Film in the White Cube – Philippe Parreno and the Serpentine Gallery demonstrate how to do it right
Almost ten years ago we began to publish here texts on the relationship between the Black Box (cinema) and the White Cube (exhibition space). The topic remains just as relevant today. In the intervening years, few viable solutions have been found for satisfactorily presenting films in exhibition contexts – or perhaps it’s just that no one was searching very hard. Evidently, it is still up to filmmakers/artists to adapt their work to fit the White Cube, while, conversely, very few exhibition organizers confer closely with them in an attempt to do justice to the specific aesthetic and reception requirements for the medium of film.
The most primitive form of film presentation is ubiquitous today and is apparently not even questioned anymore: video projectors cast film images – usually in low resolution from a DVD – onto frameless white walls. The image is stretched as far as the ceiling height will allow. Several works are projected one after the other or simultaneously and their soundtracks overlap or can be heard through headphones only. Field size, scaling, framing, spatial context etc. – aspects that are taken into account as a matter of course when hanging paintings – are forgotten or neglected when it comes to film. Viewers usually have no choice but to pass through an exhibition in the same way they would otherwise drive past billboards on a motorway or peruse backlit posters and advertising films while being conveyed along moving sidewalks in airports.
But there is another way – as is currently being demonstrated by a show of films by the Algerian-French artist Philippe Parreno at London’s Serpentine Gallery. In the modestly sized park building with only three small halls and a lobby, short films between 2 and 12 minutes in length are being presented. Each film has its own room, a specific projection system and its own unique projection surface. What’s special about this exhibition is its staging, in which the works, the building itself and even its surroundings come together to create a single, unified experience.
Parreno’s films are never shown simultaneously, but rather one after the other. When one film ends, a signal tone fades in one place and begins to swell in another, acoustically guiding the visitor to the next screening in an adjacent room. In two of the halls, whose windows are darkened by blinds when a film begins, a cinema atmosphere is created by means of a very special gimmick: the films are projected onto a black screen that does not reflect more light than necessary back into the room. In the middle room, which is by contrast a classic, bright White Cube, a gigantic, high-definition DCP digital projection takes the visitor by surprise, while in the lobby between the halls a Quicktime movie is shown on a suitably small area.
Not least through the incorporation of the external environment, the exhibition as such becomes here a single fluid experience and an art object in its own right: original sounds from the surrounding Kensington Gardens permeate the space, and when the blinds are raised at the end of the film sequence, fake snowflakes fall before the windows as visitors gaze out into the park. The gallery text accompanying the exhibition explains: “Parreno has sought to redefine the exhibition experience by exploring its possibilities as a coherent “˜object’ rather than a collection of individual works.”
He has impressively succeeded in this endeavour, particularly seeing as the films stem from different periods of his career, are in different styles and pursue disparate themes, and can also be shown individually. What they all have in common is the artist’s interest in the conception of cinematographic space and time as well as a signature brand of hallucinatory reality located somewhere between documentary and fiction. As presented at the Serpentine Gallery, the individual films form a coherent programme, which, with a length of 30 minutes, is also ideally designed for viewing as an exhibition.
Anyone who has a chance to visit London should definitely not miss this show, which is on until 13 February.
“No More Reality, la manifestation”, F 1991, 2 min, Quicktime
“The Boy from Mars”, F/Thailand 2003, 12 min, 35mm on HD
“June 8, 1968″, 2009, F/USA, 7 min, Digital Cinema Package
“Invisibleboy”, 2010, F/USA, 6 min, 35mm on 2K