When you have a 55,000 square-foot exhibition hall like the Park Avenue Armory, you’ve got a lot of space to play with. French artist Philippe Parreno does so with some very beautiful lighting in a loosely timed exhibition structure that works as a conceptual frame for some recent films. It feels like entering the belly of a mechanical, glammed-up 42nd-street-in-the-1950s whale. Neither it–nor that metaphor–are exactly coherent, but at least “H(n)ypn(y)osis” is fascinating to behold. Screens whir and click, pianos tinkle, music becomes drowned in ocean waves or city street noise (literally being pumped in from the outside streets), marquees blink, blinds shut, screens light, and bleacher seating begins its infinitely slow twirl.
Inside this vast space, the visitor is free to move about as he or she chooses. While something of an open-ended system of parts, moments of focus have been clearly selected. When I was there, two child actors entered together, drawing attention as they robotically began identical monologues in opposite parts of the vast hall, reciting dialogues from the perspective of Ann Lee, a Manga character Parreno ‘copyrighted’ years ago (this work is the result of a collaboration with Tino Sehgal). And of course, when the room darkens and a screen lights up, the crowd drifts toward it like a sea of minnows.
The contents of the films and their tone varied–from a realistic meditation of the crowd that mirrored our positions as viewers in the audience to the imagined animated monsters of a young boy in Chinatown. The other films by Parreno on view are an animated manga version of Ann Lee talking to the viewer, a train ride mimicking that taken by the corpse of Robert Kennedy in 1968, and an uncanny reenactment of Marilyn’s life in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, which you gradually realize is being told not through her eyes but those of a machine.
That machine is the camera, ever-present in the exhibition as a whole. Parreno harps on the apparatus or lens by which the whole smoke-and-mirrors routine of film, and more largely of art, is made possible throughout–for example, in the exposed bulbs and wiring, the mechanical noises, and the simple drama of the lights going up and the show being over.
Up for one more week–through August 2. Make sure to allow yourself two hours to really see all of the different aspects of the exhibition. More images below.