Philippe Perreno: My Room Is Another Fish Bowl, Berlin, Allemagne

Philippe Perreno: My Room Is Another Fish Bowl

In 2018, the French artist Philippe Parreno exhibited his art in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. In three consecutive rooms, he located his artwork entitled My Room Is Another Fish Bowl with fish-shaped helium-filled Mylar® balloons floating in the space, following an imaginary circle, like real goldfishes do in a fish bowl. For visitors, walking in such a space among fish balloons behaving like real fishes is an overwhelming experience as people felt literally transposed into a fish bowl.
Parreno already performed similar exhibitions in some of the most famous museums in the world, including the Tate Modern in London. But for those, the helium-filled fishes were not circulating in a loop. They were just floating randomly, moved only by airflows from visitors’ movements. Parreno knew something was missing to put visitors completely into the aquarium illusion: The fishes needed to be “domesticated” and for this he imagined an air vortex to sustain the fishes in a slow looping dance. But creating a vortex within a room demands a deep knowledge of fluid dynamics and thermodynamics in rooms as well as mechanical equipment. That was the start of our collaboration with Parreno.
After having found how to balance exactly the Mylar® fishes for hovering – without counterweight, the balloons would just rise to the ceiling and stuck there, according to the Archimedes’ principle – we started experimenting the creation of a vortex into our test room in Stuttgart, by placing long range fans within the room at several locations and at several heights and of course by filling this room with Parrenos fish-shaped balloons. Following a trial and error approach, we found out the fans ideal positions to create a smooth and homogenous vortex. But for the exhibition room our fans were too noisy, too obvious. We had to hide the technic from the eyes of the visitors; as the artist said, when he visited us in Stuttgart, “we need to make a Houdini trick” in reference to the famous magician.
From the lessons learnt from our first tests, we replaced the fans by ventilators, each blowing some 800 m³/h of air into a perforated vertical tube, forming together an “air column”. To validate this system under real conditions, we brought our “air columns” to the Martin-Gropius-Bau, tested performance and found out optimal placement. As those tests were conclusive, we finally implemented the “air columns” to silent and make them fully efficient. To hide them from the visitors’ eyes, we designed a casing to house each air column that exactly looked like the room walls.