Sous le regard de machines pleines d’amour et de grâce exhibition at Palais de Tokyo
A fresh exclusive right from the première of the exhibition that opens today – we went there yesterday at the vernissage and here are our impressions.
First of, Palais de Tokyo is a huge space, and though the left section of the complex is called The Museum of Modern Art, in the right section is mostly dedicated to contemporary shows. Here and there they would throw a Chirico exhibition, or a Basquiat, but recently it’s mostly been performances and the current production. This one was dedicated mostly to younger artists, some of which were younger then ourselves (always a weird feeling being confronted to that, but what are you going to do, time goes by).
The opening was packed, predominantly hipsters (off course), equally predominantly a younger crowd. The exhibition didn’t receive a lot of hype in the media etc. but was packed. Now in most cases we go to openings and premières (being on-point and in the middle of it all as we are) but we haven’t seen a crowd this thick in a while. Was it worth the hassle ? Our opinion is that it was – partly. Let’s take a look.
First of, the ground floor was mostly set up to orient people towards other, more interesting parts of the area, so apart from the huge plastic bottle that had solar panels on the inside (you figure out the symbolism of that one) there wasn’t much to see. Apparently that was one of the ‘living spaces’ used by an artist Abraham Poincheval, scattered all over the space. From there, you could take the stairs down and up. As was our natural inclination coupled with years of carefully cultivated laziness, we took the natural choice of going down(stairs). The first installation you come by is a hollowed out bear that an artist used as a house for a couple of weeks, and off course filmed the entire experience. The bear-house thing is surrounded by the drawings of a bear and written/illustrated explanation of how and why a bear is a perfect living space. What was the point here, going back to nature, understanding animals from the inside ? That couldn’t be it, as the insides didn’t look organic at all, they looked very space, or office, like. Also, this is the first association that came to our mind:
But that’s just us. Here is what it actually looked like :
Anyhow, Abraham Poincheval made this as a part of a larger series of traveling around the world and living in different small, constricted spaces, invoking the idea of hibernation, something bears and some humans we know do over the winter months. It has a lot to do with rediscovering the discomfort but also the meditative qualities of isolation and immobilisation over long periods of time. It has a lot to do with rediscovering the ‘animal experience’. In all honesty, out of all of the existing aspects of the ‘animal experience’, which in most cases has to do with killing and eating other animals raw, or being killed and eaten by other animals raw, this is possibly the best one.
Just below the bear experience was the rather complicated machine setup that was supposed to represent a rather intriguing idea – making a machine that would constantly be in motion, rattling the chairs that it’s connected to in irregular intervals of time. The idea was the recreation of the ritualistic feeling, but not the one that would be done as it usually is, involving the blood sacrifice, or a dance routine (which is, in fact, a toned-down version of a blood sacrifice) of a living creature but involving machines. As if machines were creating their own proto-religion. This piece, as most of the exhibition, wanted to inspect the very roots of our culture, religion etc., thus placing itself in the context of the last 150 years or so of artistic practice, one that’s been tired and worn out for decades now, but no one seems to have informed the artists of it yet. It seems that much anything that’s done nowadays has to include this notion. We’re not fans really, as it speaks of pessimism, decadence and a rather commonplace lack of ideas our culture has been experiencing for the last, well, 150 years. But, let’s not have this piece take all the blame for the waywardness of the entire modern and contemporary art. The experience is a rather meditative one, if you can get through the noise and the racket of the rattling metal chairs. The promising young genius behind the piece is Dorian Gaudin and this is what is looks like :
Further down there was a projection of an Alan Curtis documentary. His films are interesting and the subjects are on-point, though it did seem a bit out of topic in this particular case. Also, the sound was very bad, so if you are going to watch his movies, as you should, best do it in the comfort of your home. They are all on youtube anyhow.
The focal part of the exhibition though, that was announced as the main event, was a let down. It was a office-like space, again, looking like a machine, or a rather patched hybrid of office space and a machine interior. It’s all supposed to be, again, an inspection of machines and organic matter (the people) handling them, slowly turning office slaves into machines, and so on. Not very original, not very inviting, a waste of space in our opinion. We’re still to figure out why this was the focal piece of the show. Anyhow let us know if you have an idea :
Continuing with the exhibition, we come across a monumental gong that staged a performance prior to the opening of the show – off course, as you guessed it, this one also tries to inspect the ritualistic practices that go back to the source of our culture, etc. This is the work by Mel O’Callaghan. We’re starting to see a pattern emerging here. This one is heavily marked by orientalistic notes as well, as right next to the gong there is a movie showing about a very dangerous yet tradition bird nest harvesting practice that happens in Borneo. Apparently people climb up to 120 meters, dangling on very unsafe looking ropes and flimsy scaffolding, so that they could gather bird nests. While gong does look cool (and that is really all we can say about it, as inept as it may sound) this part of the performance look quite unnecessary and as another waste of space.
The gong in question
By that point we started getting a bit tired of the same old shtick we’ve already seen in a plenty of other places. There was a completely empty room solely dedicated to listening to nonsensical distorted dialogue ; a completely blank, empty room with a single sink that acted as a screen for a video projection of someone washing potatoes ; a room filled with light bulbs hanging from the ceiling – very original, that one – and some printed canvases of curtains. A rather standard fair for these types of events ; we always wander what do these artists try to achieve when they conceive and realize that type of artwork. Especially given that Palais de Tokyo is one of the most prestigious museums in Paris, France and Europe. Like, if you’re a young artist and you get the change to exhibit there, seriously, make an effort. Don’t come with light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. But then again, that’s just us.
A psychedelic sink – normally you should see a couple of hands washing a potato here, but the photo quality is somewhat off so you’ll have to take our word for it. You’ll also have to take our word for the fact that you’re not really missing much.
Actually a very nice looking lamp hanging from the ceiling
OK, let’s end this on a positive note. Back upstairs, the last segment of the show is a set up by a young (or middle aged, if you will) Japanese artist, Taro Izumi. This is easily the funniest, most interesting and most creative part of the exhibition. Witty mr. Izumi is fascinated by soccer, most importantly what it does to our bodies. You could say that he is fascinated by sports in general, but soccer seems to have a dominant role. He finds that it twists our bodies, makes them uncomfortable, makes them look sublime and ridiculous at the same time. To be a professional athlete, you have to be at the very peak of your physical capacity, which can give you a strong, impressive looking body. However, the same practice can place you in some rather funny, weird and down-right stupid looking situations.
So, inspired mr Izumi plays with this notion in a rather original manner; he creates props that replicate the near impossible and ridiculous looking poses that athletes assume during matches. In the background you can see a photo of a moment where the body is at its most uncomfortable – in the front, you can set yourself up in a prop that replicates that same position, so that you can (in theory) lay down and relax, as much as possible, at least, in a given position. It’s witty, inventive and funny. Again, not something you’d call a masterpiece, but interesting and thought-provoking. The props themselves come off as interesting sculptures that could function without this context and explanation. We’d go as far as to say that the exhibition would be worth the visit solely on account of these. Logically, since we liked it the most, we took the most photos of it:
So, what’s there to be said about the conclusion. The mode seems to be the exploration of the roots of our culture ; it’s like it’s the only thing we’re writing about when we’re doing these contemporary exhibitions. Sometimes it makes sense, more often it doesn’t. So, cautiously optimistic onwards.
Sous le regard de machines pleines d’amour et de grâce at Palais de Tokyo
From 03 February 2017 to 08 May 2017
Palais de Tokyo,
13, avenue du Président Wilson 75116 Paris