Since the early 1990s, Philippe Parreno has developed a body of works analyzing the codes of representation and the production of signs and content. In his practice, the exhibition—as a coded space, a format—has become a critical tool allowing an archaeology of our visual culture. What is the discursive role of an exhibition? How do exhibitions participate in knowledge formation? Can an exhibition be a film? What is an image? How do images affect the motion of the mind, of our memories? How do we find our way in an image-saturated culture? How do we discriminate among what Parreno calls “1,000 pictures falling from 1,000 walls”?1
This rigorous methodology is accompanied by an aesthetic of complicity, leading Parreno to multiple collaborations in which the notion of author is not so much questioned as exploded and atomized. The list of his collaborators includes artists Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, Carsten Höller, Pierre Huyghe, Douglas Gordon, and Rirkrit Tiravanija; popular music icon Dave Stewart; scientist Jaron Lanier; and others who don’t even know it: Jean-Luc Godard, René Daumal, Robert Rauschenberg, Edgar Varèse.
An installation conceived as a group exhibition, Credits: Michel Amathieu, Djamel Benameur, Jacques Chaban-Delmas, James Chinlund, Maurice Cotticelli, Hubert Dubedout, François Dumoulin, Ebezeber Howard, M/M Paris, Pierre Mendès-France, Miko, Neyrpic, Alain Peyrefitte, Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, Anna-Léna Vaney, Angus Young (1999) includes a film, a photograph and a sound track. The film reconstitutes a 1970s housing project in which the dream of reconciling urban life with countryside produced a polluted version of both nature and modernist architecture. The title names the residents consulted in the making of the film, the technical crew, influential figures from the period, including rock band AC/DC’s lead guitarist and icon of teen discontent, Angus Young, former French politicians Michel Poniatovsky and Pierre Mendès-France, and the Miko ice cream company. A childhood memory unfolded in space and time, Credits borrows the structure of a film screening. The lights fade down at the beginning and fade up at the end focused on the photograph by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, extending the time of the work into the space of the exhibition.
More an association than a collaboration, the video installation Anywhere Out of the World (2000) started in 1999 when Parreno and Huyghe purchased the copyright to a fictional character, Annlee, from a manga/anime design agency in Japan. Freed from the animation industry, remastered, and renamed, Annlee became a “deviant sign,” a shell, available to whomever wanted to give her a context.2 The name itself might refer to Mother Ann Lee, who founded the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming (the Shakers), and who also figures in the video-documentary Rock My Religion by Dan Graham, an artist whom both Parreno and Huyghe consider a major antecedent.
Under the generic title No Ghost Just a Shell, un film d’imaginaire (1999–2000) (inspired by Mamoru Oshii’s iconic 1995 anime film Ghost in the Shell), thirteen artists have adopted Annlee, giving her a plurality of identity within her own uniqueness. Parreno’s Anywhere Out of the World, the first episode of Annlee’s journey, introduces the character: “My name is Annlee … I was bought for 46000 yen … I was cheap … with no chance to survive … drop dead in a comic book … I am no ghost, just a shell.” Anywhere Out of the World explores many issues that such a project raises: the economy and circulation of signs, the notion of the author, the concept of intellectual property, the debate on genetic memory and manipulation, and the controversy around euthanasia. In addition, Parreno asks us to consider the relationship between the model and the image; and the difference between iconoclasm and iconophilia.
Annlee was put to rest in December 2002, when she evaporated as a firework in the sky over Miami Beach. Emancipated from the realm of representation, she became an after-image, a ghostly collective memory, a public recollection, freed at last from any kind of commodification or fetishism and eventually offering a metaphysic of the art and the artist.