Here and Now: Philippe Parreno’s ‘H{N)YPN(Y}OSIS’ Takes Over the Park Avenue Armory

Installation view of H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS. JAMES EWING

Installation view of H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS.


Philippe Parreno’s H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS (pronounced “hypnosis,” just to confuse us all) is bewildering. Staged in the Park Avenue Armory’s massive drill hall, it’s an installation that involves film, sculpture, music, and performance. It takes at least two hours to get through, and feels as slow and frustrating as the traffic on Broadway during rush hour. But weirdly enough, for patient viewers, H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS ends up being a rewarding experience.

Parreno is better known in Europe (he hails from France), and is perhaps best known as part of the loosely defined “relational aesthetics” movement—art that in various ways involves human relations. Their work is often conceptual and difficult, and Parreno’s is no exception.

H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS begins with 26 marquees, which collectively form Danny the Street (2015). They are studded with lights of all kinds. Some have fluorescent tubes that are lined up in rows. Others are dotted with bulbs. One has neon tubes shaped like clouds. Like a milder version of Times Square, they take on musical qualities, becoming something of an orchestra in which each marquee is an instrument. Little bulbs in a rectangle could be high-pitched notes, while a more imposing rectangle of horizontal tubes could be a deep bass.

Three pianos appear under these suspended marquees and supply a soundtrack for the light sculptures. Two of the pianos play themselves; the third is played by a human, whose glissandos and staccatos become synched with the lighting effects.

Philippe Parreno, Anywhere Out of the World, 2000, video. COURTESY THE ARTIST

Philippe Parreno, Anywhere Out of the World, 2000, video.


H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS cordially invites participation. You can chat with a friend under a marquee, and you can even sit on a low-cushioned bench at the player piano, if you want. Collaboration and conversation are Parreno’s favorite subjects, and he is probably most famous for his work about Ann Lee, an anime character that he and Pierre Huyghe bought in 1999 for $428. They remade her, and then gradually set her free. In H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, she appears in Anywhere Out of the World, a 2000 video that interrupts this light-and-sound symphony. Shown on a tall screen of LED lights, Ann Lee becomes a true presence. “I do not belong to anybody,” she says with her piercing almond-shaped eyes looking out at viewers.

Once the lights come back up, several live girls appear. They seem like visitors, but they announce, in unison, that they are Ann Lee. This is the beginning of a performance called Ann Lee (2011), done in collaboration with Tino Sehgal. When I visited H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, I was part of a crowd of curious visitors who gathered around an adolescent girl. She wore a pair of white Keds, denim shorts, and a cobalt-blue shirt. She looked like anyone else. “First, I was two-dimensional,” the girl said, her arms robotically moving up and down as she did so. “Then I was three-dimensional. I figured I would become four-dimensional.”

And then, unwittingly, I became a part of the installation. The girl locked her eyes on mine, walked over, and asked if she could ask me a question. I nodded, so she said, “Would you rather be too busy or not busy enough?” I said, “Too busy.” “That’s interesting. Why?” she asked. “I like doing a lot of things, being around people,” I replied. She then went off and asked another visitor what melancholia and a sign had in common. (I was thankful to have not gotten that question.)

The Sehgal performance was when I started to enjoy H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, which revealed itself to be a thoughtful work about togetherness and the relationships between people and places. In a way, the installation is about making New Yorkers slow down and realize that they live in New York, which is no easy task. If the flashing marquees feel like Times Square, it’s no accident. There’s even a large sculpture that looks like the bleachers by the TKTS booth, only this time it rotates like a cog in an old machine. Unlike the anxiety-inducing speed of New York’s greatest tourist destinations, H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS is slow and somber—a dirge for people who have grown out of touch with their city and each other.

The films in H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS are also slow, yet they have the benefit of being visually stunning. Shot by Darius Khondji, an Academy Award–nominated cinematographer, they are glossy and cinematic. The best is Marilyn (2012), an unexpectedly moving portrait of the hotel room where Marilyn Monroe lived. Parreno makes the actress feel alive again, as if she really were there, narrating her experience at the Waldorf Astoria in her signature breathy voice—Parreno used a computer to simulate her voice and a robot to mimic her handwriting.


Philippe Parreno, The Crowd (still), 2015, film.


The Crowd (2015) is the newest of the five. Filmed in the drill hall where H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS is currently installed, it shows a large group of people who stand up and walk over to some transcendent sight. Some are glassy-eyed (Parreno really did have many of the extras hypnotized), others look more alive. We see impressionistic shots of what they see—images that look like blazing fires or milk splashed into coffee. Suddenly, there is a loud noise. They crowd around a spotlighted area, where an invisible piano player performs. They clap for the performance, then they exit, talking to each other as if they were no longer strangers.

With H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS, Parreno overwhelms visitors with information. Could anyone really understand everything Parreno shows over the course of these two hours? It’s better to just let it all sink in—to be reminded, time and again, that visitors are here with many other people, in a large drill hall, in the Park Avenue Armory, in New York City.

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