Karine Laval: Heterotopia at Robert Koch Gallery

BY Glen Helfand, March 26, 2018

Karine Laval, Heterotopia #70, 2017. Courtesy Robert Koch Gallery

A gallery full of Karine Laval’s photographs is a lush, colorful place. Robert Koch Gallery, for example, feels like a tropical paradise, with large color prints of leafy palms, cacti, and wild flowers seen through what appear to be hallucinogenic filters. The colors (fuscia, yellow, blue, green) are amped to electric hues and resemble ghostly, liquid reflections in puddles of iridescent, benign chemicals. The world in these pictures is pleasantly humid, and fronds are often dotted with raindrops.

Do we need to know that the works are mostly straight photographs, albeit taken with set ups that involve dichroic mirrors that chromatically distort and fracture the light? To their credit, we don’t – we can take them at fantastical face value.

Laval is a sensualist, and her work revels as much in the physical as the optical. In earlier bodies of work, she focused on swimming pools, which she shot from underwater vantage points or inverted so that they seem like a slowed-down alternate universe. They have a sensuality akin to Pipilotti Rist’s hallucinogenic video works (Laval shows one video in this exhibition, though it adds little to the eye tickle of the photographs). One of her photographs depicts the slats of a pool deck, revealing that perhaps the seemingly dense jungle of these pictures might be the landscaping in a backyard, camera tricks fluffing up the visual scale.

Karine Laval, Heterotopia #2, 2014. Courtesy Robert Koch Gallery

On view through April 28, the series, dated 2014/2018, is titled Heterotopia, a term Laval borrowed from Michel Foucault who, in a 1984 essay in October, looked at actual spaces that are also utopian, yet exist unto themselves, places like nightclubs, cemeteries, bathhouses, and swimming pools. These are places that are sequestered, and are frequently landscaped. Laval illustrates this idea as she finds and augments these kinds of refuges, but invoking French theory takes some of the pleasure and mystery out of the proceedings. Laval wraps her work in a buzzword rather than allowing for quirks and subtexts to emerge more autonomously.