For more than twenty years, Laura Henno's work has honed in on those parallel realities that are relegated to the margins of our present-day world, both in the form of photographs that are sometimes staged but always open to possible meanings and interpretations, and in films whose documentary approach circumvents the conventions of the genre. This is accomplished through the use of particularly innovative narrative and pictorial principles in the artist's approach, for instance, the posture of the bodies and the expressiveness of each individual's face, the play of light and the omnipresence of the off-screen, and the distinctly singular relationship with territory. "In my photographs, the exact geopolitical situations of the landscapes are portrayed in depth, yet they also serve as pretexts to approach a broader subject matter and interpretation of the interaction between the occupants and the occupied space. Beyond the notion of landscape, it is the question of territories and their boundaries-of people's trajectories-that lies at the heart of my photographs. The landscape is a canvas, it appears behind the clouds of dust that obscure the figures, in the blinding reflection of the lights, as well as in the wet earth that offers shelter while leaving its imprint on the photographed bodies.
Resolutely committed, the artist sheds light on identities, existences, bodies and voices traditionally shunned from view, as evidenced in the ensemble of series rbought together for the first time on the occasion of her new exhibition at Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Brussels. In this way, each one of them enters into a dialogue with the other, like stages in a journey-both realistic and fictional-through today's reality, a reality that in its turn seems to have no beginning and no end. As the artist points out: "I depict a-temporal landscapes, blurring geographies and borders. [...] My images invite the eye to marvel at familiar and mysterious details, those in-between moments when time seems to have come to a standstill. The narrative is put in the hands of the viewer, left to construct the story and devise hypotheses."
Favouring a long and immersive process, Laura henno has therefore set out to establish, from Lille to Calais, from Rome to Réunion Island, from the Comoros archipelago to California, intense and profound relationships with communities who find themselves in a context of clandestinity, isolation, uprootedness, migration or exile, emblematic of the ambiguous and complex tensions in which contemporary political and social issues are embedded. A particularly sensitive and humanistic approach that allows her to explore in detail, sometimes through several stages of life, or even several generations, the strategies of resistance or survival that each "character" develops, even in the most apparently inexorable or implacable contexts. The artist then goes on to translate, through her artistic approach, the struggles and hopes, the doubts and dreams of each person, if not the vivid and creative dimensions of their trajectory or experience of life. "Starting from personal journeys, I draw a collective narrative or a map composed of multiple trajectories and singular experiences, of a common destiny shared through random encounters. It is quite difficult to define the contours of this ever-changing community we have come to refer to as 'exiles', 'migrants', 'clandestines', 'illegals', invisible and intangible communities that disrupt and disturb our points of reference."
In 1967, in his lecture "Of Other Spaces"1, Michel Foucault proposed the paradoxical concept of "heterotopia" as an actually realised utopia that engenders "a place of all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, in order to constitute a place of all times that is itself outside of time, and inaccessible to its ravages"2. In this instance, it is the relational adventure between Laura Henno and each of the communities she addresses and with whom she shares a gaze, a link, a history and ultimately an "image-being" that is a heterotopia in itself, just like the photograph(s) and/or film(s) that will result from it. In other words: Laura Henno does not speak for these communities, but with them. Or, in a way, on a journey with them. In this way, this exhibition bears witness, on the one hand, to these polyphonic places of all times-of all eras, of all territories, of all existences-and, on the other, to the fact that, at the heart of both the process of the work and its outcome(s), everything exists outside of time, outside of reality, preserved and unaffected by any deterioration. To participate and become engrossed in artistic work, is to understand life by distancing oneself from the world and expanding oneself, and then to restore this life by leaving the world behind and (re)discovering oneself. It is to understand and to understand oneself, through history or memory, one's singularity and specificity, one's experiences and emotions... And this is just as relevant when it comes to the gaze of the viewer, who is constantly deconstructing and reconstructing what he or she sees, feels and understands, what he or she retains while watching.
In the face of tragedies, disasters, ruptures, mutations or current challenges, art is more necessary than ever; and Laura Henno's work is part of this necessity. As Roland Barthes points out, "[It] exerts no pressure on the other; its power is the truth of affects, not of ideas: hence it is never arrogant, terrorist: according to Nietzschean typology, it aligns itself with Art, not with Priesthood"3. As such, there is, in Laura Henno's work, no exposition, no message, no moral, no injection to be sought. Only experiences of space and time, of the human and the tangible, if not of that "instant perception of this long and visible journey of humanity" of which Charles Péguy spoke.
¹ Lecture at the Cercle d'études architecturales on 14 March 1967, published in "Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité" n°5, October 1984, pp. 46-49, later republished in "Dits et écrits".
² Michel Foucault in this statement referred more precisely to the heterotopia of the museum, but this seems to me to be just as relevant in the context of the work.
³ Roland Barthes, « Œuvres Complètes », dir. Éric Marty, Paris, Le Seuil, 2002, pp. 469-470.