Monsters (not) vs. aliens: on Philippe Parreno’s Serpentine Gallery exhibit, Elizabeth Grosz, animals, aliens, architecture, emigrants, immigrants, orifices, utopias.

(Yeah, I just wanted to use all the vowels in that title.)

Recently the artist Philippe Parreno has been haunting me (this story again). It started because I was planning on writing something about the film he co-directed with Douglas Gordon, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait. Then I happened to start reading Veronica Gonzalez’s twin time: or, how death befell me—and on the back cover: a blurb from Philippe Parreno. The next day, someone asked me about the Serpentine Gallery in London, so I looked it up, and saw that Philippe Parreno is having an exhibition there. I get it, Philippe Parreno. I took the train to London.

I’m not gifted with summaries. From the Serpentine Gallery website:


Parreno’s exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery has been conceived as a scripted space in which a series of events unfolds. The visitor is guided through the galleries by the orchestration of sound and image, which heightens their sensory experience. Noise from Kensington Gardens and from the surrounding streets can be heard inside the Gallery, as though the outside is leaking in. The blinds come up to reveal a sudden change of weather. Taking the exhibition as a medium, Parreno has sought to redefine the exhibition experience by exploring its possibilities as a coherent ‘object’ rather than a collection of individual works.

The show features the UK premiere of Parreno’s latest film, Invisibleboy (2010), the story of an illegal Chinese immigrant boy who sees imaginary monsters that are scratched onto the film stock. In this filmic portrait, fantasy and social realism, fiction and documentary overlap. June 8, 1968 (2009) recalls the train voyage that transported the corpse of assassinated senator Robert Kennedy from New York to Washington D.C. Kennedy’s invisible body and the Invisibleboy are characters that float between several layers of reality.

Set in Asia, The Boy from Mars (2003) follows dimming points of light and reflections of the sun, before lingering on buffalo tied to a purpose-built structure containing an electricity-generating machine that provides the power required to make the film.

Whether through the cinematic image or the exhibition itself, Parreno explores and manipulates contemporary signs in all of their hallucinatory reality.

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“You don’t know if you’re creating a monster.” On Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and Phantoms of Nabua, Camille Roy, Jacques Derrida, xenia, domestication and writing, being possessed.

I am someone who has long been a host or playmate for monsters and ghosts. My maternal grandmother had to spread chicken blood around my house as an offering to the ghosts who were befriending me and thereby killing me. These friendships were thought to be the source of my early (and enduring) frailty and sickness.

(And not, for example, the great quantity of immunosuppressive and antibiotic drugs of which I had regularly been the recipient. But this essay is not about the trials of children of medical professionals, of which there are many, all with varying levels of hilarity and cutting.)

The idea of “Being friends with ghosts diminishes your health” is similar to: “Whom the gods love, die young.”

Camille Roy, “Monstrous”: “For me writing grinds itself into what’s familiar yet unbearable.”

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