Untitled, 2014 – 2017

Philippe Parreno

Light installation with 10 heliostats

© 2014, Philippe Parreno

Image copyright Stefan Altenburger

My contribution to Swiss Re Next is meant to contain the essence of my work. And that essence is the question: how does a form appear?”

You have to be lucky to see Philippe Parreno’s contribution to Swiss Re Next. He works with sunlight. If you are in the atrium at the northeast of the building during daylight hours, and if the sun happens to be shining, then you may spot a few fleeting points of light on the walls and floors. For short moments – for a fixed time period each hour -, the light flits through the space, tracing out elegant lines. Then it vanishes again, as if nothing had happened. Parreno has installed a set of heliostats – motorized mirror systems – that track the movement of the sun and project its path for us to watch as it moves along the atrium walls. “We analysed the weather data for Zürich,” says the artist, “and the city usually has relatively clear skies. But there will definitely be days where there’s nothing to see.” The artwork thus only appears under certain conditions, at a specific moment and in a specific place, and only when the light conditions are right. With reference to the principle of anamorphosis (pictures that only become visible from a specific angle) the artist refers to his work for Swiss Re Next as an example of an “anamorphosis in time”. Parreno is less interested in making objects or concrete pictures than he is in creating experiences and impressions. Light remains ungraspable, showing itself only indirectly, by illuminating something else and causing things to “appear”. In this context, the artist often refers to “quasi-objects”, a term borrowed from the French philosopher Michel Serres. “A quasi-object”, Parreno explains, “is an incomplete form. Such forms are needed to build a community.” As an example, he names a football: “You put 22 people on a field and nothing happens. But if you add a football, then a game develops.” His work at Swiss Re Next can also be described as such a quasi-object. It needs the sun, and it needs people in order to function. And both the sun and the people need the artwork in order to enter into this form of relationship.