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The Event, : Images as protagonists of history
The Event,
Images as protagonists of history
Régis Durand & Michel Poivert, December 17, 2006
Is it possible to speak in terms of a culture of the event? Contemporary history appears to us as a succession of events whose frantic rhythm is further accelerated by the media, which at the same fail to really distinguish between anecdote and event. This democratisation effected by the illustrated press and now by television and the Internet, has engendered the “sense of wonder of democratic societies” described by Pierre Nora. This sense of wonder is elicited by technological progress, but also by a whole rhetoric that endows the present with the dimension of a historic moment. Such is the nature of our society, where History is experienced indirectly through images, while the immediacy of their transmission creates the impression of living to the rhythm of events.

Clearly, the “event” is the result of a construction, the work of an artist, historian or reporter. The processing of historical realities as narrative and image is always inflected and determined by the dominant media of the day: painting and drawing, prints, photography, cinema, television and, now, the Internet. But the appearance of a kind of progress is deceptive, for while new technologies may overshadow others, they do not completely replace them (paintings remain present in our culture, while photography in its early days was hardly an efficient means of capturing the immediacy of events).

Between the fact and its construction as an event there lies a complex process in which the intentions of the protagonists, the mediating technologies, the political context and public expectations all come together to endow the historical moment with meaning. This exhibition does not claim to be a visual history of key events of the 19th and 20th centuries; rather, it offers a sampling of modern representations of such events, showing the degree to which the treatment of events in the 19th century resembles the way they are mediated today, and the nature of the different processes whereby these events are shaped in our consciousness.

Taking a selection of important historical moments and “motifs” such as battle (the Crimean War), human exploits (flight), social progress (first paid holidays, 1936), the toppling of symbols (the fall of the Berlin Wall) or terrorist attacks (9/11), the exhibition analyses the rhetoric and reveals aspects of our culture of the event over a century and a half of history.

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