La Saison des Fêtes
La Saison des Fêtes
The Palacio de Cristal was inaugurated in 1887 with an exhibition of the flora of the Philippines, at that time Spain’s pre-eminent colony. Palm trees and indigenous plants of many kinds were installed in a ceremonial layout that centered on two chairs raised on a dais, flanked by tapestries and accessed across a spread of oriental carpets.
Conceived specifically for this location (now dedicated to art projects commissioned by the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia), Pierre Huyghe’s La Saison des Fêtes, is loosely framed by the site’s history and former functions. Whereas the impulses behind the original displays of luxuriant tropical plants were informed by a colonialist ideology, Huyghe’s work, by contrast, attempts to stand outside a strictly Eurocentric position. The visionary landscape which occupies the center of the luminous pavilion has a circular footprint, perhaps in reference to the Earth’s spherical profile, perhaps an allusion to a time piece - like a clock face - marking the cyclical flow of days, months and seasons. The plants that comprise this landscape are those associated with festivals and celebrations familiar across the world – red roses for Valentine’s day, pumpkins for Halloween, cherry blossom marking the arrival of spring. Huyghe hopes that in this utopian cosmos they might all come into flower at the same moment, some time during the course of the exhibition, and thereby amalgamate disparate events strewn intermittently across the annual calendar into one composite festival – “a bouquet of anniversaries” – around which people from all parts of the world might gather together. The shift from the pair of grand chairs that graced the dais in this building when it first opened in 1887, to the commonplace plastic chairs Huyghe has provided for viewers who wish to contemplate the scene collectively, surveying their fellow visitors and this singular terrain, evidences a radically different ethos, one in which viewers are invited to be at once complicit and reflective. The sense of plenitude and pleasure that Huyghe’s garden generates may provoke spectators into making common cause as they share in this wondrous yet strangely disturbing experience. However, the undercurrent of something grotesque within this idyllic garden may equally cause them to reflect on the ways that commemorations have become inextricably linked with souvenirs – not only with memories but with objects, with artefacts and trinkets. As economic forces increasingly infiltrate cultural customs, enhancing them artificially, they also inflate their commercial sides. It becomes more and more difficult to extract oneself, to dissent: subtle forms of social conformity reinforce such economic pressures by requiring participation in the relentless series of festive dates which now shapes and defines the yearly calendar.