Palais de Tokyo

Palais de Tokyo is the scene for the unfolding vista of Intense Proximity, taking up the expanded and renovated spaces in the building it is inspired by the ‘great work of early to mid 20th century French ethnography figures.’ Thematically organised through the multitude of spaces in the museum it is easy to become disorientated. Reflecting the manifold nature of a global existence, seeing this exhibition from an outsider’s perspective (I am not French) gives one the impression that it is echoing issues at hand in current French society. However it is easily transferable to other nations with a post-colonial history. The curator Okwui Enwezor states that the title, Intense Proximity, “points to those frictions and heterogeneous tensions, which set every human activity into motion.” So many of our histories are enfolded within a colonial past that has an inherent friction, a friction many refuse to acknowledge, and tension that this exhibition seeks to reveal through their aesthetic histories.

The loose themes set out in the exhibition notes are Identity, Territory, The Anthropological Method, and Unlearning. Meandering through the exhibition these themes shift and intertwine, making it difficult to tell how it is possible to set them apart. Take the work of Clemens von Wedemeyer, found in the bowels of the Palais de Tokyo, this film installation about the Tasaday controversy (in which a supposedly ancient tribe were discovered in 1971 and was subsequently discovered to be fake) in which he clambers through real and imagined histories and the relevance of truth within the past. The issues in The Fourth Wall (2008-10) strike one as being at the core of the exhibition, connecting with the overall concern of proximity. The structured nature of historical narratives can be seen in the installation through the self-referential use of a documentary investigating the ‘truth’ of another documentary. One History is always a self-referential process that seeks to disprove another History. More of this illusory documentary can be found in Yto Barrada’s Hand-Me-Downs (2011), which consists of a collage of 1960s home movies, where it is left up to the viewer to decide whether they are real or fictional.

The issue of contact seems to materialise throughout the exhibition, appearing at unexpected moments, such as Camille Henrot’s Coupè/Dècalè (2011). Positioned half way up the stairs, the film jerks and shakes as one watches tourists watching indigenous “bungee jumpers” in the Vanuatu islands. The Western tourists watching marvel at this apparently ancient act, forgetting that it is within the contemporary world, a world in which they exist and are a part of. There is a sense of this throughout the exhibition, that when the Western world began to write the history of the world it forgot about the present. Intense Proximity is enormous and to cover it all here would be farcical, however there seems to be a sense of that within the exhibition itself, the unfeasible size of our global existence, not everything can be seen or understood.