L’exposition, l’évènement et sa doublure

L’exposition, l’évènement et sa doublure

“(…) and is thus only pretending only to pretend.” footnote 42, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Known for his abundant development of footnotes, the author attaches  such importance to them that certain footnotes run over entire pages. More than an extension of the narrative or its commentary, they proliferate as a doubling of the novel.

“only pretending” is jesting in a society of the spectacle that has already conquered everything. “Only pretending only to pretend”, is to play the infinité jest, to simulate the appearance of an already illusory action that reveals its own lure and is somehow embodying its own fraud or its understudy.


This quote by David Foster Wallace could make an analogy with Jusqu’à l’envers, Valerian Goalec’s three-chapter exhibition at 22.48m2 gallery. The materials, the forms and the functionalities inherent in the art event are appropriated and diverted, almost fetishized through the exhibition itself.

Like its understudy, the exhibition of exhibition or the metatheatre of its spaces suggests a particular affinity for substitution. Following this vocabulary, this involves formal standardisation and the staging of a hypercontrolled space.

Cinema, in fact, has never better reflected this aspect than in Jacques Tati’s modern ideal with Playtime (1967). The cubic, glassed-in sets — the offices, the flat, the airport or the International Household Arts Exhibition — never cease to fit into a filmic choreography. The omnipresent transparency of the spaces seems as absurd as it is opaque to the main character Monsieur Hulot who wanders from one controlled, normed and regulated universe to another.

In that sense, false ceilings, temporary picture rails, fake door handles and curtains obstructing the visible surfaces of those to be concealed would make it possible to consider the question of art itself as a generator of forms.


To evoke the forms that the exhibition itself can produce in space, Philippe Parreno’s work is incomparable. In 1995, Snow Dancing was staged at Le Consortium de Dijon. A party took place the day before the opening and echoed a pre-existing conversation between Philippe Parreno, Liam Gillick and Jack Wendler published in 1994 in the form of a narrative script describing an event taking place at the same location.2 Each action and object incorporates the exhibition as a memory, a trace, and a sign of a staging of the past social event, as its architecture.3 In this way, each form and situation in the exhibition rooms is a projection of the scenario (never recorded on film) and of the party described.4 Snow Dancing exists beyond its temporality through its text, its memory and its mediation in an inverted timeline: first the text, then the event and finally the exhibition.5 Literally soluble, the layers of reality and the atmosphere of the scenario - fiction, make up both the event and its own commentary. And if we have not been invited to the party, its absence as an indication of its hollow presence, haunts and gathers through the experience of space and its dissolution in reality.

This exhibition could operate on a diegetic mode, as defined in the cinema by Étienne Souriau, in the form of a world “supposed or proposed by the fiction of the movie”.6 This mode applied to the medium of the exhibition would be the tool to invoke the world, the language and the forms produced by the exhibition as its own level of reality. By simulating the event as a projection space, the exhibition thus stretches its temporality.

But we will not always be absolutely sure about the existence of the already past or yet to come event, only the experience in the space of its forms will put us, as spectators, in what is akin to its understudy.


In 1966, the Art & Language group (Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin) introduced the Air-Conditioning Show at the Château de Montsoreau, a museum of contemporary art. Initially a textual work composed of writings and sketches in 1966, and later an exhibition in 1967. The show takes place in a deserted room with the museum’s thermal regulation system as the only element and ten sheets pinned to the wall with technical information.7 

If air could claim the status of art as a potential sculpture, the Spectator was primarily invited to question the institution and more precisely its exhibition spaces and the forms produced by its architecture. The absence would no longer be the subterfuge of a presence but would create a Mirror effect on the viewer, whose eye could not escape in any contemplation other than that of the empty space made visible. The institution itself then becomes the object of the exhibition, including its air-conditioning system.


What if, in the manner of a show flat, the exhibition space only pretended to be an exhibition space? Isn’t it precisely the nature of the event to inhabit the space with other spaces, fragmenting its continuity, in order to rhythm it and fill it?

