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The thought-provoking voices of Philippe Parreno

By MONIQUE TODA, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 14, 2024 5:00 am

SEOUL — The external influences the internal. That’s what I immediately thought when I went to the exhibit of French contemporary artist Philippe Parreno in Seoul’s Leeum Museum. In “Voices,” the multi-faceted artist creates a surreal world using different forms of media that include fish balloons, video, sound, an AI-generated human voice, sculptures, light, anime, and data collection. “Voices: Philippe Pareno” is comprised of over 40 installations and “cinematic works.” Parreno also added barrier-breaking installations and pieces specific to the Seoul exhibit for his largest exhibition in Asia.

Known for unusual, theatrical, multi-sensory, experimental exhibits that push boundaries even in the art world, Parreno’s “Voices” lures you into his universe that contemplates time, chance, relativity, the environment, and other serious themes. According to Park Han-sol of the Korea Times, “For the last three decades, French artist Philippe Parreno’s name has been synonymous with out-of-this-world theatrical shows that redefine the concept of what an art exhibition can and should be.”

In Philippe Parreno’s “Voices,” 24 lighting units surround six benches evoking “a tree taking root” for “Prototype de Luminaire 2001.”

Setting the tone, a huge moving installation called “Membrane 2024” fronts the open space of the museum. This tower gathers environmental data from its surroundings, using barometers, thermometers, seismometers, and such. The city’s temperature, humidity, wind speed, noise levels, air quality are all sent into the museum’s interior, influencing the exhibition. The information is merged with the human voice of Korean actress Bae Doona via artificial intelligence, using a mysterious language heard throughout the exhibit. These verbal utterings activate the artist’s creations—pretty much like a sci-fi chief dictating to its minions what to do. The link between the external to the internal is quite visible here.

French contemporary artist Philippe Parreno is known for his unusual, theatrical, multi-sensory, experimental exhibits.

Inside, the first thing you see are schools of mesmerizing helium-filled fish balloons of different species floating about. Titled “My Room is Another Fish Bowl 2022,” the exhibit’s roaming fish explore “the ways in which objects left to chance, together with the conditions that make up our environment, can actively intervene in human behavior and our perception of the passage of time.” A fish bowl is a metaphor for being observed and scrutinized, but the free-floating fish seems the opposite: observing us viewers instead.

Play it again, Sim: In “The Year Without a Summer 2024,” a self-playing piano with snow plays music synchronized with the entire exhibit.

Aside from hearing unintelligible sounds (perhaps that’s the mysterious language spoken by an AI Bae Doona spewing out the city’s environmental data), the floating fish and immediate area is bathed in an orange glow called “Orange Bay (After Gabriel Tarde’s Underground Man: Fragment of Future History 2022).” This eternal light of sunset provides an “awareness of the time and environment we take for granted.”

In “Anywhere Out of the World 2000-2017,” anime character Annlee, a melancholic figure stuck in the virtual world, is shown in a video with the voice of model Daniella D’Ambrosio.

The hypnotic fish float around sculptures of melting snowmen for “Iceman in Reality Park 1995-2024,” where Parreno’s theme of the passage of time emphasizes the past and future. In the case of the melting snowmen, it’s our future, with the snow always eventually melting away. Another installation with a similar theme shows a giant hill of snow shoveled to the side. Called “Snow Drift 2013-2024,” it suggests that, like the sudden falling of snow, the drifts could be gone just as suddenly. Around these pieces stands an outdoor Christmas tree. Titled “Fraught Times: For Eleven Months of the Year It’s an Artwork and in December it’s Christmas,” Parreno tree suggests how time changes our perception of objects.

Philippe Parreno’s “My Room is Another Fish Bowl 2022” features mesmerizing helium-filled fish balloons floating about.

Nearby is a self-playing piano titled “The Year Without a Summer 2024.” The piano is partially covered by dirty snow and automatically plays music synchronized with the entire exhibit. The music provides a feeling of “melancholia in dystopia.”

“Annlee: No Ghost, Just a Shell 2000”

Annlee, an anime character, also appears in the exhibit “Anywhere Out of the World 2000-2017,” wherein a video of this character is given the voice of model Daniella D’Ambrosio. Annlee is a melancholic figure stuck in the virtual world. Another Annlee artwork is a wallpaper poster titled “Annlee: No Ghost, Just a Shell 2000.”

“Snow Drift 2013-2024” displays a pile of shoveled snow, reminding viewers of its — and our — temporal nature.

For “Prototype de Luminaire 2001,” what seems like a giant chandelier is a carousel seat, with 24 lighting units surrounding six benches to evoke “a tree taking root.” On the same floor is a blank wall with two clear megaphones on its sides. “Listen to That Picture (Grand Prix, Monaco) 1997-1995” suggests technology of the past is now useless, unused: “Like Casper the Friendly Ghost, they are devoid of meaning and texture,” hanging from the wall as though not really there.

Do you want to build a snowman?: In “Iceman in Reality Park 1995-2024,” Philippe Parreno deploys melting snowmen to depict the passage of time.

“For Philippe Parreno, an exhibition is not just an arrangement of artworks, but a creative act in its own right,” says per K-Art Now. The exhibition “shifts away from an object-centered approach to art and questions the interaction between art and the viewer, the relationship between artwork and space, and the ways and attitudes of looking at the exhibition.” I recommend viewing the thought-provoking creations of “Voices” more than once, to soak in and experience an exhibit that places you in another time, space, and place—something simply otherworldly.

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“Voices: Philippe Parreno” is ongoing until July 7, 2024 at the Leeum Museum of Art, in Seoul, Korea. For more information, follow on Facebook or visit