February 19, 2009

Palais de Tokyo, Paris

According to the Palais de Tokyo http://www.palaisdetokyo.com/fo3/low/programme/ glossy catalogue, Gakona is a small village in Alaska, home of the HAARP (High-frequency Active Auroral Research Program), which inspired by the inventions of Nikola Tesla is believed to be studying the transmission of electricity in the high atmosphere. What it is actually up to is a mystery because of its military funding. The premise of the show is that the works from Micol Assaël, Ceal Floyer, Laurent Grasso and Roman Signer somehow respond to this context of electricity research, mystery, rumour, science and imagination of Gakona. There are some good pieces in the show but the Gakona reference seems fairly arbitrary. The artist who most directly seems to respond to HAARP is Laurent Grasso who has constructed what seems to be a replica of the HAARP hi-fi array, but as far as I could tell it didnt actually function so it became merely an illustration. Micol Assaël "Chizhevsky Lessons" falls into the same category. The installation consists of twenty copper panels, a transformer, a generator and a cabling system that transforms the air particles around it into ions, so creating a large static charge in the gallery space. The catalogue hyperbole undermines the work by over-egging its importance and thereby exposes its weaknesses. Apparently "it lifts viewers out of their passivity and confronts them with the immaterial". "Visitors lose their bearings" and the work "has the pecularity of offering us nothing to see". All these were not my experience: the static charge basically made my scalp itch. The copper panels and wires were in plain view and I think you could only lose your bearings if you missed 'o' level science at school or have never come across static electricity.

Roman Signer's 'Parapluie' is a dramatic event of a work, the huge tesla coils slowly charge up, just before the charge is massively discharged an alarm sounds and visitors not near come running, a bolt of lightening explodes between the points of the umbrellas. In the sense of it being in the same vein as Assaël's electrostatic field, it is not much more than an illustration of basic science, though more effectively dramatised. Signer's more moving piece is the robotic lawn-mower - pugnaciously moving chairs, by randomly bumping into them, out of its programmed square of operation. But its boundary is the source of the work's sadness; as the lawn-mower's sensors hit the edge of its world, it turns back. In the corner of its space there is a charger unit, so like Sisyphus, the little machine will return to re-charge itself. Someone will re-site the chairs in the square and he will start again.

This work also resonates with my favourite work in the show by Ceal Floyer (who I recall meeting some years back at the Blinky Palermo Symposium in Edinburgh) called "Taking a line for a walk (1 Litre)". The road line painting cart has meandered over the floor of the gallery until the litre of paint has run out, dribbled a bit further then died completely. At this point Floyer has wedged the wheels of the cart so it is what it is and what it has been at the moment of its death. It is these wedges that make the work, without them it would just be a reworking of Lawrence Weiner's 1968 "AN AMOUNT OF PAINT POURED DIRECTLY UPON THE FLOOR AND ALLOWED TO DRY". It reminded me of my favourite line from Sartre's "Huis Clos" - the character Inez observes: One always dies too soon - or too late. And yet one's whole life is complete at that moment, with a line drawn neatly under it, ready for the summing up. You are - your life, and nothing else.

No comments: