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Serge Spitzer x Palais de Tokyo

The New York-based artist creates a chaotic plastic transportation system inside the iconic Parisian art gallery

Serge Spitzer has been pondering the power of plastic, air, and organised chaos since the 70s. The Romanian New Yorker is currently showing a gargantuan installation at Paris’s Palais de Tokyo, bearing the cryptic name of Re/Search:Bread and Butter with the ever present Question of How to define the difference between a Baguette and a Croissant (II). Originally made for the Biennial of Lyon 15 years ago, the piece is re-adapted to the jagged, factory-like space of the Palais. Seven hundred metres of plastic tubes invade, inhabit, and sneak into all corners of the hall, through a system of straight tubes and curves – an intentional wink at locals’ love for bread and philosophy. “As this is a piece I made with France in mind , I was happy for the opportunity to adept it for Palais de Tokyo," says the artist. "The difference between a baguette and a croissant is basically in the structure; it’s like sculpture, where the main difference is air. And the form is made by cutting pieces and rotating them from tubes curved like a croissant, or straight like a baguette. " 

This piece is reminiscent of ‘pneumatiques’, a system of tubes that were installed underground in pre-phone Paris, to send messages in high speed from one end of town to the other. Today, Serge has created a see-through labyrinth, and has replaced the love letters by two "air bubble" plastic capsules, one blue, one red. There, through computerised  pneumatic  systems,  the two furiously travel around the room, switching places yet magically never colliding into each other. "It’s like machines that become dazed and confused, by chance," says Sptizer. "The machines work against themselves, trying to negotiate a solution to the problem they've created. The capsules are trying to find a reason for their function." 

The chaos of  this seemingly stable structure, and the free will of controlled units is at the core of this piece: "The idea is to create the sketch of a chaotic structure that you follow and discover the 'clear' reality around it. The message of the work is to create something which is a question to itself. You build structures which seem to be very clear in their functions. But as you realise the work, you discover the irrationalities in the system. The narrative is about reality. You think the piece is about itself but it’s actually about the world around it, about the people, architecture, about the structure, you also look differently at the colours outside, or details and their relative monumentality. A big wild crazy transparent structure seen trough a large glass wall and next door you see the Eiffel tower, the most rational functional construction.” And there is more: this allows a view into the downstairs space of the hall, which had been walled up for decades. Spitzer tore it down, and stretched the piece into the long large hidden back alley of the space, symbolically pumping the old air and which digs up a somewhat uncomfortable past by addressing local history.

"The main reason why I wanted to re-do this piece is that I had the opportunity to open up the wall covering this mysterious hidden space," says Spitzer. "I am using the air that comes from the other side of the wall – a space of such historical, questionable and ambiguous relevance. When, after the war, it was transformed into a museum of modern art, it added to the murky role played before the energy and aura of an art institution." This is the first of two years of renovation that will occur inside  the Palais de Tokyo: 9000 square meters will be renovated to become a centre for contemporary multimedia creation multimedia. “I like the fact that these rooms were closed for so long, like a time capsule, and that I can use the air from there and circulate it here," says the artist. "In a way, I link the past history but also the future use of Palais de Tokyo."

Palais de Tokyo
13, avenue du Président Wilson, 75116 Paris