Palais de Tokyo – A Review by Rachael and Sid

The mission of the Palais de Tokyo is “to change our vision of art, and to invite audiences to bear witness to the audacities of our time and to live the experience of art in the making.” At first, it seemed that each exhibition was independent of one another, but upon further inspection, we see that all of the exhibitions do, in fact, play on the overarching themes of representation of objects in relation to the human experience, and different perceptions of the passage of time. On Thursday, the Palais challenged our notions of what it means to be a work of art – whether it was hatching eggs with one’s own body heat, images and videos being projected on walls, or a chair dangling from the ceiling. Each exhibition took full advantage of the wide space that they were given to work with, and affected the way that the audience experienced the exhibitions on display. Most of them required the viewer to walk around and essentially become a part of the art.

The Palais de Tokyo is the single largest French museum dedicated to temporary contemporary art exhibitions. The building’s high ceilings and grey walls are conducive to spectacular contemporary art pieces that utilise the building’s vast vacuousness to fully immerse its spectators into the worlds that the artists create. All Watched Over by Machines of Love and Grace is a maze of contemporary art on the basement floor that takes you through the installations of Lee Kit, Marie Lund, Isabelle Cornaro, Pedro Barateiro, JR, and Mike Tajima. The massive building and the profound, distinctive works within it form what we know as the Palais de Tokyo, thus effectively making it the self-proclaimed “rebellious wasteland with the air of a Palace, an anti-museum in permanent transformation”.

A number of exhibitions explored representations of objects. They wanted to change people’s perceptions of objects, and emphasise the subjective nature and meaning of certain things in one’s life. Lee Kit, for example, placed projectors on top of empty boxes all over his work. Some videos were even projected through an empty plastic box. He was trying to imply that everyone has their own representation of the boxes, with each person filling them in their own unique way.  

Emmanuelle Laine’s exhibition used images of personal, everyday objects in a mechanical context. When viewed from afar, it almost appeared as if the sculptures were in the museum itself. However, after walking closer to it, you realized that they were actually life-size images, with (what seemed like) random objects strewn across the tables and behind the walls. The work can only be truly understood by walking through it, becoming a part of the art and really taking the time to experience each object. It makes you think about the different perceptions we can have of objects. Our eyes often play tricks on us – what you see isn’t always what you get.

Isabelle Cornaro’s three-piece video installation made viewers doubt that familiar objects represent what we’re accustomed to seeing. The silent exhibition featuring clips from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, and Snow White, juxtaposed with Cornaro’s own unused film cuts created an unsettling, creepy portrayal of the movies we all grew up on and continue to show to our children. It makes the audience ponder the relationship we have with the objects we think we know, or don’t think about at all, as it pertains to the somewhat ambiguous notion of value in art history.

There was also an emphasis on the passage of time and different experiences of time. Abraham Poincheval’s works, Pierre, Oeuf, Bouteille and Dans la peau de l’ours, are incredible feats of human endurance. His “journeys” – whether they involve enclosing himself in a stone for eight days, living in a bear for two weeks, or trying to hatch some eggs using his own body heat – are the art themselves. It makes one think about how time might pass differently when one is alone in a space for prolonged periods of time. Pierre, for example, was an attempt by Poincheval, to experience “mineral time.” The thought of being inside a rock for eight days, with no way to know whether it was day or night and no one for company, is a terrifying thought for most people. But that begs the question – why? Why are we unable to sit by ourselves and simply let time pass? What is it about sitting still for so long that makes us so uncomfortable?

Marie Lund’s piece consisted of two parts: a series of school curtains on canvas (Stills), and concrete moulds of the insides of jeans (Attitudes), “unified through their demonstration of the passage of time.” As you walked down the installation, you noticed that the light in the curtains changed, much like it would through the course of a regular day, while the jeans were stuck in motion. It was interesting to think about why the artist specifically chose canvas to represent time passing through the curtains, rather than a video. One could enter the exhibition from either side, and could go as fast or as slow through each individual piece as one wanted. Our experience of time is also similar – there are some moments which we wish could last forever, while there are others that we want to end as soon as possible. With a video, the artist might have lost that subjectivity.

Walking through the various exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo makes you wonder why perceptions of everyday objects aren’t ever questioned. Surely, people do not perceive objects in the same way, yet we’re never confronted with the task of actually having to think about what that means. We start to see, through the works of contemporary artists, that space and time alter our notions of objects. The exhibits at the Palais de Tokyo allow for one to not only play the role of spectator, but to also be an integral part of a form of art that is continually changing, thus begging us to constantly question, challenge and resist our existing beliefs.

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