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Paris
Depardon2
Raymond Depardon, Paul Virilio
Fondation Cartier
261, boulevard Raspail, 75014 Paris, France
November 21, 2008 - March 15, 2009


Roaming Images
by Frances Guerin


 

 

 

 

This extremely popular exhibition is conceptually provocative and potentially profound. However, once I started to spend time with the videos, photographs and digital image displays I became increasingly disenchanted.

Within the frame of five separate installations, the contrasting visions of photographer Raymond Depardon and philosopher/social theorist Paul Virilio on migration, nomadism, global movement and "reurbanization," are brought together in what is conceived of as a dialogue between the practitioner (Depardon) and the idealist (Virilio).

True to the problematic and superficial (in the philosophical sense) equation of war and representation in War and Cinema, for his contribution to Terre natale, Paul Virilio walks down an urban mews-like street euphorically pronouncing that we now live in a world in which migration, nomadism (both literal and virtual) will, if they have not already, become the norm. Hand in hand with all this movement, the notion of "native land" becomes contested. In typical Virilio style, the euphoria around these global movements and renegotiations of geographical space spares no thought for the privilege of being able to move in this way. As I watched the video I felt the irritation rise and I wondered about all the people who are forced to move, or who are unable to wander at will around and across the globe? But more importantly, what Virilio fails to take into account is that surely the need for home and identity becomes stronger as traditional geographical borders become eroded in the hi-tech world we now inhabit - or traverse.

In response to Virilio's shortsightedness, I am cued by the exhibition to remember Depardon's installation on the ground floor in which people in South America, Africa, and rural France are filmed in conventional talking heads style, speaking in their own on-the-path-to-extinction language. These natives talk about how their identity is linked to the land and to their language. However, these are not narratives about migration and geographical shifts that have taken place due to technological developments - they are plain old-fashioned colonialist discourses, that tell the stories of people who can't stay where they are, and whose language is rapidly disappearing because the oppressors want to take their land, culture and identity. I wonder how their stories differ from those of the victims of the conquistadors in the same regions 350 years ago?

It is true that the exhibition provoked interesting associations, however, they weren't necessarily generated by the images. "Around the world in 14 days", a video installation of Depardon's taken on his trip around the western world in 14 days, claimed to be about the way people's movements are governed by the spaces of the built up environment. Apparently, the piece also draws attention to how we are constricted and directed according to the shrinking distances both between countries and, on a micro-level, between the streets we map in our daily lives. Despite the fact that the images did not live up to their conceptual promise - they were, to be sure, movies of a trip around the world - I was struck as I was watching the videos by the way that visitors became pressed into this relatively small screening space, sitting five deep on the floor. That is, I was struck by our constriction within the gallery space as we watch Depardon's videos that supposedly reflect a different kind of constriction.

Downstairs in the main gallery space, a series of LCD screens suspended from the ceiling present loops of news footage, photographs and documentaries on global migration. Like the other images, this installation looks fabulous, but unlike the others, it is impossible to watch as the form is so mesmerizing.  Similarly, the awkward positioning of the multiple screens above head height means a lot of neck strain if we are to take in what I assume to be the urgent and disturbing nature of the images. As a result, this main space becomes a thoroughfare between Virilio's treatise on migration, "re-urbanization" and so on, and the back gallery.

In this back gallery, a digital 270 degree display gives a three-dimensional demonstration of population shifts, political refugees and forced migration, migration from natural disasters, rising seas, sinking cities. Again, while I found the numbers and statistics devastating, it was the hi-tech image production that kept me fascinated. There is no doubt that the technology is something to be amazed at, but it was impossible to retain all the figures, and this must surely be a problem. I did come away with a sense of doom and gloom, feeling grateful that Mr. B. Obama who, inaugurated the day before I visited the exhibition, had finally arrived to save us from all this global warming and the decline of the planet! It was on this level that the exhibition appealed to my sense of pleasure at being entertained. A troubling response to say the least.

All in all, my level of engagement with the exhibition, speaks to its provocations. Again, the issues it raises are urgent and important. The idea of a conversation in images between these two prominent French cultural figures is innovative. But ultimately, images have the power to speak for themselves, and yet, in Terre Natale, they are not given this opportunity.

--Frances Guerin, writer and film historian living in Paris

(*Images, from top to bottom:   Raymond Depardon, Native Land / Terre Natale, November 21, 2008 – March 15, 2009; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, Argentina, 2005, Photo © Raymond Depardon.  Raymond Depardon, Paul Virilio, exhibition view Native Land / Terre Natale, November 21, 2008 – March 15, 2009; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, Photo © Gregoire Eloy.  Raymond Depardon, Paul Virilio, exhibition view Native Land / Terre Natale, November 21, 2008 – March 15, 2009; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, Photo © Gregoire Eloy.  Raymond Depardon, Native Land / Terre Natale, November 21, 2008 – March 15, 2009; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, Brazil, Photo © Raymond Depardon.  Raymond Depardon, Paul Virilio, exhibition view Native Land / Terre Natale, November 21, 2008 – March 15, 2009; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, Exhibition design plan for gallery 2 of Paul Virilio’s portion, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Mark Hansen, Laura Kurgan, and Ben Rubin, Photo © Gregoire Eloy. Raymond Depardon, Paul Virilio, exhibition view Native Land / Terre Natale, November 21, 2008 – March 15, 2009; Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, Exhibition design plan for gallery 2 of Paul Virilio’s portion, by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Mark Hansen, Laura Kurgan, and Ben Rubin, Photo © Gregoire Eloy.)

 



Posted by Frances Guerin on 1/30/09 | tags: photography video-art installation sculpture

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