Cephalus and Polemarchus Redux: A father-son dialogue on Philippe Parreno’s “Anywhen”

Polemarchus: Hi dad, how are you? Thanks for sending the photos and videos of your visit to the Philippe Parreno Anywhen exhibition at the Turbine Hall. What did you think of it?

Cephalus: It was alright. It didn’t fill the space sufficiently, the front of Turbine Hall was part of it, but only had lights flashing in some kind of sequence. It felt like an airport runway with flashing lights and it was loud – very loud. As for the rest of it, I wasn’t sure what he was trying to convey.

Polemarchus: Were there any videos?

Cephalus: No, not while I was there.

Polemarchus: Any flying objects?

Cephalus: There were some fish, balloons perhaps, underneath first floor platform, but they were just hanging there, they didn’t move, again, at least while I was there. I was at the Tate for a couple of hours – went to the Rauschenberg and Elton John’s collection of photographs in the new building – but I kept coming back to the Turbine Hall. Anyway, why were you interested in this exhibition?

Polemarchus: Well, when I was in Paris last Fall I went to the Tino Sehgal exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo. As you know, his work is interactive and performance-based and there is no documentation, no catalogue and you’re asked not to take photographs or videos. Anyway, as I was leaving the exhibition I went to the bookstore and, knowing I couldn’t take any kind of souvenir from the Sehgal exhibition, I bought the catalogue from Philippe Parreno’s exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo called Anywhere, Anywhere Out of the World. It is a beautiful book (edited by my friend Karen Marta, with whom I worked on the Paul Chan Hippias project) and it contains a series of photographs of Parreno’s installation, which, given the nature of his work, I was able to use as a reminder of the Sehgal exhibition as well! So I guess I wanted to create a mechanism whereby I could experience Anywhen from a distance, so I asked you to go. How do you think the photographs and videos you sent me compare to the experience of being in the exhibition?

Cephalus: The photographs don’t give any idea what it is like, although the video shows the panels moving. But there is no way to show all of it, it too difficult to encompass such a large three-dimensional event. The more I think about it, it was the noise that I found most interesting – the noise was really quite loud and made you stop and it also made you look at the walls to see if there was a relationship between the noise and their movement. The noise made you realize something was going off. Of course, you can hear the noise in the video, but you can’t capture the three-dimensional aspect of the noise as experienced with your two ears in the space. You can’t walk around it while watching it on your laptop. Here you can walk around it and still hear the noise as a soundtrack to the whole thing.

Polemarchus: Interesting. I meant to say that I’m taking notes as we’re talking. Do you mind if I write a post about it on Minus Plato. I had the idea that it would be a kind of dialogue between father and son in the model of Book 1 of Plato’s Republic in which the son Polemarchus inherits the conversation about justice with Socrates from his father Cepahlus. I can then illustrate it with your photos. I tried adding the video but the file is too large. I guess our readers will have to imagine the noise!

Celphalus: Sure, why not. Oh, there was something else that struck me. I felt like the exhibition mirrored the development of the Tate Modern as a building and space. The changing walls, the changing of interior space and knowing the Tanks are beneath and the new building is alongside. It seems the artist was making this direct connection. When I went to the exhibition of Elton John’s collection of photographs in the new wing – some of which were very small – there was something less cluttered about the space than the old Tate Modern. Perhaps the Parreno made me think about this. It mirrored an exhibition space – the re-configuring of a gallery space for a temporary exhibition – and almost mirrored the development of the Tate as an exhibition space. Also, outside, between the junction of the old and new building, at an acute angle, they have a seating area and a large space that activates steam as opposed to water jets from the floor – all of a sudden the whole area is covered in mist.

Polemarchus: What you said about the steam reminded me about something I read about the exhibition, I’m not sure how it works but there is some way in which Parreno controlled the lights and sounds and the projections using variations in the environment. So if there were more visitors or if the weather changed, the exhibition would react. I think there’s a description of it on the website…let me find it. Have you looked at the website?

Cephalus: Yes, I remember the fish swimming around, but, as I said, they weren’t moving when I was there.

Polemarchus: Ok, here it is, I’ll read it:

A bioreactor installed just off the Turbine Hall hosts a colony of yeast, single-celled organisms with a structure similar to human cells. The yeast is connected to a weather station on the roof of the building: the data it receives (wind speed, temperature and amount of light) is transmitted to the bioreactor, controlling the feeding process for the yeast. Based on the food it receives, the yeast’s patterns of movement change. The colony is slowly developing an ‘understanding’ of changing weather conditions and will begin anticipating certain inputs. The bioreactor is linked up to the software that controls all the sequences of the exhibition, so that the yeast’s response to the outdoor environment in turn triggers events within the Turbine Hall such as light and sound sequences and film screenings.

Cephalus: I didn’t know yeast could be that responsive, but I don’t know much about yeast.

Polemarchus: What was the weather like when you visited?

Cephalus: Quite sunny, which would, one would have thought, have made the yeast more active.

Polemarchus: The exhibition is closed now, right.

Cephalus: Yes, it is closed now. When I think back on it, I’m more and more open to the idea of it. At the weekend, we went to some other exhibitions, Howard Hodgkin at the National Portrait Gallery – which is interesting, as how could any of his paintings be considered a portrait? Sure he responds to people in his work, but still. Then we went to the V&A, where there was an exhibition about Rudyard Kipling’s father, who founded a series of art schools in India…Anyway, I’m always open to the idea of an exhibition having a delayed effect. For example I remember us seeing a Robert Ryman exhibition and we hated it the first time round, but then on going back because we’d absorbed the images in the meantime, it had an impressive impact on us.

Polemarchus: Were you in the Turbine Hall alone?

Cephalus: Yes, just me.

Polemarchus: When thinking about you visiting there, I liked the idea of us having the same camera and that you would be taking photos and videos using the same camera that I have. At the same time, given the attack on London the other week, in Westminster, I suddenly felt the weight of responsibility asking you to go to the Tate to see the Parreno in my place. Actually, I have been working with an MFA student here at OSU, called Max Fletcher (!) and I discovered that he had visited the exhibition a while back. What I didn’t mention to you on the phone was that Max’s current work had incorporated deflated fish-balloons and he’d thought we’d talked about Anywhen when I came by for a studio visit, but we hadn’t. At the same time, even though I could talk to Max about the exhibition and he could share his experience etc with me, I still wanted to know your experience of the exhibition and that’s why I asked you if you could go. I’m really happy I did and that we’ve been able to have this conversation about it.

Cephalus: Me too. Let me know if there are any other London exhibitions you want me to go to and we can do this again! You could call it the Minus Plato London Report!

Polemarchus: Sure, I will. Thanks dad! Speak soon.

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