Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tennis art of Laurent Perbos

Do you know Laurent Perbos? I discovered his work quite by accident as I was doing research for my previous article on the innovativeness of the ATP’s annual season launch. Turns out that the ATP were actually not the first to come up with the idea of a floating tennis court. Perbos did it in 2005. In fact, Perbos’ art includes placing tennis courts in some of the most unusual and unplayable places, like partially going up and down concrete steps.

I don’t know if he plays tennis, but as an artist this Frenchman certainly seems to have a fondness for sports in general, and table and lawn tennis in particular as media for playfully creative self-expression. The lawn tennis series are titled “Aire”, and tennis finds itself transferred to terrains that play both with and on our visual perception of space.

And I say “play” because there is indeed a playful aspect to this work. But it is also subversive in nature, a kind of intentional messing with our minds. With these installations it becomes difficult not to realize the ridiculousness of some of tennis’ rigidity, like wearing white at Wimbledon or not stopping a match in extreme conditions of heat. At the same time, there is inherent in his work also a nod to some component of order and predictability. But in the next breath he turns this upside down, and lo and behold there is a perfectly lined orange tennis court floating on a body of water.

It’s been difficult to find information on Laurent Perbos. I happen to speak French so doing Google searches in that language was not a problem. But all I found out is that he was born in Bordeaux, France, on April 21st 1971, and currently lives and works in Marseille. Although I assumed that “Laurent” is a man, some English websites refer to him as “her”, no doubt a difficulty caused by poor translation. And like I said, I have no idea if he even plays tennis. But surely tennis must be an area of interest if it has managed to inspire him so?

There is an element of fun in these and many of his other creative projects. But his installations also lead to a kind of contemplation. One critic noted that Perbos’ work recognizes the competitiveness and inherent economics of tennis which is being masked as entertainment, and notes that his work offers a symbolic confrontation and questioning of the authentic.

There is poetry in this work. But it is also viscerally evocative. I’m not much of a fan of the British artist, Bansky, but there is in his work a similar everyday and familiar aspect combined with an element of shock and surprise, e.g., his inclusion of a Simon Cowell-like judge assessing the form of a group of Degas’ ballerinas. A similar quality comes through in Perbos’ work. We’ve played tennis in these settings and we are familiar with both the joy and the danger.

 (All images remain copyrighted to the owner(s) and their depiction on this blog is not intended as copyright invasion).