Palais de Tokyo’s current exhibition takes its title from the mysterious shortwave radio antennas that emit seemingly random series of numbers, tones and melodies from various points around the globe. Many believe these “Spy Number Stations” have been in use since World War I, and have increased in prevalence since the 1990s. Most uninitiated listeners presume the stations are run by national governments as a means to communicate with their spies working around the globe. Following the previous exhibition “GAKONA” — loosely based on the work of Nikola Tesla — Palais de Tokyo again mines the intersection of contemporary art with science (not mention politics and legend).
Works by eleven contemporary French and international artists have been included in the show. And, in the growing tradition of Palais de Tokyo, at least ten of these artists are men — the artist Norma Jeane, who adopted Marilyn Monroe’s given name and claims to have been born in the same hours of the blonde bombshell’s death, has never been publicly identified and regularly collaborates with other artists, performers and scientists. Reinforcing the thematic crux of the show, British artist Matt O’Dell presents a replica of an actual “Spy Number Antenna” — a five meter high Numbers Station. The monumental sculpture physically looms above the surrounding works, and likewise the ambient sound from Pascal Broccolichi’s Sonotubes soaks through the exhibition’s audio space.
The political implication of Spy Number Stations, particularly in terms of American history, is also considered within the exhibition. A large-scale photographic work from the series Erased Lynching by Ken Gonzales-Day depicts the faces of a crowd at a lynching in mid-nineteenth century California. We see only the equally haunted and lustful faces of the crowd, as Gonzales-Day has removed the victims from the image. A series of photographs by Arthur Mole & John Thomas, taken during and just after World War I, capture “living” symbols of the American and British military. Working from atop a specially built viewing tower, Mole and Thomas would arrange thousands of soldiers in the formation of the Union Jack, a Bald Eagle or a machine gun.
A replica of Kristian Birkeland’s “Terrella,” by artists Dove Allouche and Evariste Richer — La terrella, 2002 — recreates the conditions of an aurora borealis almost daily. Releasing a mysterious display of light and color, the work mimics one of nature’s own Spy Number stations.
Dove Allouche and Evariste Richer
La terrella, 2002
Thursday, August 20 18:00 / 22:30; Friday, August 21 12:00 / 16:30 / 18:00/ 19:30 / 21:30 / 22:30; Saturday, August 22 13:30 / 16:30 / 22:30; Sunday, August 23 19:30 / 21:00; Tuesday, August 25 21:00; Wednesday, August 26 12:00 / 13:30
-- Lillian Davies
(Images top -bottom: Felix Schramm, Omission, 2009. Vue d’exposition / Exhibition view, « Spy Numbers », Palais de Tokyo, 2009. Photographie : André Morin; Pascal Broccolichi, Sonotubes, 2006. Vue d’exposition / Exhibition view, « Spy Numbers », Palais de Tokyo, 2009. Photographie : André Morin; De gauche à droite / clockwise : Ken Gonzales-Day, The Wonder Gaze (St. James Park),
2006-2009. Tony Smith, For V.T., 1969. Vue d’exposition / Exhibition view, « Spy Numbers », Palais de Tokyo, 2009. Photographie : André Morin)
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