“Le peuple qui manque” is an expression from Gilles Deleuze used to explain whom the artist, or philosopher, should address: a people who are missing. It’s the ideal recipient, and also a condition for creativity, hence something that art and philosophy should contribute to creating. When a French artist duo with that name organises an exhibition based on four films, it could be important that the screens are placed in a zigzag. Deleuze saw the zigzag as the foundational model for being. This idea of a lightning bolt of creation appearing between two potentialities seems to be exactly how the duo have conceived of the exhibition at Konsthall C in Stockholm.
Le peuple qui manque consists of Aliocha Imhoff and Kantuta Quirós. Active as both artists and curators, their project seems to be located somewhere in between. For example, the exhibition at Konsthall C is based mainly on their own films, but they have also invited other artists to contribute and act in the films.
In addition, Imhoff and Quirós have a background in philosophy. Last year they published Les Potentiels du Temps, together with writer and artist Camille de Toledo. The theme of the book is the same as that of this exhibition: time and politics. These are two very engaged academics, or very scholarly and serious poets, who speak, speak, speak: about how an African future can be given room in the imaginary possible in certain places; about more time for the Arab spring; about how the culture needs counterfactual history as well as fiction writing to create gaps in our conception of the now. In their work, people want to break free. From capitalist society, obviously, but primarily from the effects of the economy and colonialism on their conception of time.
What emerges with Le peuple qui manque is, in short, the intellect – perhaps even philosophy, which claims its raison d’être outside of academia and art as distinct spheres. It’s a kind of ‘research’ that doesn’t adhere to the demands of the academy. Rather, it zigzags between the potentials of philosophy and art; the artist and the curator; culture and politics. This strikes me as very fresh. The overall impression is one of energies being released and new possibilities arising, which renders this exhibition very good and very new, even though it may not look all that remarkable.
The order of time as the fundamental condition for human existence is also the subject of Imhoff and Quiró’s films. A Museum of Time, the first in the series Les Impatients (The Impatients), opens with the foundational scene of the problem: the fall of the Berlin wall 1989. This was when the ‘contemporary’ was constituted as the only dimension of time that mattered. History was said to be over. We no longer had to live for the future because we had, fortunately, already arrived.
What the exhibition seeks to highlight is the idea of the end of history as a colonial fantasy, since it infers that Western free-market liberal democracy has prevailed and all that remains is to disseminate it throughout the world (i.e. globalisation). That spatial representation is well-known, but it obscures the temporal dimension: the countries that did not yet correspond to the Western idea of democracy were now conceived of as backwards, their task became to catch up, trying to make it to the end of history. They had, according Le peuple qui manque, “a debt of times,” which is also the title of the exhibition. These people have had their time expropriated, their future scheduled. In the eponymous film, a man from Dakar points out how a prescribed future undermines the possibility for creativity, for anything at all new or unexpected. What we need therefore is an “afrotopia” – an African future imagined solely in relationship to the place and the imaginary, without any consideration of historical (social) forms.
Feuerbach and Kierkegaard’s foregrounding of the future as the primary dimension of time, in reaction to Hegel’s philosophy of history, rendered obvious the withering uncreativeness involved in basing one’s conception of time in the past. Yet, Le peuple qui manque don’t seem to be interested in that direct relationship to the future. Rather, they are trying to escape the now in a way which would open all of time, the past and the future, for a new determination.
“We operate in the conditional,” they say in one of the films. The emphasis on a grammatical form that puts verbs in relation to possible scenarios in conditional statements may primarily have to do with fact that “debt of times” already operates on the level of the subject, in the everyday (first going to school, then work, getting up in the morning, etc.). We have to break free from that in order to create a relationship to the future that isn’t purely a projection of a hegemonic understanding of the now. One might say that a new calendar is required for those who want to regain the initiative.
This is the subject of the most interesting of the films, Suspending Time, which is based on documentary material from Nuit debout (Up all night), a French protest movement that arose in opposition to proposed labor law reforms. The protests consisted of people simply not going home from work, staying night after night in several locations throughout the country. The film refers to the “March 31 movement” (the date on which the protests began) as a potential start of a new chronology, the following day being March 32, etc. I suspect it’s a mockumentary, a genre which really could embody the idea of the conditional. Imhoff and Quirós raise all objections that such an intervention would generate, “crazy and naive” according to the expert, “already done” according to the historian, etc. But they are all thinking within the confines of a chronology where all the conditions are met; they are basing their thoughts on facts. The artists, on the other hand, want to operate counterfactually.
The counterfactual is in essence quite a banal way of thinking, a way of eliminating certain alternatives. “If the white cube were made of sugar, it would dissolve in water,” and if that doesn’t happen, you can at least deduce that it isn’t made out of sugar. But what makes counterfactual thinking dubious for philosophers of science (albeit not for scientists) is precisely what makes the form socially and politically interesting, as logic says that anything can follow a condition that hasn’t been met. And that is exactly what Le peuple qui manque are hoping for! If “chrononormativity” can be stopped, if only for a couple of nights, a break in time would be achieved – a pause, Hölderlin’s caesura (which has been interpreted as revolutionary time), or Bergson’s interval between stimulus and response. The point is that such a pause contains something unfulfilled, something which is not, from which anything can follow.
That the social consequences of Nuit debout, or the film, aren’t visible yet doesn’t mean they’re not coming. We just have to give them time. The same perhaps goes for, within the confines of the exhibition, the still images. Krista Franklin’s collages and Mawena Yehouessi’s digital collages have a hard time measuring up to the films. Yehouessi’s work is also poorly lit and appears quite lifeless against the wall. But Franklin’s images, which have an unmistakable quality, insert pauses into the exhibition. The experience of seeing them is brought to the viewing of the films, as something that might produce unexpected effects, a reserve. It didn’t happen, but I’m still waiting for it. Time passes, now with a different latent content.