Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Pneumatics at the Palais

Very recently, I missed the installation by Serge Spitzer at Palais de Tokyo entitled
Re/Search, Bread and Butter with the ever present Question of How to define the difference between a Baguette and a Croissant. But maybe you saw it in Paris, or somewhere else? Perhaps in Bern, where it was called Re/Search (Alchemy and/or Question Marks with Swiss Air)?

Here are some flikr images from those who did see the installation at the Palais de Tokyo and have shared their pictures.

I love these two images. Except for the little bit of string at the bottom, the first image looks like it could have been taken in a hospital engineering room, whilst there is little doubt that the second image is from a contemporary art gallery, the particular perspective emphasising the dizzying curves and twists of the installed pneumatic system. A description of this work in ArtSlant tells us that:
"Serge Spitzer aims to reveal hidden elements, structures and systems, the effects of which we perceive without trying to question their nature. Since the 1970s, he has been formulating mechanisms of communication, perception, and consciousness. These “reality models” are extraordinarily lucid sculptures in which everyday life confronts while merging with the imaginary. The artist borrows a complex vocabulary from our surroundings to generate the constant conflict and equilibrium of his works ... Re/Search, Bread and Butter with the ever present Question of How to define the difference between a Baguette and a Croissant, a monumental installation first made in 1997 for the Lyon Biennial, coincides with the democratization of the Internet. Presented today in the context of information technology hegemony, this work attests to the pre-existence of a quasi-organic communication network. Serge Spitzer unveils a chaotic pneumatic transport system where capsules, propelled by air, whizz through a maze of tubes. Installed in 1866 under the streets of Paris, this kind of device originally served to transmit commercial orders between the Central Telegraph Office and trading rooms. By bringing a technology back into the public space that ordinarily lurks under our towns, like a beast in a cave, Serge Spitzer ironically interrogates its function and renders it perfectly obsolete. The installation brings together two systems that work against each other, but are forced to coexist together; the networks neutralize each other. Messages shoot through these vessels without sender, without recipient, and on a quest without beginning or end. Here, order faces off with chaos and stringency brushes against weakness: everything is intertwined, but all of it is accidental"
A rather poetic interpretation of the installation, this description nonetheless resonates with some of my own interests in the pneumatic tube as an invisible maze behind our institutional walls, that is imbued with both function and imagination. The link made by Art Slant to the internet, is deeply reminiscent of descriptions of the web as a "series of tubes", and perhaps too much of an obvious connection. In an interview in Dazed Digital, Serge Spitzer searches for something more nuanced and interesting:
"The chaos of this seemingly stable structure, and the free will of controlled units is at the core of this piece: "The idea is to create the sketch of a chaotic structure that you follow and discover the 'clear' reality around it. The message of the work is to create something which is a question to itself. You build structures which seem to be very clear in their functions. But as you realise the work, you discover the irrationalities in the system. The narrative is about reality. You think the piece is about itself but it’s actually about the world around it, about the people, architecture, about the structure, you also look differently at the colours outside, or details and their relative monumentality. A big wild crazy transparent structure seen trough a large glass wall and next door you see the Eiffel tower, the most rational functional construction.”
It is the so-called 'irrationalities' of pneumatic tube systems which fascinate me too. The free will and the structure, always in tension, visible in the adjustments that engineers make to networks, in the sketches architects draw during renovations, in the breakdowns and in the repair work that takes place in hospitals, banks, pharmacies and other places everyday.

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