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EXHIBITIONS

Philippe Parreno “Hypothesis” at HangarBicocca, Milan

Over the past several years, technical innovations have created a pivotal shift in the way we produce, distribute, and see art. One must face, whether one wants to or not, dramatically greater volumes of visual information, reducing de facto the amount of time dedicated to each visual object and creating in the specific field of contemporary art what the critic David Joselit defines as a form of “super-velocity”. One needs to go quickly through as many physical or virtual spaces as possible to see as many works as possible. In this context of fast art consumption and the search for quick fixes, Philippe Parreno’s research in the redefinition of the exhibition format comes at a key point—not only because he pushes art institutions as far as they can go in terms of bound- aries, but essentially because he builds, designs, and thus materializes the very evanescent notion of time, offering a fierce resistance to everything described here above. When visiting “Hypothesis“, his first anthological exhibition in Italy, curated by Andrea Lissoni, it is impossible to enter, get a glimpse of the show, mentally record one or two strong images, and leave. And that is precisely Parreno’s tour de force: the rehabilitation of the visitor as an active subject capable of attention— as an acutely aware, vigilant presence in a given space where both instantaneity and memory are required to undergo a durational experience.

“Hypothesis” could be seen as the third component (and climax) of a Gesamtkunstwerk trilogy started in 2013 with “Anywhere, Anywhere, Out of the World” at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris and continued earlier in 2015 with “H{N)Y P N(Y}OSIS” at Park Avenue Armory in New York. All three spaces are preposterously big and sufficiently architecturally undetermined to give Parreno the creative license to unfold his fiction. Most of his characters are played by familiar actors: his most significant works are perpetually restaged to star in a new, always potential and never-resolved narrative.

At HangarBicocca, center stage is taken by a poignant dialogue between two pieces: Danny the Street (2006–15) and Another Day with Another Sun, realized with the artist Liam Gillick in 2014. The installation Danny the Street is composed of nineteen marquees announcing nothing but themselves or the possibility of an event, lighting up at intermittent moments in a meticulously driven choreography. The tempo is given by two Disklavier pianos, played by what appears to be the ghost of the pianist and longtime Parreno collaborator Mikhail Rudy.

While Danny the Street seems to define a certain unity of place (a physical space is created wherever the light appears), Another Day with Another Sun seems to introduce the idea of time with its artificial light crossing the exhibition space, evoking the passage of the Sun from dawn to dusk and creating a phantasmagorical landscape overlapping the shadows of the marquees and the silhouettes of the visitors themselves. Although the scenario is thoroughly controlled, there is no unity of action, only as many hypotheses as there are visitors. Within this frame settled by the two pieces, other walk-on actors come and go through sequences of films projected within the exhibition space: among them Annlee, the manga character that Parreno “bought” with the artist Pierre Huyghe as a protagonist of Anywhere Out of the World (2000); Marilyn (2012), defined by the artist as “the portrait of a ghost incarnated in an image… an attempt to produce an image embodied” around Marilyn Monroe; or The Crowd (2015), shot inside Drill Hall of New York’s Park Avenue Armory with hundreds of people moving through the space like ethereal presences.

Parreno plays with a syntax that we know very well: the marquee, the seating, the exhibition hall, and the big screens are signs, in a way, of what Guy Debord defined as the Society of the Spectacle. But the artist doesn’t engage in mere criticism; he embraces those signs. He was one of the first artists in the 1990s to look beyond contemporary art and explore other forms of diffusion, such as movie production and television, allowing himself to consider the exhibition as a medium, an object, and an experience full of possibilities. He uses those signs to create a new melody, transforming the monograph format into a polyphony that compels the attention of the visitor. With “Hypothesis”, the alchemy that comes from Parreno’s distillation of time into space culminates in a very rare moment of grace.

Myriam Ben Salah

.
at HangarBicocca, Milan
until 14 February 2016

Philippe Parreno “Hypothesis” installation views at HangarBicocca, Milan, 2016

Courtesy: the artist; Pilar Corrias Gallery, London; Gladstone Gallery, New York; Esther Schipper, Berlin; Fondazione HangarBicocca, Milan. Photo: Andrea Rossetti

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