BORN IN DYSTOPIA (Oct. 2010 - Jul. 2011)



The Born in Dystopia exhibition reveals to us a world which attempts to evade its own downfall as it tries to remedy the failures of the utopia formulated throughout the twentieth century.

Dystopia, a term borrowed from the English dictionary, designates a distortion of utopia, a destiny other than the one originally coveted. In science fiction, dystopia aims to present, in a form of narration, the detrimental consequences of an ideology. In the same way, in the Born in Dystopia exhibition, dystopia is used to show ambition and human aspiration caught up in the concrete reality of the world. This concept, situated at the heart of their collection, allows Steve and Chiara Rosenblum to share their perception of the disenchantment which has accompanied the rapid development of Western society, affecting their generation. From reflections developed by Max Weber, who articulated the notion of “disenchantment” to describe his criticism of scientific modernity, the exhibition displays the misappropriation and re-appropriation of icons and texts which were bearers of the modern values linked to the notion of progress in the West. The artists focus on these documents by using them as supports, narration, or sources of inspiration, in such ways as to underscore the failure of the dreams and great ideals which have shaped post war contemporary society. Thus, the Little Boy & Fat Man video diptych (Matthew Day Jackson, videos, 2010) at the exhibition entrance metaphorically represents the apogee of technical progress (which promised comfort and well-being) in free fall, having failed to create the ideal effects that it was supposed to produce.

The convergence of art and politics cannot be separated from history. Thus, the Born in Dystopia exhibition develops its problematic from works inspired by the great resentment felt about the Second World War, exemplified by Matthew Day Jackson’s installations about nuclear energy and Christian Boltanski’s work about the collective memory of the deportations. The great demands of the subsequent decades follow, aestheticized and updated to prevent oblivion in spite of the failures suffered. The plastic art panoply produced by Kelley Walker and Lili Renaud- Dewar confronts the complexity and diversity of the African-American protests during the 1950s. Kelley Walker is interested in photographs published in the New York Times about demonstrations in Alabama led by Martin Luther King, whose I Have a Dream speech resounds in the Rosenblum Collection & Friends vestibule.


On a museographical scale, Lili Renaud-Dewar variously transforms miraculously recuperated literal archives belonging to Sun Ra, the jazzman and pioneering figure of Afro-Futurism. In reference to the protests of the 1950s and 1960s, Allen Ruppersberg’s installation The Singing Posters updates the famous and controversial poem Howl composed by Allen Ginsberg, founder of the Beat Generation. Thus, the exhibition revisits these late revolutions which, in spite of the failure to build a new world, succeeded in ousting bigotry and relaxing the conservatism of traditions. The liberation of culture followed, its democratisation going hand in hand with media development and consumption.

In spite of all efforts, social stations remain very disparate, and official culture conveyed by mass media is subjected to reinterpretation and re-appropriation by the lower classes. The Canadian artist Steven Shearer is interested, in an anachronistic way, in these socio-cultural consequences, which characterised his youth in the 1990s. In the room which is dedicated to him, “great art” and media images are side by side and equal. Alternative cultures developed by young people around Rock and Metal music are fuelled by the distress of the underprivileged classes.

With the September 11th 2001 attacks, Western dystopia spread internationally. Islamic terrorism and geopolitical conflicts linked to oil represent the greatest anxiety perturbing our society, robbing it of comfort and well-being. From the Container installation by Christoph Büchel to Andrei Molodkin’s installations, via those by mounir fatmi, the exhibition leads us to the heart of the problems of the wars undertaken by the West in the Middle East on the pretext of democratic liberation of Arabic countries. Paintings by the Haerizadeh brothers, Ahmed Alsoudani and Tala Madani, transport us to the trauma of these wars and into the current artistic protests where art becomes political condemnation.

If this chronological thread is credible, what dystopia does the future hold for us? In the last exhibition room, Loris Gréaud assumes the role of prophet and declares from the writer James Graham Ballard’s last words, “Sex x Technology = the Future”; biotechnology is the future dystopia. Human dreams and the reality of the world have never been reconciled; however, they have always sought out and influenced each other. Without making dystopia the only constituent principle of a generation, Born in Dystopia explores the perpetual tug-of-war between the ideal and the possible in a new way.


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