Hiroshi Sugimoto's Lost Human Genetic Archive at Palais de Tokyo, Paris


New York-based Japanese-born Hiroshi Sugimoto has created a vast installation that is like an epitaph for the human race. Herbert Wright reports from this epic exhibition at Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which runs until 7 September 2014



All photos: André Morin

As soon as Hiroshi Sugimoto saw the cavernous subterranean spaces of the Palais de Tokyo, an art deco building stripped back in 2002 to become Paris' edgiest contemporary art gallery, he must have known that this was the place. He was imagining a time when humanity has passed, and there, it half feels that way already.

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View of the Hiroshi Sugimoto's exhibition, 'Aujourd'hui, le monde est mort' [Lost Human Genetic Archive] at Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Photo: André Morin

Sugimoto, an architect as well as an artist, has divided a large area with corrugated iron. It is fresh and shiny where you enter his labyrinth to confront a photograph of the sea, but beyond that, it is old and rusted, consistent with the raw industrial chic of the venue. Over thirty notices, all beginning 'Today, the world died', offer explanations by characters from all walks of life as to why everything ended, and these relate to the otherwise random objects beside them. An astronaut, for example, tells of how Earth become encircled by orbiting human shit, next to a display containing cosmonaut's space-food and urine collector.

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View of the Hiroshi Sugimoto's exhibition, 'Aujourd'hui, le monde est mort' [Lost Human Genetic Archive] at Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Photo: André Morin

In one room, fossils from the Cambrian to the Eocene are mounted on one wall, while opposite, stairs rise to a wooden statue of Kaminara-sama, a god of thunder. In the rafters above hang several of Sugimoto's 'Lightning Field' photographs, made by exposing film directly to electrical discharge. In the middle of the room, you can see down through a grassy hole to the floor below, where a smashed toilet lies.

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View of the Hiroshi Sugimoto's exhibition, 'Aujourd'hui, le monde est mort' [Lost Human Genetic Archive] at Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Photo: André Morin

Sugimoto references great icons of art, for example Warhol in rusting cans of Campbell's soup on shelves, or Duchamp in the full-size love doll (called Ange) reclining on a satin couch, glimpsed through a wooden screen. But he is also offering a personal retrospective, re-presenting ideas and recycling objects from his previous works.

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View of the Hiroshi Sugimoto's exhibition, 'Aujourd'hui, le monde est mort' [Lost Human Genetic Archive] at Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Photo: André Morin

Sugimoto has assembled a fascinating haunted ruin and filled it with strange stories, full of sadness and madness. Yet the mood is also profound. He is addressing human mortality, and the fragility of the planet. The most important thing in the Japanese aesthetic, he once noted, was 'how to die beautifully'.

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View of the Hiroshi Sugimoto's exhibition, 'Aujourd'hui, le monde est mort' [Lost Human Genetic Archive] at Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Photo: André Morin

Opening hours: Wednesday - Monday: midday - midnight. Tuesdays- closed
Admission €10/ €8 for seniors and under-26 (including all exhibitions at Palais de Tokyo)





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