This time in town, the first on my list of places to visit was the Palais de Tokyo. With no permanent collection, the Palais is dedicated to temporary exhibitions of cutting edge contemporary art that exuberantly defies the building's sober exterior.
The Palais' theme this summer is "Happy Sapiens", inviting selected artists to ponder what it is to be human. Three left a particularly deep impression on me, all women (girl power!): Ayoung Kim, Marguerite Humeau and Mika Rottenberg. Their shows were amazing immersive experiences that transported me completely. I'll try my best to give you a taste but it's a far, far cry from being there yourself!
Ayoung Kim, In This Vessel We Shall Be Kept
This experience takes root from the underground "lake" beneath the Paris opera house Palais Garnier, built as part of the building to stop the palace from sinking into the marshy ground on which it is built. Kim draws parables between this example of humanity's attempt to defy nature and that of Noah's ark rising above the flood, through a beautiful opera piece that surrounds you as you sit in the dark. It feel as if you are in the nave of the Palais Garnier/ Noah's ark itself as the music swirls and swells around you, like water.
Marguerite Humeau, FOXP2
Humeau imagines a world where humans did not develop sophisticated language - "the source of our humanity" which made possible the dominance of our species.
The show starts in a dark passageway. Strange clicking noises surround you, the sound of creatures yearning and learning to speak. In this new world it is elephants that have risen to the top instead of humans, and we are led into a "showroom" where a mother elephant lays dying. Her death triggers the beginning of consciousness in her children surrounding her. Created through years of research and conversations with paleontologists and linguists, the show is a combination of science and fantasy that struck a deeply emotional chord for me.
I think this show is even harder to describe than Humeau's! It's a comical and absurd labyrinth that starts with a revolving door, hidden behind a bingo machine.
Rottenberg plays with the idea of humans that create work through our bodies, like machines. For example, live performers line up to take their turn in a sauna where their sweat is collected, production-line style.
At other parts, holes in the exhibition wall invite you to peek through and watch videos of a muscled man work really hard at sweating onto a sizzling pan, like it's his one job to do. It echoes the actual air condition units installed on some of the walls, which drip water onto other sizzling pans. This was a lot of fun to experience, with video imagery corresponding back to physical items in the show and even the physical property of the walls themselves!
Ugh, I really wanted to write more succinctly to describe these three incredible shows, but I just can't do them justice! Not only were they emotional experiences that made exceptional use of sound and environment, but they also melded so many themes and ideas together that made it impossible (for me) to summarize! Please, if you can, do yourself a favor and get yourself to the Palais de Tokyo and feel it for yourself!
Palais de Tokyo, Paris
Until 11 September