Pandemic Vertigo — Jacques Doyon

[Summer 2020]

By Jacques Doyon

I’m writing this editorial at a time when, to general surprise, paralysis of a significant portion of human activity is gradually spreading across the globe (with some 2.5 billion people in confinement right now). Suddenly, the unthinkable has happened. The immutable rumble of economic activity spurred on by the desire for constant growth has almost stopped, silenced by a virus, the vector of a health crisis that is proving difficult to control. And we have witnessed the institution of a relatively coordinated action, on a rational foundation, around the world – an action that still seems impossible for any other issue.

The works in the special section of this issue address particularly important components of human activity in this era of global integration, from the omnipresence of digital technologies and the issues around their planet-wide control, to the struggle against racial segregation and for human rights, to the military and civilian use of nuclear technologies and their impact on our health and the environment. In these works, multiple narrative layers are deployed (documents, artefacts, allegories, stories, and more) to describe the complexity of these issues and show evidence of their impact on the lives of individuals and communities.

Benoit Aquin’s most recent creation, a self-fiction work, intermingles documentary photographs, images of wars, excerpts from books, and personal writings. Using the pseudonym of Anton Bequii, Aquin undertakes a fairly pessimistic reflection on the current state of the world, in which the digital network is spreading like ether, a vector of control, numbing of minds, and technological alienation. Aquin documents its concrete manifestations (antennas, relay towers, portable telephones) in many regions of the globe where strong social inequality persists. He also manipulates a series of iconic images of wars to abstract and decontextualize them. These visuals are accompanied by an epistolary section in which the author expresses the difficulty of making sense of the world and of finding a place sheltered from its crazy logic.

William Kentridge’s More Sweetly Play the Dance is a prolific work. Spectators are literally swept up in a procession that crosses a series of huge screens over a length of some thirty metres. As a brass band plays, a succession of characters – filmed, drawn, or shadow puppets – file by in what resembles, in turn, a funeral procession, an activist demonstration, and a carnival parade. Figures evoking various aspects of the anti-apartheid movement (miners, communist activists, priests, politicians, professional weepers, and sick people), displaying their contradictory demands, pass by against a desolate background in a long, twilit danse macabre that nonetheless exudes a certain exaltation. These are paradoxical sentiments about a situation that has certainly changed for the better but is still facing huge challenges.

Mary Kavanagh’s Daughters of Uranium is an investigation of the fallout from the presence of nuclear energy, for both military and civilian purposes, in Western society. One part of the exhibition is based on a nuclear test site, Trinity Site, in New Mexico – today a tourist site. Kavanagh juxtaposes archival documents against video interviews with visitors about their experiences with the nuclear age. This vein of human impact is also behind the second part of the exhibition, in which artefacts and documents expose the very long life of nuclear waste and its deleterious effects on human and animal life. A series of drawings and sculptures then provide an emotional and physical embodiment to what is, after all, an immense laboratory in which we are the guinea pigs.
Translated by Käthe Roth


See the magazine for the complete article and more images: Ciel variable 115 – THE MARCH OF THE WORLD