Art Criticism

Raymond Depardon & Paul Virilio: Terre Natale

Raymond Depardon: Hear Them Speak (2008), in Terre Natale (Fondation Cartier, 2008).
Exhibition review published in ArtReview (London), no. 30, March 2009, p. 141.

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Terre Natale, Ailleurs Commence Ici (Native Land, Elsewhere Begins Here) is a confrontation between the filmmaker and photographer Raymond Depardon and the urbanist and philosopher Paul Virilio. While Depardon is strongly attached to the idea of country and one’s roots, the other announces an unprecedented urban exodus that is going to reshape our cities and challenge current notions of idendity – subjects becoming pure trajectories. The dialogue between Depardon’s films and Virilio’s curated video installations at Fondation Cartier suggests the fundamental need to redefine our understanding of ‘native land’ in a world where, according to Virilio, ‘the sedentary type is someone who’s at home everywhere, with his mobile and his laptop, be it in a lift, in a plane or on a high-speed train, whereas a nomad is a person who’s not at home anywhere’. By 2040, he argues, nearly one billion people will be displaced for economic or ecological reasons – ‘like China going on a trip’.

Two films by Depardon (all works 2008) are projected in the first part of the exhibition. In Hear Them Speak, the filmmaker gives a voice to threatened minorities such as the Yanomami in Brazil, the Mapuche in Chile, the Afar in Ethiopia or the Occitan speakers of France. In this short series of medium-shot interviews, Depardon remains silent, letting each ethnic representative speak in his or her mother tongue. Always named, and addressing the camera directly, they tell the story of how globalisation has put at risk or destroyed their native land – their ‘forest-land’, in the Yanomami construction. Displaying their desparation to preserve what remains, above all their language – their identity – the film pulls no punches: ‘You white people have to listen to us now, we are all going to die when the forest-land burns’ (Davi Kopenava, Yanomami, Amazonia). The silent filmed journal Around the World in 14 Days can’t compete with the power ofHear Them Speak, but Depardon’s speed-travel from Washington, DC, to Cape Town to Tokyo to Singapore works well as a lead-in to the second part of the exhibition, displaying an experience of what Virilio calls the ‘world’s shrinking distances’.

Virilio’s concepts are given form in two untitled video installations by artists and architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Mark Hansen, Laura Kurgan and Ben Rubin. The first is a choreography of news footage and photographs on forced migration, mass exodus and rapid transit, the images displayed on 48 monitors suspended from the ceiling. The effect lacks the strength of Virilio’s discourse. The images, some of them violent (riots), lose their political dimension, their roughness, in an aestheticised and high-tech orchestration that could be an add for Apple’s new flat screens. The second is absolutely fascinating. A computer-generated world map is animated in a circular and immersive projection to visualise the economic, ecological and political causes and data of global migrations. The question that emerges from the show is should I ask you where you’re from or where you’re going to?

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