Be prepared to let your imagination carry you away while visiting French artist Laurent Chéhère’s first solo exhibition in the U.S. at Muriel Guépin Gallery, opening November 1. This fantastical exhibition features a series of recent photographs, many of which have never before been exhibited in a series entitled Flying Houses.
Each photograph depicts a single house weightlessly floating in the air, with only clouds and sky as the background. The photographs immediately take viewers back to their youths, as the houses seem to have arisen from a children’s book where one is suddenly caught up in an extraordinary adventure. Audiences are carried into a surrealist world full of miracles where Chéhère’s highly-detailed photographs reference historical and sometimes religious narratives. Chéhère states that the series was especially inspired by the classic French short film “The Red Balloon” by Albert Lamorisse. “The Red Balloon” was shot in Ménilmontant, the same Parisian neighborhood where Chéhère was born, and features a young boy tormented by a gang of bullies, who at the end of the film is taken for a ride over the city’s rooftops by a cluster of balloons.
Chéhère’s houses float just like Lamorisse’s Red Balloon, many of them with telephone lines still attached, emulating balloon strings. The photographs are simultaneously magical and absurd, with a touch of slapstick humor. However, despite the amusing, dreamy and playful components, a dark and eerie element also adheres to Chéhère’s work. The house, representing home, security and retreat, is alienated and becomes almost uncanny. The houses are ripped from their foundations and suspended in air, becoming elusive dreamscapes. They are taken to a different place, an unknown future, and the viewer travels with them. We become Dorothy and at first sight Oz may seem like a beautiful place full of lovely creatures and exciting adventures, but we soon learn that it is bewitched and danger is just around the corner.
Many of Chéhère’s photographs incorporate ambiguous tragic imagery. One of the houses is on fire, while several others are on the brink of falling apart or suggest a life of poverty. While looking at the structures being blown away, we automatically think about their residents and the life that is happening behind closed doors. The houses become a reflection of the people living inside them as well as the city’s architectural vitality. Chéhère offers us a different view of Paris that often unveils the beauty of something inconspicuous. The photographs serve as an homage to his city, its people, and its architecture. He takes these nameless houses and imbues them with life, just like the balloon in Lamorisse’s story. Chéhère states: “I tried to get these sad houses out of the anonymity of the street, to help them to tell their story, true or fantasized”.
Flying Houses are challenging images where multiple narratives and various socio-political issues are examined. Although the photographs seem to dwell within the realm of surrealism at first blush, they ultimately embody a severe contemporaneity and are well worth checking out. Flying Houses will be on display at Muriel Guépin Gallery on the Lower East Side from November 1st – December 1st, 2013.
By Nathalie Zwimpfer