Galerie de l’Ancienne Poste

In a darkened space, Muntadas’ newest installation, “ICI/MAINTENANT” (Here/now, 1994 ), forced its viewers into immediate, almost physical contact with a variety of elements. A group of ghostly covered objects, their forms and functions hidden, were scattered around the floor. An endlessly repeated sequence from a video of the Channel Tunnel after it had been excavated was projected against a wall, interspersed by a series of shots of lace-making machines. A number of slides, taken inside of Calais’ remaining lace factories, were projected throughout the space. Finally, there was the sound of these machines, a nightmarish aural complement to the visual evocation of Calais, past and present.

The work as a whole related to the ongoing transformation of this city into a focal point of the Channel Tunnel. The installation combined references to the urbanistic transformation of Calais with an evocation of its past as a thriving industrial city centered on the production of lace. That industry has now all but disappeared, leaving only photographs and scattered machines and products in its wake. A business that once employed over 30,000 people now employs less than one-fifth of that. The covered objects in Muntadas’ installation are, in fact, machines formerly used in this industry, and they generate an eerie balance between absence and presence that is at the very core of “ICI/MAINTENANT.”

Ironically enough, the Channel Tunnel was dedicated in a ceremony that featured an official lace-cutting photo opportunity starring The Queen of England and François Mitterand. Muntadas used a cropped version of this image, focusing on their hands and the lace banner, in the invitation card for “ICI/MAINTENANT.” This image, and the way that it is used by the media to point to the economic “ revival” of Calais, is, of course, completely false. It is the summation, the end point, of a history that, in fact, ignores the specificity of cities like Calais, reducing them to mere connecting links between larger metropolises. The ceremony at Calais was merely a coincidence, based simply on its geographical location.

Muntadas’ work is often based on the relationship between public and private space and how each is defined by its representation in the media. In the case of “Ici/Maintenant,” he alludes to a history that is in the process of being rewritten. The lace factories in Calais were one of the elements that gave it its specificity, its “here and now.” The Channel Tunnel gives the city another kind of specificity, one that may be glimpsed from the windows of the trains. By combining all of these histories into one space, Muntadas, invoking Proust, rejects a linear reading of the present and proposes a history that is a combination of multiple events, including memories of the past and visions of the future.

Michael Tarantino