DCSIMG

Behind the scenes

INSTALLATION OF ALEXANDRE PERIGOT'S EXHIBITION, PIPEDREAM, TRAMWAY, GLASGOW

ALEXANDRE Perigot takes me into Graceland by the back door. As mansions go, Elvis's home is moderately sized. He points out the bedrooms, the lounge, and the bathroom. Everybody wants to see the bathroom where the King met his maker. But Perigot and I are not in Memphis, Tennessee - we're in the Tramway in Glasgow where, for the last week, this French artist has been overseeing the construction of Elvis's House, a life-size replica Graceland, made out of scaffolding, which is part of his show Pipedream.

It started with a visit to the real of Graceland, where he took its measurements. Then, using architectural software, he created a meticulous plan for the house's matrix.

"Normally, you have the matrix and then you build the thing itself," he says, speaking excellent English with a soft French accent. "Here I started with the reality and drafted the matrix."

Tomorrow, the house will become a stage for a variety of musical performances: Glasgow choir The Parsonage (singing Elvis's If I Can Dream), Hungarian punk rockers Agaskodo Teliverek, and a new commission by Simon Fisher Turner, who has worked with David Bowie and Brian Eno, and wrote the scores for Derek Jarman's movies. "Although there is no stage, it will be a stage. There will be music, then it will be silent, a ghost house."

He hit on the idea of recreating Graceland out of an interest in celebrity culture. "When you visit places as a tourist, they will say, 'That is Sharon Stone's house'; 'That is Oliver Cromwell's house'; 'Paul McCartney slept here.' Even if the house is nothing special, everybody says, 'Wow.' Now the star system is part of our construction of reality."

But building a full-size Graceland out of scaffolding is no small feat. Perigot always works with the same France-based scaffolding company, Entrepose, but in the UK they faced an extra challenge. Tramway's visual arts programmer Lorraine Wilson says: "The kind of scaffolding Alex uses is not typically used in Britain, so we had a big search. We found a company in Oxfordshire that uses it and a team came up from there and lived in the gallery for a week."

Once the right materials had been found, they completed Graceland in record time. Wilson says: "That's the fastest they've ever built it, mainly because they were building it indoors and didn't have to contend with the weather. Just as well, given the weather we've been having!"

Perigot said that scaffolders all over the world, from Paris to Riga, and even in Thailand (where they built the house in the local scaffolding material, bamboo) have responded warmly to the idea. "As soon as you say 'Elvis', it's like you say 'God'. They are very proud to participate in something that is in homage to him. I think Elvis is one of the first global artists."

When I visit, the last few surplus pieces of piping are being removed, filling the gallery with deafening clangs. But Perigot is unperturbed. He is concentrating on the lighting, which will flood the house, while the other half of the space is in shadow.

Sometimes You Win Sometimes You Lose is a new work, the sentence written in Perigot's handwriting, then replicated in a continuous tunnel of plastic piping. Once fully operational, mystery objects will ricochet along its length creating a percussive effect and leading the viewer in. It sounds not unlike a giant pinball machine, which is part of the point.

"It is ironic, about our condition," Perigot says. "It is like we live in a big casino. We play all the time. This sentence speaks about politics, economics, love. We have to be winners all the time, but we are not. Where is the place for the loser?"

The work is another challenging construction, not least because it involves 500 separate pieces of pipe that need to be joined together in precisely the right way. Even with a number attached to each, it looks like a giant Meccano puzzle.

Then there is the fact that the work uses air pressure to create the sound effects. "When you work with air, you need to be very precise with the pressure," says Perigot. "It's not easy, this piece."

By the time I leave, they're nearly there. The ricochet-pinball sound is running to Perigot's satisfaction. Meanwhile, punters have been phoning Tramway to ask when Graceland is arriving. "It's incredible," smiles Perigot. "Elvis is alive!"

• Alexandre Perigot: Pipedream opens tomorrow from 2pm, with musical performances in Elvis's House later in the afternoon. The exhibition will run until 5 August. Sometime You Win Sometime You Lose is accompanied by a new publication featuring 50 artists.

 
 
 

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