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Inside Paris' giant sticky tape tunnel

If inherent threats always come from the outside to invade the inside, in this exhibition it is the very interior of our brains, bodies and buildings that becomes foreign

Ten days, 12 people, and 44 kilometres of sticky tape were required to wrap-up the Palais de Tokyo’s concrete pillars and create an inhabitable sculptural tunnel that sprawls through the museum’s entrance hall. Simultaneously stretched canvas, giant cocoon, half body and half intestine, the soft architecture of ‘Tape Paris’ transports visitors back to a regressive environment. The translucent floating maze allows five explorers at a time to crawl through its web-like passageways. A descent into the primordial. From up there, unintelligible murmurs and hazy silhouettes are all that can filter through the meticulously superposed layers of tape.

The installation, designed by European collective Numen/For Use (Sven Jonke, Christoph Katzler and Nikola Radeljković), transforms a humble material into a visually provocative exploit coiling 50 metres through the gallery and reaching a total height of 6 metres. Both the inside and the outside of the structure are covered with a cling film-like plastic sheet in order to hold the form together, ensuring a surprisingly optimum degree of elasticity and comfort − conveniently, everyday household adhesives have the unsuspected ability to withstand more than 30 kilograms of force before breaking.

‘Tape Paris’ marks the beginning of a journey into Inside, the Palais de Tokyo’s latest exhibition curated to explore the murky territory of both physical and psychological interiority. While the Parisian museum is well-known for specialising in the emerging art scene, both French and international, it results in curatorial concepts at times too daring for the wider public, and this exhibition is no exception. 

‘Simultaneously stretched canvas, giant cocoon, half body and half intestine, the soft architecture of ‘Tape Paris’ transports visitors back to a regressive environment’

When refurbishing the Parisian Museum in 2002, Lacaton & Vassal broke into the building’s unused basements and discovered improbable spaces. A restricted budget combined with a bold design proposal led the French duo to embrace the building’s raw materials. The interior was stripped down, the structure was revealed, and all was left as-found. In Inside, the 30 invited artists rip the human body open, drag the visitor in and leave him to face it all. If some did not grasp the elegance of the museum’s naked concrete skeleton, many will struggle to understand the intentionality behind some of the exhibition’s patently provocative pieces.


Visitors relax in a comfortable cocoon of sticky tape, as photographed by Manon Mollard

The ambition is for the work to appear as a mysterious territory, with ambivalent characteristics that become a source of curiosity, fears, or fantasies. Yet the density of the display, topped by the lack of coherence between the art works, turn the whole exhibition into a somewhat puzzling experience. The theme of interiority seems to justify turning all the most troubled thoughts of the human psyche into art. The visitor inevitably becomes co-author, but neither the agonising screams of a man about to spit blood on his lap, nor the frustrated sexual fantasies expressed by an illustrator’s coloured pencils, seem to reveal much of our inner complexities to me.

Nevertheless, there are also moments of delightful poetry along the way, like Stéphane Thidet’s Refuge: a wooden cabin equipped with a few pieces of furniture, where it is raining inside. Not only is it rather delightful to walk around the hut, hearing and watching the water drench the small interior, but such a simple manipulation of reality proves much more powerful in confronting the established understanding of interiority. Turning what we know on its head forces us to interact with our imagination.

Ryan Gander is another artist who subverts the everyday to re-evaluate the existing. He turns fragile childrens’ shelters into solid sculptures. Appearing like Christo’s wrapping technique, the pieces are actually made of solid marble resin. The fabric changes into stone, the ephemeral becomes permanent, and the playful shields appear as impenetrable bunkers. The suprise of form and material unsettles: what we are looking at is not what we thought it was, once again challenging our preconceptions.

The opposition between a reassuring inside and an always potentially threatening outside is known to be expressed by the habitat − be it physical, with the edification of fortresses and the setting of traps, or cultural, with our language and our clothes. If inherent threats always come from the outside to invade the inside, here, it is the very interior of our brains, bodies and buildings that becomes foreign. There is nowhere to run to, nowhere to escape. As Jean-Michel Alberola writes on the exhibition’s exit wall, ‘The way out is inside.’


Where: Palais de Tokyo, Paris
When: 20 October 2014 - 11 January 2015

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