A Time of Ones Own: The Struggle Against One-sided Narratives of History
July 19, 2021
The relationship to time escapes me regularly, and vice versa, due to a chronic desynchronization—an incompatibility of cruising speeds, even—that I experience in my ordinary quotidian life and in my artistic practice. Moreover, the gap between the measurement and the evaluation of time varies significantly according to cultures, eras, and perspectives, and is also reflected in elements of language and in current prejudices that consist, in particular, of praising the strong allure of the great powers as opposed to celebrating slowness. De facto, the aspiration to comfort marries the rhythm of social progress designed by those who pull the strings of power, so much so that the unbridled appetites for development and the acceleration of globalization have strengthened the spirit of competitiveness, whether among nations or individuals.
Despite its being called into question due to the deterioration of living conditions on a planetary scale, this effervescence, which is similar to a race against time, remains at the head of the fundamental driving forces of governments and businesses. Nowadays, if voices are raised in praise of slowness, they are marginal and seem insufficient to overturn paradigms and stereotypes that oscillate between laziness, incompetence, and the privilege unfairly reserved to the wealthy. To top it all, leaders see it primarily as an asset to curb ecological disasters, not so much to mend the sources of human wounds, but to preserve growth and ensure gains. In other words, when it comes to facing realities that are rooted in the past, politicians bury their heads in the sand. Yet, the choice between a body-machine and a succulent machine is quickly made.
These issues around the relationship to time join the stakes linked to systems of representation, to relations of power and domination, to circulations and exchanges among peoples, or even to the transmission of knowledges, which provide a common thread in the structuring of my work. So, when the coronavirus pandemic forced the whole world to slow down its economic and industrial activities, which revealed the high levels of interdependence among nations, and when the scale of the disasters and fears that were still to come could be counted as the number of deaths and the alarming statistical data, the generalized use of the expression “suspended time” seemed to me particularly inappropriate. In spite of the extent of the common existential ordeal that we have lived through and that revives the unity of humankind, that suspension doesn’t have the same impact when one moves about on a pyramid or on a map. Nonetheless, it is quite typical of the one-sided narratives of History.
Admittedly, this slowdown was necessary and continues to be conjugated in the present tense, and its repercussions are undoubtedly painful for the great majority of people. But living or struggling together to overcome this time-event should not give us the illusion that everyone can get out of it. In this burning world where a handful of people continue to rejoice while others cry in deep pain or suffocate in an attempt to survive, where the little hands that contribute to the wealth and the care treatment indispensable to all struggle to be rewarded their fair values, a world where it rains thunder when the sun should shine, every day I daydream of dancing stars while keeping my feet on the ground. Unfortunately, the great cruelty of the images of the world that I have seen unfolding on my screens in these recent months have a bitter taste and a scent of hypocrisy, which portends weeds to be taken out and seeds to be sown before an Oasis meets Eden.
In fact, I conceive my work as a décorticage (dissection) of figures and scenes of the world that are able to arouse emotions ranging from laughter to indignation. In revisiting the happy and unhappy adventures of the near as well as the far past, trying to extend my gaze as far as possible, beyond my comfort zone and without any geographic or cultural boundaries, I have often felt that disorders, whatever their nature or seriousness is, have common denominators: the contempt induced by ignorance, the recourse to violence to assert authority over others, and, above all, an oppressive patriarchal structure. This leads me to believe that before considering a novel order for our relationships with the “Others,” with human conditions, with the environment, and with things, it is necessary to clear the ground, and, in this case, to shake up the whole ethnocentric vision and the supremacist, extremist, and totalitarian ideologies that are at the detriment of other cultures. During the confinement, these reflections frequently crossed my mind, as they had at other times before. Without disregarding the considerable loss of life suffered from COVID-19, I would say that, by rendering more and more fragile the same profiles of individuals—that is, minorities, the visible and the invisible ones, the cultural and sexual minorities, women reduced to the status of eternal minors, refugees, migrants, precarious workers, child slaves, and all those left behind—the dysfunctions of the world are anchored in the same retrograde mentalities of several generations. Yet, that has never prevented Time nor History from moving forward. To press the pause button, having tunnel vision or putting aside reality as though in between parentheses, is to run the risk of being more oblivious than the ignorants. Ultimately, it means losing the possibility of acting on our own destiny and on the future of us all.
(This text was translated from the French by Francesca Pietropaolo.)