Sound, Dance and Ink: JR’s New Show in Paris

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Perrotin, Paris // June 07, 2024 – July 27, 2024

The gallery is delighted to present Dans La Lumière, JR’s fourth exhibition at Perrotin Paris and his thirteenth with Perrotin.The exhibition presents a series of recent artworks inspired by the CHIROPTERA project – a unique ballet performance devised by JR, Damien Jalet, and Thomas Bangalter – created specially for the Opéra de Paris in November 2023.

In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder recounts an ancient Greek legend about the origins of art. The young Corinthian Kora, daughter of the potter Butades of Sicyon (Dibutade), is saddened to see her beloved leave and wants to preserve his memory forever. Using the light of a lantern, she traces the outline of his shadow on her wall. Her father then models the face in clay and bakes it with fire. Together, they produce the first portraits in history, in two dimensions by capturing the silhouette and in three dimensions by creating a life-size sculpture. The work of art thus replaces the material reality of a human being, their memory, and their ghost, which might come to haunt us. From that point on, art is able to conjure up reality, time, and space.

This story is reminiscent of Plato’s more famous “Allegory of the Cave” in Book VII of The Republic. Here, human beings have been chained in a cave since birth. With their backs turned to the outside world and its natural light, they only see the shadows on the wall (once again) of everything that passes before the cave’s entrance. They think they perceive reality when, in truth, they only see its projection. This text distinguishes a world below – sunless, dark, chaotic, and full of hallucinations, illusions, and falsehoods – from a world above – luminous, harmonious, organized, and filled with knowledge, clarity, and truth.

In both worlds, it’s a matter of light and shadow, but above all, of perspective and gaze. In other words, light can be found within darkness, provided we direct our minds and vision towards its source, towards the origin of all things. This is precisely what is at stake in JR’s project Retour à la caverne, Act I & II, created specifically for the Opéra Garnier in Paris in autumn 2023. In September, for Act I, the artist transformed the scaffolding covering the façade of the cultural monument into a stone cave entrance that faced the Avenue de l’Opéra. The black-and-white trompel’oeil was so realistic that it could have easily deceived some passers-by into thinking that the building’s restoration work had unearthed a geological cave within Charles Garnier’s architecture.

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In November, for Act II, the cave did not close in on itself but instead revealed its point of origin, the source of its identity and existence. Its outer wall was covered with human handprints, like those in cave art. On Sunday, November 12, from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm, over twenty-five thousand spectators gathered at the Place de l’Opéra, each bringing a light source to illuminate what was about to unfold before their dazzled eyes: CHIROPTERA, a unique ballet performance devised by JR, Damien Jalet, and Thomas Bangalter. The performance began with the striking shadow of principal ballerina Amandine Albisson, creating contours so intense and powerful that even Kora and Butades of Sicyon would have been unable to capture them. Then, 153 dancers from all over Europe, swirling like bats, transformed the scaffolding into a screen of giant pixels, alternating between dark and reflective sides. At the end, the 30-meter-high kaleidoscope conveyed this message to the world: “Darkness holds the grace of the light.”

This exceptional event will live long in the audience’s memory, remembered as a moment of togetherness, unforgettable images, movements, sounds, lights, emotions, vibrations, and positive energies. The dancers’ (or bats’) distinctive black-and-white outfits either absorbed or reflected the light from the headlamps or smartphones held by the audience in the darkness of the night. Each spectator illuminated their neighbor. Each was unique, and all were complementary. Each had their own identity, and they all formed the community of the world.

For the exhibition dedicated to this project at Perrotin Paris, it was not only necessary to produce specific works but also to find a mode of representation that would convey the intensity felt by those who had been present at the event. In addition to films and photographic prints showing the various moments of CHIROPTERA, JR also experimented with an unprecedented fusion of several singular techniques: photo transfer reinforced with black ink on wood with hand-drawn charcoal highlights. L’Ombre de la caverne recreates the balletic interplay between Amandine Albisson and her shadow. The Génome series shows bird’s eye views of the different configurations created by the 153 dancers on the thirty-meter-high scaffolding, while Chromosome features close-up shots.

The Dans la lumière series focuses on their radiant silhouettes, symbolizing the liberation of the chained prisoners from Plato’s Cave and their difficult but triumphant return to the light. This is reinforced by the use of wood as a base, alluding to the barriers that enclose and conceal urban construction sites, the graffiti that often covers them – a truly unruly urban art – and the rebirth of life symbolized by visible veins and cracks in the wood.

“You can’t banish darkness with darkness,” JR told me. Yet, each of us can come out of “our” cave, leave the shadows, and embrace the light we all carry within us. What can we do about the darkness in the world? Become the luminous protagonists of the world we all share… —Marc Donnadieu

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