It started snowing during the opening night of test pattern [n°13] (2017), Ryoji Ikeda’s latest audio-visual environment in ‘William Forsythe X Ryoji Ikeda’ at La Villette. Such weather is so rare in Paris that when I stepped outside the vast exhibition hall, a former slaughterhouse, I heard someone cheerfully strike up O Canada. Instead of rushing to the metro, I gazed out over the white haze shrouding the adjacent park. Both the exhibition and the snow equally evoked the sublime, but my thrilling experience in the Japanese artist’s monumental installation was more specifically techno-romantic. His hypermodern, trance-inducing discotheque transformed a hypnotized crowd of viewers into wanderers above waves of black and white barcode patterns accompanied by electrifying sounds. Some exhilarated visitors improvised breakdance moves on the abattoir’s glowing floor.
Known for his immersive datascapes of binary codes from live-streamed content (texts, sounds, photographs, movies), Ikeda also attempts to contain this digitized chaos within his smaller, still works, some of which are on show in ‘π, e, ø’ at Almine Rech. Among them, π, e, ø [installation version] (2012) and 4’33” [gray] (2014) epitomise the artist’s exploration of infinity and emptiness through a minimalist display of data-storing media. The first comprises the numbers Pi, Euler and zero on three rolls of films, which are displayed partially unrolled across a wall. The second consists of blank strips of film, which are evenly arranged onto a square support hanging on a wall. Their total length corresponds to the duration of John Cage’s radical silent score 4’33” (1952).
Heimo Zobernig’s show ‘This New This’ at Chantal Crousel also explores the digital realm, but in a more sensual way. It includes 32 dazzling, abstract, acrylic paintings arranged chronologically from 2011 to 2017. The earlier works on display are monochromatic text-paintings. For instance, Untitled (2011) is emblazoned with the word ‘MONOCHROME’ emerging from the voluptuous depths of International Klein Blue (IKB) – the colour patented by Yves Klein in 1960. Between these earlier works and the Austrian artist’s recent gaudy neon modernist grids, an entire room is dedicated to exuberant paintings inspired by television test patterns. That said, while these rainbow explosions of pixelated mosaics are pictorially enticing, I was even more mesmerized by the lively radiance of a single colour in Marianne Mispelaëre’s show ‘Echolalia’ at Martine Aboucaya.
The French artist created Palimpseste (Stratégie d’évasion) (Palimpsest, Evasion Strategy, all works 2017) by painstakingly attempting to rub out a wall with a blue eraser. While her action left no perceptible traces on the wall itself – apart from the delineation of a whiter than white rectangular area – the eraser crumbled into a thin line of incandescently bright azure powder on the floor. Minimal and haunted, Mispelaëre’s show is also concerned with lost languages. The mysterious wall drawing Autodafé (Les disparitions existent pour ceux qui les voient) (Public Burning, Disappearances Exist for Those Who See Them) is an encryption of the words ‘disappearances exist for those who see them’. Bibliothèque des silences (Library of Silences) is a wall list of 52 extinct languages, some of which the artist rubbed out during the course of the show. Finally, in the video diptych Standpoint, the abysmal silence of an off-screen Dakota woman unable to speak in her mother tongue reminded me of Susan Hiller’s homage to dead languages, The Last Silent Movie (2007).
Speaking of endangered cultures, resistance finds poetic forms across the Seine in the two Kamel Mennour galleries. For his exhibition ‘ABETARE (Fluturat)’ (Abecedary, Butterfly), the Kosovar artist Petrit Halilaj filled a room with eleven old desks retrieved from his former primary school and a group of large steel sculptures that echo the graffiti left on the furniture by students daydreaming during the Kosovo War (which lasted from 1998-99). In Abetare (KFOR - I LOV YOU Desk) (2015–17), the rapper Eminem’s name is carved alongside KFOR, the acronym of the NATO-led Kosovo Force. In Kamel Mennour’s other gallery, Tadashi Kawamata created Nest (2017), a delicate, site-specific nest created from 200,000 wooden chopsticks that visitors are invited to enter. This makeshift refuge discreetly expands from the gallery and onto the façade with smaller, bird-sized nests, an aery vision that might well inspire us to (figuratively speaking) hatch something. According to the Japanese artist, who refers to his practice as street art and activism, his work is about ‘grafting a new architecture into an old one without asking for permission’.
Main image: Ryoji Ikeda, test pattern [n°13], 2017, installation view, La Villette, Paris, France. Courtesy: La Villette, Paris; photograph: Martin Argyroglo