Philippe Parreno creates artworks that question the boundaries between reality and fiction, exploring the nebulous realm in which the real and the imagined blur and combine. Working in a diverse range of media including sculpture, drawing, film, and performance the internationally acclaimed French artist seeks to expand our understanding of duration, inviting us to re-evaluate the nature of reality, memory, and the passage of time. Central to Parreno’s practice is his quest for an ultimate form of communication capable of transcending language.
Taking the exhibition as a medium, Parreno has radically redefined the exhibition experience by exploring its possibilities as a coherent “object” rather than as a collection of individual works. To this end, he conceives his shows as a scripted space where a series of events unfolds. The visitor is guided through the galleries by the orchestration of sound and image, which heightens their sensory experience. This is a question of creating, in a given volume, as much space and time as possible by folding and unfolding the space onto itself. In Philippe Parreno’s mesmerizing and immersive installation My Room is Another Fishbowl (2016), up to one thousand Mylar fish-shaped balloons delicately hover and surround the viewer. Five different species float within a given space, positioned according to atmospheric changes, producing what may be seen as a large architectural fishbowl. These artificial animals become a participatory artwork, gently ascending and descending depending on the touch of the audience, and the amount of heat and light within the space. As the objects begin to function independently, they gain their own agency to act as automatons that guide the human viewer, blurring the boundary between living and non-living beings.
An unpredictable narrative unfolds within the room, pushing the understanding of artwork beyond just the visual, and into the experiential. In this way, Parreno encourages a deeper reflection on art as a way of measuring one’s sense of time and space. This artwork requires a performance for and by its audience, rather than a passive gaze. As we walk amongst them, the elegantly suspended, multi-colored fish balloons invite reflection and contemplation. They engender a dreamlike scenario in which the artwork produces a fictional environment within a real space.
My Room is Another Fishbowl recalls and responds to other key art historical themes and works. It touches upon the Duchampian “readymade” in its presentation of balloons as familiar, manufactured objects deployed within a new artistic environment. At the same time, there is a connection to Andy Warhol’s seminal Silver Clouds (1966) in which the artist collaborated with engineers to produce a series of floating metallic “pillows,” producing the effect of ethereal silver clouds within the gallery space. This work was later used in collaboration with Merce Cunningham and Jasper Johns, to provide the stage design for Cunningham’s 1968 dance performance Rain Forest. In the lineage of these modern masters, Parreno’s installation engages with these concepts on a grand scale for twenty-first century audiences.
This installation is a quintessential example of Parreno’s recoding of exhibition environments, in which the work of art is determined by the spatial context and by human interaction. With My Room is Another Fishbowl, gallery spaces and vast atria—such as those at the Brooklyn Museum and Tate Modern—become activated by the relationship between the subject and the artwork. Works such as this consolidate the past two decades of Parreno’s practice, in which the exhibition is continually redefined as a series of events or actions that unfold within a space. In this way, Parreno envisions the exhibition environment itself as an artwork, reinventing preconceived formats of displaying individual objects by instead creating connections between artworks, spaces, and the audience.