Philippe Parreno

Schipper & Krome

For his recent project, Philippe Parreno asked his dealers to invite friends and acquaintances to spend all of May Day working in the gallery. The room contained various tools: projectors, a screen, an ironing board and an iron, pieces of fabric and a sewing machine, a large quantity of small T-shirts, electrical materials, two video cameras, two circular tables, and a series of plush teddy bears. The artist asked those present to complete certain tasks, such as stamping the words “My first secret” on the small T-shirts and putting these shirts on the teddy bears, or making a gigantic T-shirt in which up to five people could fit, while videotaping the activities of all the participants. The activities ceased at the end of the day. In a final touch, three days later, the windows were sealed with black cardboard for the duration of the exhibition.

This first phase of the collective labor, which consisted of actually constructing the work shown in the gallery, was followed by the reception phase, during which the public could enter the darkened room to view the videotape of the activities, the teddy bears placed on the tables, and the large T-shirt stretched out and hung on a clothesline. Because it was designed in this way, Parreno’s project also contained elements of the unexpected, which became integral to his piece. The teddy bears turned out to be stuffed animals of the “My First Secret Teddy Bear” variety, which are designed to record the voices of the children who speak to them, a recording that can be accessed by depressing one of the bears’ paws. But in this case, the teddy bears played back fragments of conversations and background noise that had inadvertently been taped by the Korean workers who had manufactured them.

This subversion of the toy’s function was a means for Parreno to comment on the nature of work. Parreno departs form the logic of the French left which, even before 1968, believed that in preparation for the socialist revolution one had to live the contradictions of the system from within so that one would know how to subvert it. Needless to say, the efforts of the French intellectuals amounted to very little, but it is interesting to reflect on what is said in the essays that the artist collected for the show. For example, there is an observation that at Renault they don’t produce automobiles, but human relationships, as if the factory, in organizing the time and the behavior of those who work there, could also open up a path to anticorporate modes of behavior, at least in the imagination.

The artist saw this project as an opportunity to create a totality of relationships with a decidedly ironized, utopian flavor. By calling on friends to work on May Day (in effect a hypocritical celebration of exploitation), Parreno conjured up the alternatives that are often lauded as antidotes to the alienating nature of assembly-line work, as well as that comforting dream that one day, once the sys tern has been subverted, a liberated community producing only what it needs and what it desires will exist. This sort of theme is in keeping with earlier projects of Parreno’s, which have always called on the collective imagination and the behavioral modes to which it gives rise, and, as always, it is irony that lends his presentations a critical edge.

Giorgio Verzotti

Translated from the Italian by Marguerite Shore.