a style that is synonymous with old school L.A. Here, Laval delivers vast black fields jaggedly slashed with silver etchings. The effect is intense and compelling, drawing the viewer deep in to a space that s both foreign and familiar at the same time.

Untitled #54, 2015, from the series Heterotopia

Untitled #54, 2015, from the series Heterotopia

Artificial by Nature is a mesmerizing collection of work that critiques the nature of sight giving us what we want: to gaze infinitely. In Laval’s work we are whisked away to a world that exists as purely as a perceptual space rendered into the physical realm. There is a knowingness of our desire to look, to ride the light waves that Laval is sending out. Reality includes the artificial as a manifestation of our need to transform our environment as both a means and an ends.

All photos: ©Karine Laval/Courtesy of Benrubi Gallery, NYC

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.