This past summer an art exhibit or spectacle at Paris’s official hip museum, le Palais de Tokyo, offered, among many other things, incomplete slogans, handwritten with black markers on cardboard. Among the dozens of these, most of which are in French, I noted and translated these:
NOUS SOMMES LES OUBLÉS DE
I.E.: WE ARE THE FORGOTTEN OF
PAS DE DÉMOCRATIE SANS
NO DEMOCRACY WITHOUT
JE NE VEUX PAS D’AVENIR JE VEUX UN
I DON’T WANT A FUTURE I WANT A
LE PARTAGE SAUVERA LE
SHARING WILL SAVE THE
UN TOIT C’EST UN
A ROOF IS A
PARTAGEONS LES RICHESSES PAS LA
LET’S SHARE THE WEALTH INSTEAD OF
ANONYMOUS! WE ARE LEGION, WE DO NOT FORGIVE, WE DO NOT
LA PAIX ET LA
The exhibit, Flamme éternelle, was produced by a Swiss artist, Thomas Hirschorn, and contained a lot more—Styrofoam blocks and bits, couches and arm chairs wrapped in packing tape, graffiti, piles of tires, a bar, books, computers, and TVs and DVDs for watching Hollywood movies, people talking and reading into microphones, words projected by loudspeakers, simulated ghetto “fires” (or were these Olympic torches?) around which people were supposed to sit, . . .
One might say that there was plenty to dislike, but I was immediately charmed by the incompleteness of the slogans. I had a sinking feeling that Hirschorn’s idea was that he was empowering each of us to complete the slogans in our own way, but . . . Sometimes the subconscious wins out over the meager products of our conscious minds?
Intentionally or not, the incomplete slogans called attention to the fact that in this day and age we no longer know how to write complete slogans, we no longer know what to stand for. As part of this, we may retain a vague notion that slogans are about solidarity, about large groups of people uniting around a single idea. And so, in our atomized age, this would be one of the reasons we can’t complete our slogans, because a slogan is not an isolated, one person, “me” thing.
On the other side of le Palais’s vast and cacophonous basement spaces, as part of Monte Laster’s Banlieue is Beautiful show/spectacle/happening, I found, in one corner of the cement floor, the sorts of complete statements that individuals today can and indeed do make. Words to live by, should we call these?
These statements were included in colorful small paintings that offered the footprints, names, and favorite colors and sayings of several citizens of La Courneuve, a not wealthy suburb north-east of Paris. La Courneuve, which was the scene of violent riots a few years ago, is where both Laster (native of Texas) and Mébrouka Hadjadj, the painter in question, live and make their art. Among the statements (not slogans) that Hadjadj’s paintings presented were:
- From the papa of Nizar, a 6-year-old boy: « La banlieue est un espoir et non une menace. » The poorer suburbs are about hope and not threats. (Americans might replace my “poorer suburbs” with “the projects.” La Courneuve is full of concrete housing blocks, constructed to house a portion of Paris’s low-wage labor stock.)
- From Matilda Mijajlovic, a 55-year-old woman looking for a paying job: « J’ai décidé d’être heureuse parce que c’est bon pour la santé. » I decided to be happy because it’s good for your health.
- From Laila El Moueddine, simply self-described as a citizen— « citoyenne ». This word may recall the French Revolution and a slogan that had its origins then: Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité. Freedom, Equality, Solidarity. Laila El Moueddine’s statement: « Perdre tout espoir, c’est la liberté. » To lose all hope, that’s liberté.
Credit & Links
Ken Johnson’s review for the New York Times of Hirschorn’s 2013 show in the South Bronx may help fill out readers’ picture of his work.
Click for pdf of DON’T HATE ME HATE MY
Note: Piece first published in May 2014. Recycled as part of the development of the “Zeteo is Looking and Listening” (ZiLL) feature. A revised version of this essay, a little updated after Trump’s election, appears in the essay collection Art, Sex, Politics (more right below).
Now available from Amazon: Art, Sex, Politics
In a new, provocative collection of essays, William Eaton, the author of Surviving the Twenty-First Century, shares the pleasures of questions, tastes, reading and more visual arts. “That we are animals, that is as sure as ever. How savagely we behave! And how affectionately rub up against one another. How, desperately, make love?”
Kind words about Surviving: “Entertaining, yet packs a quiet intellectual wallop. . . . so thought-provoking and poetic I didn’t want it to end . . . beautiful and wise and moving . . . engaged, non-doctrinaire, well-read, independent-minded. . . . William Eaton finds arresting themes in unusual places. . . . The writing is masterful and wonderfully absorbing.”