On a murky day in the late Autumn, I found myself in the heart of another world, hidden inside the spinning streets of Paris. I had been walking all day with my sister, it was my turn to act as tour guide and without thinking about where we would find ourselves, we made our way to Trocadéro and the neon lights of the Palais de Tokyo. When we arrived, night was already starting to fall and on the glossy Parisian boulevard, the gallery pulsated light and heat. The entire reception area had been transformed in line with the current exhibition; the walls were fitted with neon sheet lights which reduced figures to shadows. The exhibition space was smothered in an electric heat, radiating from the walls and windows.
For a few months at the end of 2013, French artist Philippe Parreno took over the entire exhibition space of the Palais de Tokyo, a process which had never been done before. The gallery became a completely immersive space, plunged into the darkest regions of Parreno's own mind. Entitled Anywhere, Anywhere Out of the World, the exhibition changed the gallery into a theatre of memory, which uncovered parts of itself in the architecture, lighting and sound of the space.
The exhibition was cut into different scenes, punctuated by intermediary pieces placed between larger spaces. The area seemed oddly without time, lit only by the incidental lights placed carefully around the gallery. To enter into the exhibition was to cut yourself off from the rest of the world outside. Parreno seemed obsessed with the balance between light and sound; pieces were accompanied not only by live music but also, the sounds made by the mechanics of the space. Parts of the show which would normally be considered secondary were made primary elements of the exhibition; the movement of people through the space, the sounds of the electronics and the interactions between viewers all became part of Parreno's world.
Parreno is known for his collaborative exhibitions. Not only are the audience an integral part of his work but so too are the spaces in which he works, the lights, the sounds, other artists. He brings his works to life by stitching them to a moment in a time; they exist as part of a larger framework, inviting others to make their mark.
To be part of a Parreno exhibition is to experience something other-worldly. People who came together to the Palais de Tokyo seemed to drift apart at their own will, entering into a different headspace in the exhibition, moving apart naturally to interact with the space at their own will. The emotional intensity of the show was off the charts and in the dark, it was clear that some people were experiencing things that I couldn't even fathom.
The strangest part of the exhibition formed a dark underground cavern, placed towards the start of the space. The hall radiated strange, buzzing sounds which came at intermittent intervals. The pitches of the sounds changed randomly, creating a synthetic chamber sound. Suspended from the ceiling were large neon lights, each shaped individually, blinking on and off at their own will. Parts of the space were illuminated as others were plunged into darkness. As the lights came on and off, you saw people who you did not know where even there, their faces starkly illuminated under the bright white wash.
I stayed in the room for a period of time, how long, I don't know. The blinking of the lights was like a heartbeat with which you moved in tandem. Breathing slowed and moved as a rhythm. People were glued to the spot.
Parreno's exhibition did something to me which no other show has done since. Without understanding why or how, I knew exactly what it was that Parreno was trying to communicate through his works. The strangeness of the space spoke to something inside of both me and the other visitors that I didn't even know existed. Parreno understands humanity on a level unknown by the rest of us and in his works, enables it to rise its head, just for a moment, and speak.
The space was a maze and the works were markers. The only way to find yourself was to continue through the exhibition and return to the life you left outside.