Philippe Parreno makes his art from curation, production, direction and arrangement. His survey exhibition Anywhere, anywhere out of this world is the first to fill every space of the Palais de Tokyo, a contemporary art venue not far from the bank of the River Seine that usually hosts up for four exhibitions at one time. Around his pieces, both old and new, visitors are choreographed, rather than left alone to ricochet from object to film to installation. The exhibition itself is Parreno’s artform.
He is an artist comfortable in his historical timeframe: borrowing from 20th century art and history whilst looking forwards to the future. Architecture, design, an automative drawing machine, a decommissioned Manga character, a premiership footballer, light and darkness – all can be Parreno’s subject, media or object. The artist described his 2012 film Marilyn (which invites the viewer into the hotel suite where the actress lived) as a ‘séance’, a good word to describe his own ability to make work that is greater than the sum of its parts.
From the entrance, framed by one of his light bulb marquee pieces, the artist uses the abundance of Art Deco concrete space to create a grand introduction to his 2007 film work, The Writer. The space is layered with another installation, 56 Flashing Lights; a hint of what is to come later. Four Disklavier pianos play Stravinsky’s ‘Petroushka’ at intervals through the gallery, providing a haunting atmosphere and a musical backbone to the exhibition.
Now we enter a room that is dark. Florescent images float many metres up one wall, with the evocative title The Void, A series of Sculptures to be eaten; whilst opposite them a machine is busy producing hundreds of identical copies of a hand-drawn doodled note, and tossing them onto the floor. The light in the room suddenly comes on. But what is this behind the bookcase? A secret gallery? A display of delicate drawings prove that Parreno can present with intimacy as well as drama.
In the basement there is a dialogue of light sculptures; mindlessly chattering, propositioning and responding. When they all turn off at once, all that is left is the floating gleam of smartphone screens; when a sculpture flickers into life it reveals viewers sat mesmerised in all corners of the room. It is not the only installation with a hypnotic quality; we linger as long as possible in the icy environment of his snowdrift and, when we try to leave the exhibition, we become transfixed watching a curved wall slowly circumvent a circular platform.
‘Collaboration,’ the buzz word of the 00s, is an important element of Parreno’s practise, and many of the works in this show involve his contemporaries and friends including Tino Sehgal, Doug Aitken and Pierre Huygue. This exhibition is a home coming for the Paris-based artist described by academic (and former Director of the Palais de Tokyo) Nicholas Bourriaud as exemplifying his theory of Relational Aesthetics.
For some artists the retrospective or survey show feels like a dead end. But Anywhere anywhere… is a kind of collaboration between Parreno and the Palais de Tokyo, making use and sense of the venue’s rarely-used sub title: ‘Site de création contemporaine’ (site for contemporary creation.) What the artist has created is a site specific experience, which quite simply couldn’t have happened anywhere else.
First published in Art World magazine, Shanghai