If you are lucky enough to find yourself in London this summer, there’s still plenty of time to catch “The Alternative Guide to the Universe” exhibit at the Southbank Centre’s Hayward Gallery. The exhibit, which was curated by Ralph Rugoff, runs through August 26 and features several key paintings by visionary artist Paul Laffoley, including the piece generally considered to be his signature work, Thanaton III.
Laffoley’s unusual artforms can be categorized in several different ways: His architectural works which are comparable to schematics or blueprints; his inventions of seemingly far out sci-fi devices (keep in mind that everything Jules Verne dreamed up eventually came to pass); his plans for a working time machine and a house that can be grown from a single seed. The subset of his work that seems to baffle critics the most are the Boston-based artist’s mysterious and awe-inspiring “operating systems.”
Laffoley’s operating systems are paintings (and some other types of work on occasion) that are meant to be interacted with in the “theater of the mind,” as the artist puts it. Some are like meditation or yoga devices, something you would stare it or “breathe in.” One operating system instructs the viewer of the painting to touch it on handpads (as above) and pitch their consciousness into a kite allowing for astral travel.
With 1989’s Thanton III however, there is something going on that’s a little bit different, because it’s a painting that’s actually alive in a certain way, but’ll let Paul Laffoley explain it himself in the video.
This interview comes from my UK TV series, Disinformation and was conducted in 2000. Most of the time when this painting is hung in a museum, they have this video playing right beside it.
This isn’t the only television segment to be done solely concentrating on Thanton III, it was also singled out for appreciation in France by Otto on Monde5 during the big Laffoley exhibit at Palais du Toyko in 2009. [You’ll note that when a French person pronounces his surname, they are, in effect saying “Paul The Fool.” In the same sense that he last name Esposito (“the exposed ones”) indicates an ancestor who was orphaned, Laffoley would indicate genetic predecessors who were mentally ill or perhaps severely autistic. “La folies” = “the foolsish ones,” basically. This is something that Paul explained to me himself. Furthermore he is convinced that the “la folies” were the real-life artists’ models for the gargoyles on Chartres Cathedral, but that’s for another time…]