As part of the online durational festival »It’s about time«.
We are in front of the image as in front of time, a past time that we observe, that we look at in the present. It seems close to us but it comes from far away, a time that has passed but not yet passed…… A memory in a way.
This image vibrates with questions. It looks at us, observes us too, questioning ourposition, at what moment did we look at it, why, in what context.The image is thus a temporal braiding where the past, the present which lasts,which lasts…. as if time had not passed
When the image appears, the story is „dismantled“ in all directions, deconstructed.It is a way of rethinking the relationship with our past by giving it, through our eyes,a future, a perspective of the future. A way of deconstructing stereotypes firmly fixed in the collective memory.
This project is about deliberately examining the past as an active moment that accompanies, of a mobile and light nature…
Indeed, the idea is to think of the past as an ally that moves forward and never stops transforming itself.
An archaeological work, to desecrate the historical legends, the perennial stereotypes, firmly anchored in the collective heritage.
Talking about discrimination, prejudice or racism means talking about time, but also about images: caricatures, objects, political or propaganda posters, advertising or leaflets, photographs or paintings… Many media have conveyed the representation of the „Other“ as a being stigmatised in his or her difference, be it ethnic, religious,cultural or sexual. They are part of a visual culture that has contributed for centuries to shaping truncated relationships, marked by psychological violence and even extermination.
Nowadays, even the art world seems to have convinced itself that it is not concerned with discrimination, and forgets that public museum collections are full of looted works. Worse, invisibilisation has a mirror effect: the overexposure, almost marketing, of a handful of artists considered „non-white“. A new politically correct exoticism has slowly been established. If one tries to address the issue, most of the time languages are tied up in theatres and art centres refer to the programming they dedicate to „diversity“.
Understanding what is not apparent
A few years ago, the Austrian artist Christian Eisenberger gave me an undated photograph that once belonged to the collections of the Museum für Völkerkunde in Vienna. This black and white image of black women doing their hair, with their breasts exposed, was not taken by just any photographer, but by Heinrich Harrer. Harrer, the mountaineer, the explorer, the hero, whose myth was brutally shattered one day in the spring of 1997, when a young Austrian journalist, Gerald Lehner,came to present him with the contents of a file that had been lying dormant for more than fifty years in the archives of the Third Reich kept in Washington. A pinkfile. „Harrer, Heinrich, born on 6 July 1912. SS, Section 38, Number 73896.“Harrer denied it, got carried away, until the reporter laid an SS application on the table. „Is this your handwriting?“ „Yes.“ We do not know where the photograph was taken. We can only speculate. Most probably during one of his many expeditions, such as the one during which he made the first ascent of the Carstensz pyramid in Western New Guinea, the highest point in Oceania, in 1962… Beyond appearances, what is at stake in this picture is the relationship between Nature and Culture. What probably moves Harrer here are these „wild“, naked, „pure“, „innocent“ beauties, indulging in an aesthetic ritual intended to make them even more beautiful, while in Europe the crises follow one another…
Hair is at the centre of the photograph. Far from the barbarity of the shearing of prisoners, camp inmates, women accused of „horizontal collaboration“ during the Second World War, here the hair is intended to reveal intimacy, seduction and, beyond that, an underlying sexuality.
The question of the off-screen obviously runs through this photograph. What about the off-screen when it comes to memory and transmission? Wouldn’t it be to the field what holes are to memory, gaps to history, unspoken words to speech?
Trying to understand what is not apparent, what is not there, in front of us, what is not presented and tangible, seems to me to be essential before we can imagine being able to project ourselves into the future.
We often hear that, in any case, „history is doomed to repeat itself“? This idea of repetition cancels out any possibility that history, historical events, will bring something new. History would be the continual repetition of the same, as in an eternal restart. One has the impression that history, since it does not bring anything new, somehow escapes man, who undergoes it but does not make it. It is as if history is autonomous and man is not an actor. If we affirm that history repeats itself, we obliterate in a way, we omit the question of freedom in history: man would not be „free“ to act and transform the world since everything would systematically return to the same thing. Yet is man not, by essence and because of his quality as an agent, free, unpredictable, at least partially? Is history not also the result of human actions?
History, rather than being a simple repetition, would then be in part a source of novelty, of surprise, of the unexpected.
Thinking about history?
„Only the present is, the before and after are not; but the concrete present is the result of the past and is full of the future. The true Present is, therefore, eternity“, said Heidegger in Being and Time (1927).
In front of each image, as in front of Heinrich Harrer’s photo, we must know how to reverse our position and ask ourselves how this image looks at us… How it thinks about us, how it touches us. The inversion of the positions between the viewer and the object being viewed allows us to enlarge the field of vision of history.
Fighting against invisibility, naming in order to make it exist, seem to me to be the indispensable conditions for appropriating our thoughts and our existence. Naming our present differently, characterising it differently, produces new points of view from which new questions and answers, new collective subjects asking these questions and affirming these answers can appear.
In »A deep quicky sweep« the idea would be to share selected images and to decipher the different layers of this hatred of the Other in a historical, cultural and thematic perspective. To understand the construction of this discourse over time is to participate in its deconstruction…
A striking visual history.
Elisabeth Bakambamba Tambwe describes her artistic practice as “the art of encounter”. The encounter with the Other is at the heart of her research-creation problematic. Her quest for the Other is part of her sensitive and aesthetic field of knowledge. Her work also allows her to question the way in which art addresses the Other, or even co-produces a work with another. The encounter with the Stranger is at the centre of her practice. Or should we say her practices: Performances, shows or installations play with the multiplication of points of view (Golden Baby), the transformation of spaces (Carré Noir / Congo Na Chanel), the thwarting of stereotypes (La Philosophie Banane), questioning time (Hairy Guns) and bodies (Flesh / Anomalic / Abstraction). For Elisabeth Bakambamba Tambwe, perception is one of the means of crossing spaces without summoning borders. A rule is imposed: do not contemplate but prefer to penetrate the image, question it and thus leave time for it to look at us in order to question the past time.