French artist Philippe Parreno first exhibited How Can We Tell the Dancers from the Dance? in 2012 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Two years later, the installation found an afterlife in the Schinkel Pavillon’s austere octagonal hall. Entering the pavilion, visitors encountered nothing but a circular raised platform and a self-propelled segment of curved wall that continuously rotated around it. Filling the space were the sounds of bodies jumping, walking, and running, recorded during the last performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in New York in December 2011, and resurrected as aural memory in Parreno’s minimalist installation. With its interrogative title questioning the embodied nature of choreography, Parreno’s work prompts us to imagine, as we stand before it, the movements of dancers from a company that is no more.
Similarly manipulating the viewer’s perceptual and psychologocal experience was the artist’s exhibition at Esther Schipper. Here, Parreno had assembled a panoply of items throughout the gallery: helium-inflated foil balloons in the shapes of fish and sharks, a player piano, electrical plugs and adapters arranged into sculptures, LED lights, fluorescent lights, an Arne Jacobsen floor lamp, and a large pile of artificial snow. Borrowing from the French philosopher Michel Serres, Parreno calls these items “quasi-objects,” a term Serres uses to describe the dependency of such things on their environments. Many of them, for instance, drew attention to the walls on which they literally depended, whether the pile of snow in one corner or the morass of mounted neon lights and transformers wrapped around another. Throughout, one heard the constant buzz of electricity—an unnerving tone that seemed to transform the sanitized space into a pulsating dystopia.
A version of this story originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 92.