Cast in hyperreal detail, Fraught Times, UK 22–23rd March 2013, 2020 is a painted stainless steel sculpture representing an abandoned fir tree. The snowdrift at the base of the work is made entirely from glass.
Astonishing in its verisimilitude, the sculpture physically retains the delicacy of an actual tree, providing every sense that it is real, despite being entirely man-made. The viewer thus enters into an uncanny valley, wherein his or her expectations and understanding of nature are disrupted.
The title of the sculpture commemorates the March 2013 United Kingdom winter storm, an exceptional, nationwide weather event that took place on the night of 22–23rd March 2013. Described as ‘the worst snowfall for 30 years’, the storm brought chaos to many parts of the country. The work makes reference to the fraught times through which we are currently living. It addresses the human condition, our complacency with regards to the global ecological crisis and the harsh reality of the world which we have created for ourselves.
The sculpture constitutes a corruption of a western ritualistic icon: a Christmas tree devoid of its traditional meaning, an object of celebration gone awry.
Philippe Parreno creates artworks that question the boundaries between reality and fiction, exploring the nebulous realm in which the real and the imagined blur and combine. Working in a diverse range of media including sculpture, drawing, film, and performance the internationally acclaimed French artist seeks to expand our understanding of duration, inviting us to radically re-evaluate the nature of reality, memory, and the passage of time. Central to Parreno’s practice is his quest for an ultimate form of communication capable of transcending language.
Taking the exhibition as a medium, Parreno has radically redefined the exhibition experience by exploring its possibilities as a coherent “object” rather than as a collection of individual works. To this end, he conceives his shows as a scripted space where a series of events unfolds. The visitor is guided through the galleries by the orchestration of sound and image, which heightens their sensory experience. This is a question of creating, in a given volume, as much space and time as possible by folding and unfolding the space on to itself.
Image used in the invite for the inagural show of Pilar Corrias Gallery in 2008
Philippe Parreno's very first tree, entitled Fraught Times: For Eleven Months of the Year It’s an Artwork and in December It’s Christmas (October) (2008), was made for the inagural exhibition of Pilar Corrias Gallery, standing on its own at the centre of the gallery space. While Parreno's first Christmas tree was cartoon-like and celebratory, this new tree is no longer cartoon-like but deadly frozen. The object changed over time and the ritual has been corrupted. We are entering into an uncanny valley where realistic representation becomes a disturbing attraction.
Fraught Times: For Eleven Months of the Year It’s an Artwork and in December It's Christmas (2008 - 2017)
The series Fraught Times: For Eleven Months of the Year It’s an Artwork and in December It’s Christmas—12 cast stainless steel trees in total—began in 2008 for the inaugural exhibition of Pilar Corrias Gallery.
Each tree in the series is unique. Philippe Parreno pushes our perceptions of an artwork to the point of paradox, affirming both its transient nature and its correlation with other factors in constant evolution. Fraught Times is a play where the object is affected by the seasons, it’s not self-sufficient, its meaning changes according to a specific spatial, temporal, situational context. The art object is a hybrid.
Fraught Times, FZRA January 1998, 2018
Recalling the gallery’s inaugural exhibition in October 2008 when Parreno created the first Christmas tree, Fraught Times: For Eleven Months of the Year it’s an Artwork and in December it’s Christmas (October) (2008), part of what would become his Fraught Times series, the artist would 10 years later pesent a new sculpture in the exact same spot at the centre of the gallery, returning the gallery space to its original state.
Cast in hyperreal detail, Fraught Times, FZRA January, 1998 (2018) is a polychromic sculpture representing, in raw METAR terms, a lifeless, frozen pine tree. FZRA is a Raw METAR code, one of the most commonly used formats for the transmission of observational weather data around the world. 20 years ago, in January 1998, a freezing rain lasting 6 entire days coated the provinces of Ontario and New Brunswick in Canada with 7-11cm of ice. The reproduction of one event echoes another; the opening of a gallery 10 years ago against one of the worst ice storms in Canada 20 years ago.