PARISAntibodies, the Palais de Tokyo’s timely exhibition, presents a cacophonous mix of recent work addressing the oppositions that define our new normal: distance/proximity, physical/virtual, open/closed. More appropriately titled, “Anti-bodies,” the works displayed test the limits of our fleshy containers, while the “body” in question is as much social as individual. 

Installation view of Kevin Desbouis, “Untitled (CCMCastaner)” (2020), stainless steel, painting, temporary tattoo, endless copies, various dimensions, Antibodies, Palais de Tokyo, 2020–2021 (photo by Aurélien Mole)

In two sound and video pieces — Dominique Petitgand’s “La question est posée” (2019-2020) and Forensic Architecture’s “Cloud Studies” (2020) — warning calls and gasses infiltrate space, demonstrating how the invisible and intangible hold equal power to inoculate or infect. The pairing of the discarded, limp crime-scene silhouettes of Pauline Curnier Jardin’s “Peaux de Dames” (2019-2020) with the inflatable, bursting CGI vixen of Kate Cooper’s “Infection Drivers” (2018) prompts the question: are bodies defined by contours or contents? Nearby, respondents to Florence Jung’s call for participation: “If you consider yourself to be doing well, write to,” are showcased as specimens of well-being, visible but inaccessible behind a motion-activated glass door, foreclosing collectivity in favor of isolation.

Mounting an exhibition loosely about infection, during a pandemic, presents challenges. Temporary hand sanitizers are left untouched, mistaken for art, amid marked confusion regarding new sanitary protocols in the galleries while works requiring participation are accompanied by legal disclaimers, inciting simultaneous trepidation and thrilling complicity. Whereas viewers hesitated to don disposable gynecological gloves and make off with smuggled verbena from Ghita Skali’s “Ali Baba Express Episode 3,” I observed many willingly plunge naked hands into communal bins to collect Kevin Desbouis’s temporary tattoos in “Untitled (CCM Castaner)” (both 2020). The tattoos depict a schematic body generated from a school visit by the Minister of the Interior in which he encircled body parts police are authorized to shoot. Desbouis’s headless corpse seems the ultimate anti-body, reduced by state violence to mere scribbles, yet reclaimed by viewers who unwrap, lick, and affix the image to their own epidermal envelope, briefly marking themselves as target, carrier, host.

Antibodies continues online via the Palais de Tokyo, while the museum remains closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. The in-person exhibition reopening date is to be announced.

Johanna Sluiter is a PhD Candidate in Art History at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. She is currently based in Paris.