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On October 23, 2020, Palais de Tokyo opened its first exhibition to the public amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Titled Antibodies, the show focuses on new perceptions of our bodies – our own as well as the one of our neigbours'. Although interrupted by another spike of cases, the exhibition continued to run for viewers online, through a dedicated website which provided an extension for the exhibition. The website is bilingual, catering to both English and French speakers, and was devised to host online events.
One of the curators of Antibodies, Cedric Fauq, speaks with STIR about the development of the exhibition at the art center in Paris. About the conceptual narrative which triggered the show, he says, “I think it was a mix of several things. It's an exhibition that was not in the programme in the first place. But everything got disrupted because of the COVID situation and the lockdown, so we suddenly happened to have a gap in the programme, and we were thinking, okay, what do we do? I think because the new curatorial team got formed during the first lockdown, we had a strong desire to learn from each other, even though we were working remotely.
We quickly came to the conclusion that we wanted to do something, the seven of us together (Daria de Beauvais, Adélaïde Blanc, Yoann Gourmel, Vittoria Matarrese, François Piron, Hugo Vitrani and myself). We then felt the urge to start thinking of new ways to manifest and enact togetherness, at a time where touching each other had just become so threatening. So those were very much the premises of the project.
Coincidentally, it was also a moment in France when a lot of uprising related to anti-racist movements happened, this was also something that we were very much living, it was not only in the background, it was at the forefront of our discussions, whether we wanted it or not. This led us to think about which bodies are vulnerable, more subjected to violence and specifically state violence, than others. And so the whole idea of antibodies started to make sense on very different levels.
At the core of the conceptual ambition of the exhibition was to both make people feel the relationship between the very militaristic way we speak about immunity and the desire to undo the weaponising of antibodies, on a lexical level first: it’s always the sealed body against the external threat. And that was very palpable – specifically in the political discourse – how public health and public safety merged so to develop new ways to control bodies. It was a very prime example of biopolitics in action.
The exhibition is divided into four sections - Entrance, Tactile Tactics, Around a Fire, and On the Line. Although zoned separately, each space spills over one another conceptually but also physically (through sound, smells and visual echoes). Each zone explored different sets of feelings and sensations, questioning how we form families – blurring the boundary between the domestic and the public sphere – for instance, or how we can prepare to face invisible threats such as a virus.
Fauq continues to explain the curatorial approach of Antibodies saying, “People who know Palais de Tokyo quite well were a bit surprised by the tonality of the exhibition, because it was quite a pessimistic exhibition to say the least, operating in a form of withdrawal. A shy generosity if you will. But it's being very pragmatic and realistic about the situation as well. One of our prime desire with the exhibition was to not overload the space, make it breathe. We wanted the architecture of Palais de Tokyo to enhance the interventions and installations. That had an impact in the way you sensed sound, which was bleeding from one installation to another. There was a lot of that, but I think it was interesting in relation to this idea of porous boundary".
The boundaries of the art center were also trespassed through several gestures, amongst which Kevin Desbouis' Untitled (CCMCastaner) (2020) presented itself as a set of three wall-mounted black bowls containing tattoos you could take away. Fauq says, “I think this work is basically dealing with the abstraction of state violence through its communication and the way we absorb it, so it gets to us, under our skins. I think Kevin’s gesture is also saying a lot about the way an artwork can literaly “mutate”. At the core of this work, there is the idea of you taking a piece of the artwork away from the museum (an act of reclaiming that dissolves the conundrum art / property), but also actually having the possibility to put it on your skin (so it’s also something ephemeral, in the end no one “has” the artwork)".
Fauq also discusses Susan Sontag’s writings as one of the reference points for the show. He mentions, “She is a milestone when it comes to the thinking around disease, specifically AIDS. And actually several thinkers helped us navigate the conceptual backbone of the exhibition and the artworks included. On the website we developed for the project we also published texts, most of which were already out there but hadn’t been translated in French, such as a Jackie Wang or Ed Cohen for instance. That was very important for us to enable access to certain knowledge and theories which help us look at what we are going through with some much needed critical distance”.
Antibodies was on display till February 28, 2021.
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