The Aesthetics of the Political

[Winter 2020]

In the thematic section of this issue, we take a look at collective action in society. Against a background of social conflict and war, the artists evoke the impact of collective actions on the common good by scrutinizing multitudes of media images that help to form our relationship with the world. Through re-examination and recontextualization of these existing images, the works address different issues connected to the collective consciousness, communities of belonging and their zones of exclusion, the waste and destruction of wealth, and the importance of culture and the preservation of its greatest achievements.

Two recent works by Dominique Blain magnificently probe these questions. In Monuments II, a new version of her seminal work, Blain uses archival images to reveal how artworks were preserved in wartime Paris. The video series Dérives shows a wall collage of photographs of waves, which are lifted by a current of air to reveal images of frail boats filled with migrants. The question is raised: What is a human life worth, and what is an artwork worth, in this era of globalization, unequal wealth distribution, and polarization of values?

In Alain Paiement’s work, human tides – crowds demonstrating or revelling – created from thousands of images gathered on the Internet, are brought together in two tableaux. One, in black and white, accentuates the multitude, a flood of grey in which individuals are but tiny, lost particles. The other, in colour, is a celebration, a huge gathering of citizens taking over the street, appropriating the city, in an attempt to build a common fate. The faces are cut out, decontextualized, then recomposed into new, hybrid faces, in a virtually endless, global-scale human mass.

Gisele Amantea’s work is taken from a single image: a photojournalist’s picture of the ruins of a luxury hotel in Alep, Syria. She transposes this image, on a monumental scale, onto the carpet of a gallery, inviting visitors to walk on these ruins without being able to grasp exactly what they are witnessing. Then, from a mezzanine, they can look down on the image in its entirety and realize the scope of the damage. Seen from above, and watching new visitors walk around the room, it is impossible to avoid imagining oneself living within such a devastated environment.

Mélissa Pilon also brings together images of crowds, in black and white, from all over the world and throughout the last century. These images present compact masses of people, without information on the contexts or reasons. Crowd juxtaposed against crowd, in the pages of a book, in a simple dialogue of images, they offer a sort of typology of the state of crowds in the modern period. What do these formless throngs and behavioural geometries of human action in society say? What do they reveal about the limitations of individual consciousness and collective motivations? Translated by Käthe Roth

Purchase this issue