Master of Puppets – Philippe Parreno at the Serpentine Gallery

Upon entering Philippe Parreno’s exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, for thirty minutes, you the viewer, are forced to relinquish control. Every movement you make has been carefully orchestrated by the artist – where you walk, what you see, the time spent in each room, what is visible of the world around…

Philippe Parreno, The Boy From Mars, 2003. Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London. Courtesy of Serpentine Gallery. Photo: Gautier Deblonde.

Four rooms, four videos. But no real choice. The videos do not run simultaneously, but play out as a carefully timed, highly theatrical, sequence of events. Entering the exhibition you must locate the space that is active, determined by the fateful timing of your arrival, as the others simply lie dormant in waiting. And the metaphorical curtain rises upon the first video…

Philippe Parreno, No More Reality, la manifestation, 1991. Film Still. Courtesy of the Artist.

Act I – Cue No More Reality, la manifestation, the earliest work of Parreno’s in the exhibition. A captured moment of  a group of young children staging a demonstration in a schoolyard in Nice. Their fight? A refusal of reality. However, it is doubtful they fully understand the words they chant. The film ends, the lights come on and their voices fade away. In an adjacent room, the lights dim and the blinds close – inviting you in to witness the next show…

Philippe Parreno, The Boy From Mars, 2003. Film still. Courtesy of the Serpentine Gallery.

Act II – The Boy From Mars – A poetic portrait of an architectural structure that was built for the sole purpose of being filmed. A film and a building inseparably joined at birth. One cannot exist without the other. Each exists in service of the other.

The haunting score sung by Devendra Banhart continues after the film ends and the light come up, as the disembodied voice moves into the next room enticing you to follow….

Philippe Parreno, June 8, 1968, 2009. Film still. Courtesy of Pilar Corrias Ltd and the Artist.

Act III - Witness a portrait shot from the point of view of the dead. June 8, 1968 re-enacts the journey Senator Robert Kennedy’s body took to Washington through the eyes of those on board the train, as they gaze into those along the tracks who stare back.

Philippe Parreno, InvisibleBoy, 2010. Film still. Courtesy of Air de Paris, Centre National des Arts Plastiques and the Artist.

Act VI – Parreno’s latest film, InvisibleBoy, powerfully combines fantasy and fiction in a portrait of a young Chinese immigrant boy, whose fears and anxieties are manifested in the creatures scratched upon the surface of the film. A world populated by monsters who hide in dark places and stalk the streets at night.

Philippe Parreno, InvisibleBoy, 2010. Film still. Courtesy of Air de Paris, Centre National des Arts Plastiques and the Artist.

Lacking language, the film reaches its crescendo with a dramatic score – and abruptly ends. With heightened awareness and a buzzing energy in the room, the curtain rises on the massive windows that cover the East end of the gallery to reveal the expansive greenery of London’s Hyde Park – the setting for Parreno’s drama.

A chanting begins to rise once again, leading back to No More Reality, and the cycle continues on.

The theatrical stage has been set and we take our places as the puppets within it – jarred between reality and representation, inside and outside, pulled from one room to the next.

There is no choice as to what order to watch the videos in, or how much of them to see. Parreno brilliantly ensures that you watch each video from beginning to end, in the order he has prescribed – the only choice he has left up to you is when you want to leave…