“Le Travail de mémoire”

Parc de la Villette

In a year of seemingly nonstop commemorations in France (the Edict of Nantes, the abolition of slavery in the French colonies, May ’68), the Parc de la Villette organized a timely if provocative program of photo exhibits and panel discussions invoking less glorious aspects of recent history under the collective title “1914–1998, Le travail de memoire” (1914–1998: The work of remembering). Visitors were greeted at the entrance to one of the two exhibition sites by a lengthy quote from Walter Benjamin on the necessity of “working” memory as one works the land, but a single sentence from one of Benjamin’s “Theses on the Philosophy of History” might have been even more apt: “There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” The photographic “documents” presented all confronted viewers with the barbarism of this century, from World War I to contemporary

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