PHILIPPE PARRENO

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THE OWL IN DAYLIGHT

— During one of the last interviews that Philip K. Dick granted a few months before his death, he recounted in detail the novel that he was planning to write. The title of this novel, which in the end he never wrote, was The Owl in Daylight. He had already been paid for this book and thus had to work overtime; he recalled during the same interview that he had written 16 novels in five years – The Owl in Daylight would have been the seventeenth. K. Dick died of a haemorrhage leaving his collected words from the interview and numerous research notes. The idea for the novel was inspired partly by an entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannica where Beethoven is referred to as the most creative genius of all time, partly by traditional views of what constitutes the human heaven (visions of lights) and partly by the Faust story. But the entire plot really turned around one scientific piece of information that K. Dick found about nanotechnology that constituted a breakthrough in information theory, something that had never happened before: the possibility to store on a chip one meter squared all the information contained in all the computers of the world, and more importantly all the fantastic possibilities for a fiction to be written.

The Owl in Daylight is about a planet where the atmosphere is not like ours. It is about mute and deaf aliens developing a culture based not on sound but on light. Without sound, they have to use colour for language. Just as humans have audio frequencies, their world strictly employs vision and visual things. Our mystical vision of heaven is the light. Light is always associated with the other world. And the alien world is made of that, their world is made of heaven. So instead of the mystical vision of this civilisation being about vision of light, it is about the supernatural experience of sounds. K. Dick says, “What if their world is our heaven and our world their heaven.”

When this other species finds the human civilisation, which uses sound and has developed music, they cannot hear it because they are deaf so they build transduction equipment to transform phosphines or non-retinal images into sound, and sound into non-retinal images.

They are able to produce some kind of visual score. As we have known for a long time, sound does not occur in the atmosphere, it occurs within the body. So the aliens have to somehow create a symbiotic relationship with the human brain so they can use it to conceptualise the music. They can see the music. The assumption was that any civilisation that can build a rocket ship to come to Earth must have a knowledge of biochemestry and semiconductors on which biochips operate.

When the journalist Gwen Lee stops K. Dick in his flux of words to ask him if this constitutes a real scientific fact, he responds in a panicked instant, “I am assuming this is not a joke article, I just hope to God this guy’s not over there laughing about me writing a book on a non-existent thing. In fact I saw the friend of mine who gave me the article in a store and I said to him, ‘I hope it‘s not a joke you gave me, I hope there wasn’t a thing at the beginning you didn’t Xerox which said that this is something unbelievable, that might happen you know in a million years’, but my friend said that no that this article was genuine, ‘I guarantee it’, he said”.

Why did Philip K. Dick, one of the greatest world-makers of the last century, one of the greatest inventors and imaginers, need to justify his delirious worlds with reported concrete facts? Why did he even need to start from the real? Besides, is this really whats going there? Is it that the real is called upon to legitimize the imaginary?

Or is it that this overwelming heritage of cinema which is again prevading our thoughts. This definition of the cinema as an art form that reflects a gaze. Cinema as a recording tool of a world pre-existing us. A producer of History.

André Bazin, a French film critic in the 50s, argued that cinema depicted what it saw as “objective reality”, as in documentaries and films of the Italian neorealist school, but also in the work of directors who knew how to make themselves “invisible”. He advocated using the deep focus of Orson Welles, the wide shots of Renoir and the “shot-in-depth”. He preferred what he referred to as “true continuity” through the mise-en-scène to experiments in editing and visual effects. He was the adversary of a film theory that chooses to emphasize how the cinema can manipulate reality. Bazin believed that the interpretation of a film or scene should be left to the spectator. Here was the idea that theatre was this unique architectural invention of a place built to see something that already happened. It was seen from the point of view of somebody else and was reported in order for you to judge it with your own eyes.

Philippe Parreno was born in 1964, in Oran, Algeria. He rose to prominence in the 1990s earning critical acclaim for his work that employs a diversity of media including film, sculpture, performance and text. His major shows include Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, Center for Contemporary Art, CCA Kitakyushu, Japan, Kunstverein Munchen, Kunsthaus Zurich, Kunsthalle Zurich. His work is represented in the collections of MOMA New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris, the Guggenheim Museum New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Kanazawa Museum of the 21st Century, Japan. Most recently, Parreno has presented a series of related but distinct retrospectives at Kunsthalle Zürich; Centre Pompidou, Paris (both 2009); the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2009–10); the Centre for Curatorial Studies, Bard College, New York (2009–10); and the Serpentine Gallery, London (2010-2011). Parreno lives and works in Paris.

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