Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Imaginez L'Imaginaire, Palais de Tokyo

Exhibition View of "Les Dérives de l'Imaginaire," in Imaginez l'Imaginaire 
Ever since the Palais de Tokyo underwent its “renovation”, the exhibitions have become increasingly on the edge. On entry to the massive structure, the visitor is greeted with weird noises, what looks like industrial garbage hanging from the ceiling, graffitied walls and exposed air conditioning ducts. The (highly organized) disrepair of the space invites young people and students to sit around on the floor, sketch, talk, and enjoy the environment. It's a pleasurable place to be these days.

Ryan Gander, Ampersand, 2012
There was a lot going on when I visited last week, and though I didn’t really understand the cohering logic of the exhibition, Imaginez L’Imaginaire was a welcome addition to a Paris art scene that is often overtaken by conservative, more established artists, especially in the big museums. As I say, it seemed like a bunch of contemporary artists were brought together under one roof and given the global title of Imaginez L’Imaginaire. As a result the pieces were varying in quality, some of them inaccessible because of an absence of context, others because the technology wasn’t working and so they effectively didn’t exist! That said, there were a handful of interesting and challenging examples of contemporary art.

Matthew Buckingham, One Side of Broadway, 2005
British artist Ryan Gander’s, Ampersand, 2012 was one of the big crowd pleasers. An easy chair in front of an opening in the wall invited the visitor to sit in front of a “window” and watch useless objects move along a conveyor belt. I, like all the others who lined up to sit in the chair, was transfixed! The irony was of course, that we are transfixed by a drill, a zippo lighter, an old vacuum clearner, toilet paper, a baguette, leaves from a tree, a book. That is, we are transfixed and seduced by worthless objects that nevertheless look sexy and desirable because of their display and the enticing way they are lit. It reminded me of my visits to Duane Reade when I was recently in New York City – the mirrors, the lighting, the shine on the bottle that makes me think my life will be better if I buy that product. At the same time, as I sat watching nothing I was reminded of the empty, jetlagged stare at a conveyor belt as I wait for my luggage to be delivered after a long flight. The anticipation, the anxiety that what I am waiting for will not arrive, the seduction of the movement of the conveyor belt, all of it is caught in the window that tempts us with nothing in Ampersand.
Matthew Buckingham, One Side of Broadway, 2005
Another piece I would have loved to see more of, but wasn’t fully working the day I visited, was Matthew Buckingham’s One Side of Broadway, 2005. In the middle of the room 81 slides of the east side of contemporary  Broadway in wintertime, from Battery Park to Columbus Circle, are projected onto a triangular plinth. A speaker hanging from the ceiling emits a woman’s voice that describes the west side of Broadway in 1910 as it is seen in a series of photographs that were published in a book in 1910, Both Sides of Broadway. Even though I couldn’t see the projected images, there was so much going on that I was captivated by the story, and simultaneously, challenged to “imagine the imaginary”. Because the photographs in the book were made using the negative plates manufactured by the Lumières, the narration that accompanies Buckingham’s One Side of Broadway discusses the role of actuality films at the turn of the century, the desire to know the world in its entirety, the wonder of the cinema as the form of the new century. And so, Buckingham’s piece interweaves the stories  of cinema, photography, voice, the written word, the city of New York as a medium itself, into a reflection on the passing of time, the urge to know the world, the ephemerality of memory and the stimulation of the senses in that ephemerality.  

Dove Allouche, Déversoirs d'Orage 1-14, 2009
In a very different vein, was French artist Dove Allouche’s Déversoirs d’Orage 1-14, 2009 was compelling and complicated. He went into the mystical and mythological Paris sewers and followed the flow of the water along the storm spillways, taking photographs. He then printed them as heliogravures, a technique dating from the same time as the sewers were in full operational usage, used acid to corrode a copper plate and revealed images that lie somewhere between stormy seascapes and abstract compositions. Not only are the plates aesthetically sumptuous, but their exploration at the intersection of an old printing process and Paris’ subterranean labyrinth raises interesting revelations about worlds not immediately apparent to the human eye, and the distortions of their transposition to the surface. He’s certainly an artist to watch.

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