Monday, December 01, 2014

A Perpetual Season by Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine

My review of A Perpetual Season by Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine (MACK, 2014) is now available on photo-eye. You can get the book here.

There they lay, but not in the forgetfulness of the previous night. She was seeking and he was seeking, they raged and contorted their faces and bored their heads into each others bosom in the urgency of seeking something, and their embraces and their tossing limbs did not avail to make them forget, but only reminded them of what they sought. - F. Kafka (The Castle)

Picture a city, like most cities, but there is no exit. Concrete buildings extend upwards and out, they wrap around corners and form ornate patterns where they meet. Vines creep up the walls and even the flowers sag wearily in the morning. Walking down the street, it is easy to get confused. Each building looks like the next. Each corner and doorway forms its own elaborate pattern. The dark corridors and canyon-like streets don’t allow much light, and the day hovers at the threshold of night. With few markers or monuments, it’s easy to move in circles until you’re exhausted or outraged. Tightly edited and smartly designed, Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine’s A Perpetual Season is a psychological short story that leads us through this bleak city. Intimate, yet claustrophobic, order seems to be all around, but the faces of the city’s inhabitants are marked by confusion and bewilderment. Trapped in a labyrinth of their own making, they are left circling and searching.

All images © Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine / MACK
All images © Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine / MACK

The book begins with a solitary window, illuminated and looking down. In an otherwise dark world, this light takes on an ominous presence. Someone or something is watching. It is best not to linger too long, so we quickly move on. As our guide through this lonesome city, Pujade-Lauraine continually points out the strange modernist structures that exist at every turn — minimalist sculpture and brutalist concrete swirl and surround the people. Windows, doorways, and stairways fill the images, but remain closed or cut off, bricked up, or sealed, just around the corner. Cities are full of incidental spaces, paved walkways, mute concrete, and discrete corners. They sculpt our daily lives and guide us through the day. We hardly pay them any mind, even when they encircle us and close off possibilities. The utopic hopes of modernism turned sour.

Although composed largely of architectural shots, lone individuals or groups also appear. Stranded on the street, they often look like fish caught in the dark eddies formed in the corners of anonymous buildings. Pushing against the current, they seem unaware of the forces acting against them, resigned or baffled by the walls that had rose up long ago, the paths that lead them astray. Remarkably, the images are striped of all contemporary markers. All advertising or signs have been carefully excised, and there are no recognizable monuments. The people who wander the streets seem of a different or alternate era. They inhabit a retro-futuristic landscape that is both distant and strangely immediate.

All images © Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine / MACK
All images © Grégoire Pujade-Lauraine / MACK

Careful attention has also been paid to the book. As a designer at MACK, Pujade-Lauraine helped designed most of the publisher’s recent titles, and has created an elegant well-portioned book. The abstract cover echoes the structures found throughout the book, and the muted blue page edges complement the work’s somber tone. Single images occupy the spreads and each image is given careful weight in the tight edit. The book contains no text save the book info in the back, which aside from the customary dedications, includes a great passage from the Argentine poet Roberto Juarroz ­– “In the face of an unfathomable labyrinth / only one solution remains: / build another, more convoluted / that may confound the first.” Although tucked in the back, Juarroz’s cryptic words offer insight into the work, and maybe just a pathway out.

If Pujade-Lauraine does construct a labyrinth, it is worth noting the distinction with a maze. As Rebecca Solnit notes in her magisterial history of walking, Wanderlust, there is a subtle, but important difference between a maze and labyrinth. Whereas “the maze offers the confusions of free will without a clear destination, the labyrinth [is] an inflexible route to salvation.” Pujade-Lauraine does not offer us a route out or a clear path, but he does lay bare the illusion we’ve created, live in and struggle against. We may not be able to escape, but perhaps knowing we’re trapped and seeing the walls is enough of a path to set us free.

Please note: This review originally appeared on photoeye on Nov. 26th, 2015.