In movie industry, the understudy for the nude scenes is named Body Double, which also refers to Brian de Palma’s eponymous movie from 1984. Without revealing the plot, the film is a succession of mise en abîme in which fiction is constantly doubled up with a discourse on cinema. On the screen, the artifice appears as many lies as there are images8 and gives us an idea of the manipulation inherent in the cinematic medium.

From the beginning, the landscape is just a picture in the studio set on which the credits are shown, minor roles after minor roles reflect the reality of the actor’s profession while the body double create the on-screen illusion of the perfect headless body. This matter of duplicity appears in every visual and narrative layer of Body Double. The subterfuges take on such importance that the main character Jack Scully— who himself oscillates between his role as an actor and his role as a Spectator — as much as the viewer, is in doubt and finds himself trapped in the loop induced by the director at the controls. If the double becomes a tool for reflection on cinema and on the truth hidden in each scene9 (pushed to the point of replaying scenes already pre-existing in Hitchcock’s cinema, notably the shower scene in Psychosis), the double is the sine qua none of cinema and its making.


In his manifesto article published in October magazine10, Rem Koolhaas describes the symptoms that stem from modern architecture such as Junkspace, which has become the heart of postmodern architecture. Junkspace proliferates and materialises as the (body) double of architecture, in the form of impersonal, prefabricated orderly spaces from which design has escaped. Junkspace is a continuous, expanding space whose “walls have ceased to exist” in favour of simulated interiors where “transparency reveals everything to you, but keeps you away” and joins the fiction of Playtime.

By creating fantasized spaces to invest the emptiness, the decorative elements of the event — of art — no longer stands as an image but a space. Equally protocolary, the lining or its body double tends towards a space where its own disembodiment is exhibited. The space of the event is the place of all synthetic realities. Its reverse side reveals the mechanisms from within and leaves room for doubt, not of where we are but of the moment in which we are situated. This body double therefore suggests the projection of a latent event. The aberration of the event becomes the aberration of the exhibition.


I often wondered what the exhibitions are doing when they are waiting. If during this latency, they patiently waited for the context of the event to exist. The event is in essence temporary and its boredom symptomatic of its waiting time and expectations. Since it implies a commitment on our part, if the promises are swept away or disappointed, the experience could turn out to be boring. But do exhibitions miss us, miss our gaze?

Fiona Vilmer

  1. David Foster Wallace, L’infinie Comédie, Éditions de l’olivier, 2015. Quote from the original publication of ‘Infinite Jest’, 1996.

  2. The reading time of the text and the duration of the event are similar, about 1h30.

  3. “Team Spirit”, conversation with Philippe Parreno by Tom Morton published in Freeze Magazine, no. 81, March 2004.

  4. In this regard, in the article On Snow Dancing, Ina Blom develops a point of view on design and its relationship with the event in the work of Philippe Parreno. (https://www.e-flux.com/architecture/superhumanity/66881/on-snow-dancing/)

  5. The article by Laura Jaumouillé, Philippe Parreno at the Centre Pompidou explains the process of reversal of temporality particular to Snow Dancing. Article to be read on 02. (https://www.zerodeux.fr/guests/philippe-parreno-un-art-de-letrangete-par-laure-jaumouille/)

  6. Étienne Souriau, “La structure de l’univers filmique et le vocabulaire de la filmologie”, Revue internationale de filmologie, no. 7-8, 1951, page 237.

  7. Study for the Air-Conditioning Show; Three Vocabularies for the Air Show; Remarks on Air-Conditioning; Frameworks Air-Conditioning.

  8. Whereas Jean-Luc Godard states that “Cinema is truth twenty-four times a second”, Brian de Palma reiterates “Cinema is a lie twenty-four times a second” in the interview conducted by Cédric Anger in no. 546 of the Cahiers du cinéma, May 2000, page 43.

  9. Stéphane Delorme, “A maintes reprises”, Cahiers du cinéma, no. 529, November 1998, page 31.

  10. Rem Koolhaas, “Junkspace”, OCTOBER 100 , Spring 2002, pp. 175-190.