September in Palais de Tokyo
Last Friday I went to Palais de Tokyo, a big unfolding box of art space and treasures on the riverfront in Paris, not Tokyo.
It’s good, art. My life at the moment has been moving like a long, fast wave. And I’m cruising, I have good posture, but there’s no way I could float like this if I didn’t find art and conversation that kept me light enough. I love it, my busyness like business, being always with people in places doing verbs. But I eat late, I never sleep in, and I can’t find the time to change my nail varnish. So, I’m good this week because the exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo let me come up for air. They gave me healthy hours on my own and on my art. I went, I slipped away from my slipstream and
I was calm with Marguerite Humeau. I put my finger on top of the work and said, this is the kind of art I will enjoy describing. ‘Quirky,’ ‘beigeling,’ like nougat, lip balm, like dropping my face into a hot pan of medicine or breath against bus window glass. After a black corridor that coughed and spluttered, I saw white matte elephant shapes and glass magic alchemy yawning flowery over light peach carpets. I liked the showroom. My nan used to have this aqua eye mask inside the door of the fridge, and I remember putting it on, remember the cold pressure on the far out curve of my eyes. I took the mask off when I realised it had taken on the smell of the cheese slices and ham below it. The installation had the same aesthetic deflation, like this perfect, unsettling, clinical pitch.
I took the eye mask off and put it back in the fridge.
Palais de Tokyo invites artists to use their main hall, the agora (le Païpe), to help exhibition visitors switch from the mode of the real world to the sensibility of the art space. Shana Moulton is the current art medium. Her stage spreads out under coloured glass; floors and walls lie under the hall’s huge tank of air. It is so settled, the work is still like a nirvana precinct before opening hours. There is a video through her pyramid doorway in which the artist is filmed on the black and white maze floor you can walk over. And I think, okay, this work is very good for Art Tourist Instagram. That is what a holiday means sometimes - taking pictures of yourself in places. Your becoming a character, joining the fiction, is Moulton’s spell for Person to Exhibition Visitor. She changes the altitude. (It is just a shame then that the video is, like, annoying. I liked everything about this installation bar the character in the video. I wished, instead, I had been watching Miranda July playing an artist in ‘Me and You and Everyone We Know.’ Her self-aware skepticism, her language, naiveté, are wired and tense. Without that edge, the video is annoying without any give).
I moved across to Mika Rottenberg, and it was easy. Her narratives need entrance, movement, mousetrap navigation. With the help of Shana Moulton, the exhibition visitor is well on their way and rolling as a metal ball down the gallery's plastic tracking. In her art world now, new physics and fauna, Rottenberg has a ponytail smacking itself against the wall, and thin blade fans with Hotline Bling lighting. There are AC boxes up high with hot pans beneath them and every so often you can hear a TSS when water falls and dies. Rottenberg’s videos are knotted chain reactions of labour, bubbles, bums, and deep fat friers. Like: South Asian girls are lying in a row and putting their entire arms down holes in a forest floor. These arms are coming out of a wall somewhere else at a wrong/right angle, and there is a symmetrical line of girls massaging these dislocations. In another video, a woman sneezes out full plates of meals as a fan blows tickley bits of flowers towards her. The fan is powered by a wheel being turned by a girl sitting amongst pearl farmers, who are all together in a blue room somewhere below the world.
I bought Kyoto Pearl nail varnish the next day and I look like I have dipped my fingers in the moon. I flew back to Liverpool, dropped chocolates off at my boyfriend’s, and then left to get on a late train to London. Because I’d gained an hour heading west, I had a 25 hour day, which is good for me and my fullness. I’m writing the review on the train down south, feeling my extra hour is now.
And I’ve read interviews and books so I know Mika Rottenberg makes work about production, alienation, co-operation; words that materialise as plastered walls, lottery, girls with long hair, and lots of bunnies. Her work is a tight spiral, and I openly totally love it. I sat in her rooms at Palais de Tokyo wondering who she made it all for, and I thought about what the exhibition visitor wants. Why do we go to galleries? Is it for the cultural capital of our Instagram accounts? I do enjoy that, fulfill that - but I rather crave the total plateau of feeling and thought. I got that between these three artists - but it is getting rare, and I think maybe it is hard to ask for when I am going to galleries on business, searching for White Pube reviews and Instagram content. These intentions have to be a conspicuous part of this week's text. I’d enjoyed my light cosmetic place in Marguerite Humeau’s work, I'd liked the taste of Moulton's - but I was stunned when I felt a pull inside of me, recognising myself as a part of Mika Rottenberg’s chain reaction. I’d fallen into her whirlpool of thinking across work, life, and leisure. I am involved in the labour of her videos, like critic as the undertaker for the art piece. I guess I haven’t admitted to myself this change: that I now go to galleries to work as a critic. Even as an art student, I went to art spaces with a kind of pressure. Ah ah ah. Yes, I know I can still enjoy it all, but maybe, for my own sake, I should start looking for a purer place to relax.