Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija on Philippe Parreno’s ‘El Sueño de Una Cosa’

‘I felt as though I’d walked in on what the future of art-making could be: a curation of time and space between us and the world in which we exist’

‘Today, we live in a society in which spurious realities are manufactured by the media, by governments, by big corporations, by religious groups, political groups [...] So I ask, in my writing: what is real? Because, unceasingly, we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing.’

Philip K. Dick, ‘How To Build a Universe that Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later’, 1978

Faced with ‘El Sueño de Una Cosa’ (The Dream of a Thing), Philippe Parreno’s 2002 installation at Portikus in Frankfurt, I felt as though I’d walked in on what the future of art-making could be: a curation of time and space between us and the world in which we exist. The curtains lowered and the lights dimmed; a film came on, projected onto seven white panels, discernible by the dark gaps where the panels met. The film was a sweeping view of Norwegian alpine tundra set to a piece of dramatic music by French composer Edgar Varèse. In my memory, the camera pans across the landscape and pauses on what looks to be a tundra flower, perhaps a purple saxifrage or a sulphur buttercup, which suddenly blooms; stark attic light beams low across the fjord valley. As in a dream, images come and go – reindeer tracks on sand dunes, shadows of birds over the sparse vegetation – flitting through my retina. And, like that, in 60 seconds, it was over. Uncertain of what we have just encountered, we look around the now overly bright room. The panels have become indistinguishable – white on white on white on white – like Robert Rauschenberg’s White Painting (1951), his idea of challenging immortality by dust. And, after an interval of four minutes and 33 seconds (4’33” being, of course, the title of John Cage’s Rauschenberg-inspired score) the flint of imagery, the stark arctic-scape, flashes by. As suddenly as the lights went down, they come on again. Blindingly. Washing over the short dream, dreams of a universe where the future is a blooming tundra.

Main image: Philippe Parreno, El Sueño de Una Cosa (The Dream of a Thing), 2001, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Gillian McVey 

Rirkrit Tiravanija is an artist based in New York, USA, Berlin, Germany, and Chang Mai, Thailand

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019

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