New York

Philippe Parreno: H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS at the Park Avenue Armory

In Philippe Parreno’s current exhibition, H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS at the Park Avenue Armory, Danny the Street is a sprawling installation based on a DC Comics character who is a sentient stretch of roadway. The character Danny periodically inserts himself into the architecture of different cities, communicating via puffs of manhole smoke. In Parreno’s installation, Danny has inserted himself inside the Armory as a series of flickering theater marquees along an avenue, his blinking lights meticulously synced with a selection of player pianos and hidden electronic instruments that compose a ghostly gamelan.

Philippe Parreno. H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, 2015; installation view, Park Avenue Armory, New York. Photo: James Ewing.

Philippe Parreno. H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, 2015; installation view, Park Avenue Armory, New York. Photo: James Ewing.

The marquees in Danny the Street are discrete works that have been lent to the exhibition by prestigious collections, and they come together to form a kind of language mechanism. As a visitor walks down the avenue, Parreno’s Danny seems to plead for communication. This naming of individual pieces that together constitute a larger work positions Parreno always as the curator of his own work. This is Parreno’s signature: to mastermind the installation of his exhibition in such a way that its sheer presence becomes the art object. What constitutes the work thus flits around the room, sometimes identifiable in a single piece and sometimes ensconced in the performance of the viewer’s attendance. What’s so marvelous about Danny the Street—both the installation and its source material—is that both things are thus defined by identities that should disqualify their existence. A street is not a person; an experience is not an object. Yet here, they defiantly are.

As I walk down the installation’s “Street” to the “Bleachers,” an enormous rotating platform of scaffolding and risers designed to be a cinema’s seating area, I witness spectators who can’t help but become transformed into part of Parreno’s work. Visitors lounge on the different levels of the risers, silhouetted against the massive video screen at the back of the space. Some stand, some casually lean, some crouch and peer forward. Their poses are so beautiful—these bodies on multiple levels of rotating scaffolds—I think they must be staged.

In a way, they are; Parreno the absent director is a ghostly yet omnipotent presence. Every item is on a meticulously coordinated timeline. Giant screens fly in and out of the space. The marquees flicker on and off. The black masking on the high windows of the Armory is slowly removed, and the otherwise dark, atmospheric space is starkly revealed by natural light.

Philippe Parreno. H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, 2015; installation view, Park Avenue Armory, New York. Photo: James Ewing.

Philippe Parreno. H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, 2015; installation view, Park Avenue Armory, New York. Photo: James Ewing.

I arrive at the exhibition in time to watch The Crowd (2015), which was filmed in the Armory; the exhibition features a selection of Parreno’s films, including Marilyn (2012), June 8, 1968 (2009), Invisible Boy (2010), and Anywhere Out of The World (2000). Like Alex Prager’s 2013 similarly titled nod to uncanny cinema, A Face in the CrowdThe Crowd tracks the movements of individuals amid a large group as they look or move toward something the viewer cannot see. The camera flits between subjects as they move swiftly across the same wood floor the viewer stands on; the Armory seems a nightmarish, ulterior Grand Central Terminal. The subjects watch something glimmering offscreen. The viewers are then shown the same image: a slow-motion explosion; twinkling, out-of-focus rain that turns to snow. As we watch the participants watching, just like us, The Crowd seems more like a mirror than cinema and less like a mirror than like watching surveillance footage of oneself that is off by just a beat.

H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS contains objects that seem to perform for themselves, regardless of a viewer’s presence. These objects seduce viewers into a prolonged engagement with their slow, steady pace, as viewers are seemingly crystallized into art. Of Parreno’s work, Nicolas Bourriaud observes, “Clusters of individuals gathered around the installed artistic objects [become] relational forms.”[1] I could go on and on, watching or theorizing. Parreno’s vigilant orchestration ensures that the mechanism of the exhibition keeps churning outside of the spectator’s sense of time, despite her presence but also feeding off it, not unlike a tumbling, strategic organism—or a sentient street.

H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS is on view at Park Avenue Armory through August 2, 2015.

[1] Nicolas Bourriaud, “Relational Aesthetics,” in Participation, ed. Claire Bishop (Whitechapel Gallery and MIT Press, 2006).