Credit: Alexandre Larose/Prismatic Ground
by Zachary Goldkind Featured Film

scènes de ménage: I. II. III. — Alexandre Larose

May 5, 2023

Alexandre Larose’s work is no stranger to the descriptors underlined by Impressionism, typically reflecting its aesthetic sensibilities of refracted, textured light. In fact, he seems to lean into these sensibilities in the synopses for the three films that comprise his scènes de ménage, discerning them — each a part of a larger “household scenes” project, still midway between development and production — as distinct “paintings” that, in movement, capture the shifting ephemera which many visual arts projects often obscure in their final form. What culminates is a plurality of states in simultaneous transition, where stagnation is both enunciated and emancipated through formal excursion. These are complexes of image, of entombment, and of psychoanalytic projection, three varieties on the same theme: the unfamiliarizing of domesticity. Larose meanders in his fluctuation between color and B&W, light’s recalcitrance rendering volatility in beauty. The line separating slush and the prismatic is almost comically thin, the multi-format techniques (8mm and 16mm used interchangeably, blown up to 35mm for exhibition) minimally perceptible under his signature spectral superimpositions.

This first work in this triptych, I., sees Larose’s mother, caught in flattened space, impelled into the window via telephoto lensing, through which she can observe the rustling of leaves, the enveloping distance of a tree swaying beyond arm’s reach. Such is the narrative of longing, a fawning over flora. The monochromatic timing present here is arresting, the overexposed whites explosive within the high-contrast compositions, each movement and tremble made acutely aware for the viewer. The malleability of these images is perhaps too erratic, this junction enforcing one’s eyes to run across the screen, jumping haphazardly between glints. When color intrudes upon these kinetic metamorphoses, a sudden discharge of energy occurs, the dark red and orange hues more often than not obfuscating the film’s core visual effect, and therefore its affect too. Where monochrome offers vibration, the polychrome stifles it into stasis. Regardless, witnessing the tree encroach upon our transparent barrier — the zoom, here, is a tool of magic — while our hazy subject seeks only to reach out beyond the glass and feel nature. These sentiments yield some of the more astounding recent experimental images. How close to completely illegible the action at times becomes exhilarating, and moments where we receive images that trick us, that force us to reconsider their representations, offer a beautiful gesture to the distance itself — that wall of glass that allows you to see but not feel.

The second entry, II., is the weakest of the three: a repetitive act of taking comfort in one’s designated spot, one’s ritual geography, ad infinitum. Larose’s father sits in his chair, over and over again. However, the aesthetic inquiry feels rote here, his superimpositions of backing hills — or a body of water, its ripples cascading across Larose’s father — whimpering and facile. Low-contrast grays leave an aftertaste similar to the color sequences in I., of dullness and apathy. In contrast with I., however, the camera refuses to appropriate the subjectivity of its character, a decision which itself offers something of the distancing that the preceding film manifested. Noting that formal gulf while maintaining individual operative gestures is an indisputably impressive feat, though one that is more cerebrally driven than functionally effective. And key to Larose’s gaze on his father, in clear opposition to his mom, is the structural repetition as tied to the objecthood of the principle chair, to which the specter of his dad clings.

In III., we again approach Larose’s father. Here, though, the domestic is troubled, and our scenes occur in the exiting of the home, hands clasping a banister as a figure walks down a small flight of stairs, a figure stepping toward and into the light beyond the walls of home. Emergence, though obvious as a logical progression, articulates itself with vigor in III. This transitory space between private and public comes apart entirely: explosions of overexposed superimpositions obstruct our capacity to identify space. What’s imagined here is a tableau of momentum, similar in conceptualization to Lois Patiño’s Strata of the Image. A transmogrification of the textures we have been perceiving through these films reconfigures our sensory analysis in manners unanticipated and astute (naturally, the shift in environs necessitates a shift in perspective). The coarseness of handmade film manipulation is replaced with the nostalgic tinge of professional 35mm B&W photography. But it’s a prickled sheen, the violences of those crudely textured protrusions teasing us sporadically in small scenes. III. appears as the verso to I.; Larose’s father stepping into frame in opposition to his mother being pushed out. This is, then, the story of a ghost as rendered outside of a familiar space, if hemmed in safety. II., the story of habits under these confines; I., the story of desire spurred on via the blur of domesticity. Regardless of some issues of consistency, there’s an impressive coherence to scènes de ménage. The gradual unfurling of motion proves lucid in its look beyond the immediate and to imagines textures as psychoanalytic extrapolation.

Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 18.