Last week’s official opening of the Palais the Tokyo, (“the other” Parisian contemporary art nerve center oftenly seen as Centre Pompidou’s alternative), kicks off with its first major exhibition: « La Triennale ». A reopening – the “pre” was the week before – with many structural (though not cosmetic) changes that include a 14,000 square meter space increase… something that should leave plenty of room for surprises right?. PdT passes from 1 main floor to a thrillion levels of exhibition space (mainly 4 but there are so many mezzanines…) while adding a new “artists” shop and one another coffee to the previous “chic” bookshop & restaurant. A guts-shift which reinforces the debate around today’s cultural institutions’ role and their impact on our daily life.
Inspired by the work of mid-twentieth century French ethnography figures such as Claude Levi-Strauss and Michel Leiris, La Triennale gives a second look to the links between art and ethnography. The subtitle – Intense Proximity – demonstrates the correspondence between creativity in France and other art scenes throughout the world. The project’s main aim is to shift the idea of national space to a mobile frontier that continuously creates new combinations of spaces (global, local, national, inter-national, trans-national… nothing to do with our current politics electoral debate of course). Intense Proximity questions how an individual’s origins and education impact his/her situation in the context of a society.
One hundred or so artists are taking part in the event, and among them, the incontrovertible Anette Messager with her « Motions/Emotions ». A theatrical installation featuring clothes and ventilators that puts a wonderful array of forms and materials on stage; plush, stuffed animals, wigs, witch hats and fabric patchworks of human organs that dance in a random choreography, imposed by the rhythm of fans. Those undulating hybrid creatures seem to have lost their mind and create a kind of « danse macabre ».
In this huge amount of artworks, French artist Camille Henrot’s piece attracts my attention. A Garden of Eden amidst the brut and metal setting of the Palais de Tokyo… her flower installation is a haven of freshness punctuated with a smart sense of humor. With her « Is it possible to be a revolutionary and to like flowers? », the young artist initiates herself into the culture of the ikebana and offers the Palais de Tokyo an ephemeral and delicate work, at once graphic and literary. Each ikebana is partnered with a quote or famous book title, which is like a translation in flowery language.
Camille Henrot imagines several bunches of flowers that echo her ideal library, composed of books about exotisme and otherness. « The Discours on colonialism of Aimé Césaire », represented with banana leaves for example, the Journey to the end of the night by Louis Ferdinand Céline, or The thief’s journal by Jean Genet. By combining the collection of flowers and bibliophilic, the artist develops thoughts about the language that overcome the traditional dichotomy between intellectual art and decorative art. A very clever and humorous work that gives a very pleasant breath of fresh air before getting lost in the huge labyrinth of the Palais de Tokyo’s cellar, newly rearranged and open to the public.
Get your sweater ready – it’s freezing down there, where artworks seem to be lost in the dust and shadows. The surprising atmosphere gives a special dimension to the videos and installations that are displayed as if they were part of the on-going construction works of the building. Quite a pleasing experience and a great setting for the Triennale exhibition, they certainly couldn’t have chosen a better host.
La Triennale, « Intense Proximity », Palais de Tokyo, April 20-August 26, 2012