Philippe Parreno review by Josephine BreeseThe unusual extent of Philippe Parreno’s involvement in his solo show at the Serpentine Gallery subsumes his recent videos as almost secondary to an exhibition-wide commentary on the viewer. Four videos span four interconnecting rooms. Controlled by a sophisticated central computer system, sound and video are staggered through the gallery spaces in turn, with transitional links to guide us. Even before an awareness of the video content, it becomes clear that the show is fraught with anticipation. Initial patience and curiosity runs into confusion and sometimes frustration as the audience chases a new noise. The awkward effects of this are evident when the gallery is mostly empty, exacerbated by a purposeful lack of directions from gallery assistants. Reassurance is sought, lemming-like, in accumulating numbers, with individual initiative resolved once the direction of circulation is cracked by the group.
Parreno’s work is the reward for negotiating the circuit around the Serpentine. In confounding our neat expectations, we are disempowered as an audience and lured into a more sustained engagement with the artist’s approach. The three central video works are beautifully constructed with a perceptive, observational eye. The Boy From Mars is almost meditative in the absence of a human presence, in favour of the heavy breathing of cows, drumming tropical rain and silent ascent of lanterns. Similarly, despite its compellingly frozen characters, June 8, 1968 is accompanied by the alternating sounds of wind rushing through grass, the soothing repetitive sound of the train (recalling the voyage transporting Robert Kennedy’s body from New York to Washington D.C) and the surprising, but full, silence when the film cuts to a solitary scene of a girl in a boat. Narrative is more consciously implied in Invisible Boy, centred around the story of an illegal Chinese immigrant boy. This context recedes into a universal perception of night time from a child’s perspective, where objects and spaces teem with a new mystery and speeding tempo, divorced from their mundane functions in the light of day. A surreal and over-active imagination directs proceedings against a rising swell of music by Montreal band Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
The care and precision of Parreno’s work has a transporting effect. Nevertheless, once the electric blinds go up and Hyde Park is slowly revealed again, the artful enveloping of the viewer is undone. Clunky arrangements of electrical sockets and night-lights are built up over skirting boards, with cables protruding from equipment, revealing the reality of Parreno’s staging. This is also the case at Pilar Corrias, where the entrance has been transformed with an electrically operated door, swinging open under flashing stage mirror light bulbs. However, bared electric wires encircle the gallery, dragging focus away from the works on display to Parreno’s insistence on revealing the workings of backstage.
A conspicuous lack of ego marks Parreno’s installations at both galleries, with the artist’s staging of his work laid bare. He addresses every entry point with these exhibitions, from the videos themselves to simultaneously functioning as a social and behavioural study of exhibition-goers.
Philippe Parreno, installation view: Uncle Neaw, Pilar, Rirkit then me, Pilar Corrias Gallery, London 7 December 2010 - 8 January 2011. Photo: Thierry Bal