Marilyn Monroe comes back to life in Philippe Parreno’s latest work
The artist has created robots that mimic the actress’s voice and handwriting, while a new film shows the world through her eyes
By Charlotte Burns. Web only
Published online: 29 March 2012
The ghost of the American icon Marilyn Monroe haunts a new video by the artist Philippe Parreno, which is due to be shown at the Fondation Beyeler in Basel this summer (10 June-30 September). In the work, we see the world through Monroe’s eyes as she looks around her Waldorf Astoria hotel suite and sits at her desk to write. Parreno has recreated the room in detail, down to the wallpaper.
The camera acts as Monroe’s eyes, while one specially designed robot has been trained to reproduce Monroe’s handwriting and another to recreate her voice. “I’ve basically developed three machines to bring her back to life,” Parreno says. “A person’s signature, their voice and their point of view are the three main ways to identify them.” The artist, who is filming in New York this week, says he wants the shoot to resemble a séance. “Hopefully it will be a strange situation, and a bit weird. It is almost like a dead corpse is being brought back to life,” he says.
“It is a portrait about a mythical public figure in a very intimate, private setting,” says Pilar Corrias, the London gallerist who represents Parreno and has produced the work. The video, in an edition of ten, is priced at €150,000. “Private foundations in the US, Europe and South America have already pre-acquired the work, and there has been strong institutional interest,” Corrias says.
The working title is Marilyn, but it might be switched to Celebrations. “A lot of people are celebrating her life, or death, at the moment,” says Parreno, referring to the recent slew of photo books and the release of the Oscar-nominated film “My Week with Marilyn”. Of his decision not to show the actress (or a lookalike) in his film, he says: “I wanted to take a different approach. What killed her was the relationship she had with the picture, with her own image, and this film looks at that.”
The portrait of Monroe is one of two new works that Parreno is creating for the Beyeler show. The other, Continuously Habitable Zones, is what he calls a “Frankenstein story”. The artist built a “weird garden made of black plants” and filmed it. He created sound by burying microphones in the earth and screwing them into trees, using techniques developed by scientists to monitor volcanoes and the sounds of the planet. “It is a portrait of a digital type of landscape, this strange creature,” Parreno says. The garden still physically exists. “The beast lives. It survives the film,” he says.
“Both films are about conjuring something,” the artist says. They represent his attempts to “go back to an early form of cinema, like in the 19th century, when people were brought back through smoke and pictures”.
Parreno is extending the natural course of the exhibition’s life, too: visitors to the Beyeler show can take home a free DVD with copies of the works. “People can expand the geography and time of the show so the films become like pirates—you can’t stop the leak out of the building and the architecture, or the leak through time,” Parreno says. The DVDs will be coded, however, so that they expire at a time decided by the artist.
The films’ bids for freedom will begin in the museum itself. “They are buried in the building and will radiate. They are like characters trying to leave the place where they are shown,” Parreno says. The heavy bass and long soundwaves in Continuously Habitable Zones “will shake the building, while the voice of Marilyn will travel through the space,” says Parreno, who has strategically placed speakers so that vibrations from the sounds will cause ripples in the water fountains outside the museum.
The films follow on from such critically acclaimed works as Zidane: a 21st Century Portrait, Parreno’s 2006 collaboration with the artist Douglas Gordon. That work was a dual-channel presentation of the French football star Zinedine Zidane over the course of a real-time match, during which 17 synchronised cameras captured him from different angles, intercut with live footage from a television broadcast of the game. “These films are all going in the same direction—of portraiture, of ghosts,” says the artist. “But Zidane was all about people moving from one place to the other. In this case, I am trying to move the works themselves. They want to go out.”
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