In order to take in the new, dimly lit installation at Palais de Tokyo by artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, you’ll have to pilot a small boat through dark waters inside the flooded museum. Taking its name from the annual flooding event that sees the water levels in Venice rise so high that walkways disappear, the ACQUAALTA exhibition envisions the concrete interiors of the Palais as they would be if the forces of nature were similarly unleashed upon Paris.
Visitors sit or stand within their rowboats, using oars to paddle themselves around the nearly pitch-black space and disembarking to explore jagged foam landscapes.The hallucinatory voyage is reminiscent of souls crossing over to the underworld via the River Styx, with the ferryman Charon to guide them.
As they take in the subtle figurative silhouettes projected onto the black walls, the guests themselves become part of the exhibition, like actors in a play. As they navigate the waters, they are filmed, their movements projected onto one of the walls. The foam ‘island’ is a place of refuge, allowing deeper immersion into the work without fear of drifting.
Boursier-Mougenot believes that creating an atmosphere is integral to art, so that the work is not just disconnected imagery hanging on a wall, but rather an interactive experience that envelops onlookers and makes them active participants. The hope is that as a viewer, you temporarily forget who you are, falling headfirst into a dreamworld via an artificially constructed series of hypnotic images, movements and sounds.