Retour à la Caverne, Act I

Paris, France


Retour à la Caverne - Acte I, 6 septembre 2023, 8h20, Palais Garnier, Opéra de Paris ©JR 

Retour à la Caverne - Act I, Paris, France, 2023

As part of the Palais Garnier’s renovation, the Opéra National de Paris invited JR to transform the scaffolding on this temple of dance and music. Visible throughout September 2023, the facade showed a vast cave that opened to a passage filled with rocks and light.

Like an opera libretto, JR’s transformation of Palais Garnier took place in two monumental acts.

Act I referenced the stage sets of epic operas by Berlioz or Wagner and 19th century romanticism. Palais Garnier appeared to be stuck between two times. At first glance, the building seemed to be in ruins, a reflection of the fragility and eternity of Parisian monuments. But upon closer inspection, the piece could also be interpreted as a work of art in permanent construction. Alongside the century-old building and natural formations, contemporary scaffolding was present, a nod to the real and necessary work that physically supports this installation and monument.

Walking up the Avenue de l’Opéra, visitors were invited to immerse themselves in this geological universe that evoked the origins of song and dance in Ancient Greece. Until the 6th century BC, Ancient Greek festivities celebrating the gods took place in caves. Through construction - the digging of large stalls and bleachers - these celebrations moved to cities and theater was born.

The Palais Garnier installation encouraged viewers to return to a romanticism inspired by the natural world. The cave beckoned viewers to peer inside, invoking Plato’s allegory of the cave - a place where the exit leads to knowledge and an understanding of the world.

For four nights in September, the cave was brought to life through projections in the Place de l'Opéra. The screenings were open to all free of charge and included showings of Les Bosquets by JR; L'oiseau de feu by Maurice Béjart; Boléro by Maurice Béjart; an excerpt from Les Contes d'Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach, directed by Robert Carsen; Brise-lames by Damien Jalet; an excerpt from Le Parc by Angelin Preljocaj; Die Grosse Fuge by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker; an excerpt from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, directed by Simon Stone; The Art Of Not Looking Back by Hofesh Shechter; and an excerpt from Les Indes Galantes by Jean-Philippe Rameau, directed by Clément Cogitore.

In November, the Palais Garnier took a significant leap back in time with Act II of Retour à la caverne.

Retour à la Caverne, Acte I, 17 septembre 2023, 21h19 © JR

Retour à la Caverne - Acte I, Palais Garnier, Opéra de Paris, 2023 © JR

Retour à la Caverne - Acte I, Palais Garnier, Opéra de Paris, 2023 © JR

Retour à la Caverne - Acte I, Palais Garnier, Opéra de Paris, 2023 © JR

Retour à la Caverne - Acte I, Palais Garnier, Opéra de Paris, 2023 © JR