Joseph Nechvatal on "Ce qui arrive" / "Unknown Quantity"

POSTED BY: nicholas economos | Sat Nov 30th, 2002 1 a.m.

Review of Paul Viriliois "Ce qui arrive" / "Unknown Quantity" at the
Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris
by Joseph Nechvatal

The avowed aim of the Fondation Cartier exhibition "Ce qui arrive" (What is
Coming) (The English title however is inexplicably "Unknown Quantity") n
which was organized by the now famously reactionary techophobe Paul Virilio
- is that "the principle of responsibility to future generations requires
that we expose accidents now, and the frequency of their industrial and
postindustrial repetition." What is obvious in this highly controlled and
academic exhibition "on the theme of accidents" is that this claim of
"responsibility" is fraudulent. Most of the exhibition is deeply
irresponsible. The word dreadful adequately describes it.

Precisely, the bulk of this show is dreadfully irresponsible in its
appropriation of the 9_11 attack on New York City. As a downtown New Yorker
who experienced daily these ruins (thank god the horrid smell could not be
reproduced and exploited here) I was offended by how facile is the show. It
is really a vapid presentation in that it aims to teach us that eshit
happensi. Do we really have to dress this recognition up in priestly black
profundity and pretend it is art?

Not only does "Ce qui arrive" / "Unknown Quantity" irresponsibly lump the
9_11 attack into a "museum of accidents" (it was no accident) it wallows in
the pathetic tropes of Romanticism by inviting us to contemplate the smoky
ruins of the 9_11_01 World Trade Center attack. Prominently featured was
Tony Oursleris footage of the fuming ruins, as it is the first thing we sees
projected large when we descend into the downstairs "Museum of Accidents".
Also included was 9_11 footage shot from a Brooklyn roof by Moira Tierney
and a re-packaged "best of" 24 hour selection of Wolfgang Staehleis live
web-cam which captured from afar the 9_11 attack and aftermath ("2001") n
here now striped of its scale, neutrality and live immediacy.

For me, such apocalyptic-chic imagery is congruent with that of the fervent
Romanticism of Turner, Constable and Friedrich. Indeed the whole show reeks
of Romanticism - that cultural movement (circa 1795-1840) inspired by the
writings of Edmund Burke and the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau,
as it focuses not on individual passions and inner struggles or joys but on
fearfully transcendent ebig picturei dramatic performances n what are
essentially extenuations of Romanticismis Romantic Sublime.

Indeed, "Ce qui arrive" / "Unknown Quantity" claims in its expensive glossy
catalogue that it attempts to explore Paul Virilio's most recent writings of
the subject of the increasing development of accidents as an indirect
consequence of man's inventions. But in the show one thinks more often to
the writings of Friedrich Wilhelm Josef von Schelling, Friedrich von
Schlegel, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, and Novalis (the nom de plume used by
Baron Friedrich Ludwig Von Hardenberg). Or even S