New York

Philippe Parreno

Salon 94

In December 2002, Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe retired Annlee, the Japanese anime character they’d bought the rights to in 1999 and who’d embodied personalities, narratives, and ideas for them and a slew of other artists. Her final incarnation as a fireworks display—sad-eyed head-and-shoulders only—took place at an art fair, the perfect place for a commercially acquired icon to bid us adieu.

But it’s hard to imagine such a useful tool (or “shell,” as Annlee was called, and gloomily called herself ) disappearing completely. And because repetition with alteration is a constant in Parreno’s work, she showed up in his most recent solo show, titled “Alien Seasons,” last May. The exhibition constituted less a group of works per se than a compendium of tropes and images—filmic and graphic—that had already appeared elsewhere (sometimes considerably altered, sometimes not). “Alien Seasons” was in fact a reprisal of the survey exhibition of the same name, on view at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in the summer of 2002. So, while Annlee made an appropriately ghostly appearance on a glow-in-the-dark poster, the gallery show’s wall labels were in the same skinny gothic script of the captions in the Paris exhibition catalogue.

To really see each element, timing was everything. Even the labels for the artworks were mini light boxes, as if specially intended to be read when the ceiling lights went out. The works’ appearance and disappearance made for an obvious commentary on our attention span (especially when it comes to contemporary art), but Parreno’s careful choreography implied, or at least involved, something more. Take El Sueño de una Cosa (The dream of a thing), 2001, comprising a film, the white panels on which the film is projected, and the silence that follows the projection of the film. The moving-image element, clocking in at exactly sixty seconds, consists of brilliant postcard views of a rocky, tundra-coated Norwegian hillside and is set to music by French composer Edgard Varèse that feels like a sci-fi movie score (in the movie’s final frames, stems and flowers push their way through the ground at time-lapse speed). Reading the press release, we learn that the five white panels on which the film is projected, revealed after the lights go up, are a replication of Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting, 1951. We also find that during the four minutes and thirty-three seconds before the film starts again, the viewer could be said to experience a sort of disembodied version of, yes, John Cage’s 4 minute 33 second silent score, 1962 (itself inspired in part by Rauschenberg’s painting).

It’s crucial to know how different El Sueño—or, rather, its film component—was originally. Conceived for movie theaters throughout Sweden in 2001, it was shown between the battery of short advertisements and the feature films. Duplicating exactly the duration of the commercials, it was truly an “alien” intrusion into the realm of advertising. But while Parreno confronted the expectations of the movie theater, he conformed to those of the gallery by layering the film between two impeccable works from the history of art. The truly radical action was not, perhaps, to use a monochrome as a movie screen but to quietly project that strange and beautiful sixty seconds for the crowd at the Swedish multiplex. But maybe for Parreno the “radicality” of this or that context is not the point. He may simply be seeking an infinite recess of reproducibility for four or five of his alien signs.

Meghan Dailey