Terre Natale, Ailleurs commence ici


Exposition :: Raymond Depardon, Paul Virilio :: Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain :: Paris :: 2009 :: Expected to close on March 15, 2009

Raymond Depardon is a well known French photographer who does not shy away from documentaries and moving images. This exposition is about film, with human displacement the theme. When we walk in, we are shown a film, Donner la parole, which starts with the inverse: people talk who are firmly rooted in their country and language. We hear, amongst others, from Yanomani’s in Brazil, the Kawesqar in Chile and a Breton in France. They talk to us in their native tongue about their attachment to their land. Threats to their way of life come in different forms, from environmental (rising sea levels, pollution, deforestation) to socio-political issues with jobs or minority protection. Some of them are fearful of the future and others just angry. Watching them on this enormous screen in front of you makes you wonder what you, or they, can do to protect themselves. It will not be easy in this ever globalising world with issues which stretch out to every corner.

But the lesson in human responsibility is not over. In the next room, we get to see film images of a tour of the world in 14 days with 7 stops. Although it is unfortunately without the ambient sounds, which would have added a little more exoticism to the images, we get to see some perceptive photography mixed into the banal of the day-to-day lives of people around the world. The film is both superfluous and harmonising as a vision. The power of the film is not quite a strong as his pictures independently, as one can see them in his book. There is, however, a direct point with the follow-up of the exhibition: what Paul Virilio set up downstairs.

An empty space with monitors hanging from the ceiling showing images of world news, at times jumping from one screen to another, at times in union. Behind us we hear the voice of Virilio theorising about the forming ways of life in the world’s urban centres, as nomads skip about from one physical location to another with their lives mostly in a virtual realm. The cliché jet-set as the pioneers of a new society clashes with the images of refugees running from hunger and war on the screens, helping you realise the difficulty of prediction in the real world. But there is help. Mapping out the world’s issues makes it easier to deal with them, and in this world of excess data, actually using it, is surprisingly difficult. Paul Virilio makes a great attempt.

Seated on the floor in the next room, with a screen which encircles you for three quarters of the way, you are injected with an overkill of global statistics. What makes it interesting, is the novel presentation form, which even modestly could be described as an orgy of visual effects. The presentation opens with a representation of the passage of the half the world’s population from the rural areas to the urban, and where these cities are. We get to see  an overview of recent human migrations, mostly out of hotspots (war, famine) which look like invading armies moving around the world. You can not help but feel a doom loom over us.

Having shown which countries managed to attract the most immigrants, as flags, the video adds little flags below each large one to show the remittances when are sent back by the migrants to their home countries. Of course money is only part of the reason why people move anywhere, with a war raging (as is often the case with mass displacements), your top priority is safety. But to illustrate the migratory reality, Virilio plays around with the remittance concept. For France you will see, for example, the amount of money Moroccan immigrants send back home. After that, the little flags are shifted along, and you can see how much the Moroccans in The Netherlands have sent back home, and so forth with the money carrousel. Although it is hard to estimate how much money actually flows back into your country from those that leave, you are none the less given an idea. But, as mentioned, it is more an idea of contemporary migrational levels  rather than economics.


Migration naturally increases with wars, famine and environmental factors when people flee. Wars can not really be predicted, but the presentation does an elabourate job of showing natural catastrophes around the globe and the future rising water levels due to climate change. This is taken on into the future, predicting the number of (coastal) cities which will be submerged provoking a mass exodus. Very upsetting, of course, but without explanation is this not just alarmist and one-sided?

And what is the point of all this in an art gallery? Statistics should be under the scrutiny of economists and social scientists and evaluated by theorists and politicians. For many people there is a large gap between our idea of our world and the reality, not in the least with an issue as tangible as migration. There has always been a lot of displacement and migration, just look at your own families, and is not a reason for panic. Rising water levels, on the other hand, and the consequences which can flow from that…

As far as art is concerned, the animations are impressive, to say the least. This is clearly the way forward of dealing with mass information aimed at a mass audience. But we should also be careful, as it is manipulative by virtue of its speed, not allowing you to critically evaluated what you are being fed. And that, even assuming that you have some kind of background knowledge you can test it to. Terre Natale asks questions in a somewhat paranoid way, but see it for what it is worth: the future of statistical presentation and an extension of your understanding of our diverse planet.


NB There is a beautiful, related, project out there, for those who have a thing for statistics, in the Gapminder, which gives a thrilling image of human development.


Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain

261 Boulevard Raspail, 75014 Paris

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