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Musée du quai Branly Proposes the Discovery of an "Image Factory"
Installation view of the exhibition. ©Musée du quai Branly. Photo: Antoine Schneck.
PARIS.- After Qu’est-ce qu’un corps? and Planète métisse, the 3rd major anthropology exhibition of the musée du quai Branly proposes the discovery of an "image factory" spanning 5 continents to the public. With 160 works and objects on display, the exhibition solicits a decryption of the great artistic and material productions of Humanity in order to reveal all the things that one does not see outright in an image.

This comprehension of images is based on 4 major iconological models created by Man, which go beyond any geographical or chronological classification, whether in Africa, in the 15th to 16th century Europe, in the Americas of the Indians from Amazonia or of the Inuits of Alaska, right up to the Australia of the Aboriginals. The exhibition unravels these 4 models – translating 4 major world views – which are totemism, naturalism, animism and analogism.

With the image Factory, the visitor discovers the different principles of decryption according to which civilizations see the world and account for the world.

The itinerary of the image factory solicits the visitor to go through 4 sections corresponding to 4 major systems of world views known as “ontologies”: the part “an animated world” is devoted to animism, “an objective world” to naturalism, “a sub-divided world” to totemism and “an entangled world” to analogism.

A 5th section, for comparative purposes, makes it possible to understand, with a few examples of “deceptive cognates”, that formal procedures or iconographic devices very close in appearance actually meet completely different figurative intentions.

The exhibition the image factory helps the public understand and decrypt these 4 major systems of world views created by Man.

An animated world: animism
The 1st section of the exhibition deals with animism, i.e., the generalization to non-humans of a human type interiority. All entities – an animal, a plant, an artefact – are endowed with interiority, animated by its own speci fic intentions, capable of action and judgment. On the other hand, the physical appearance changes from one entity to another.

The animist model makes the interiority of the different sorts of the existing beings visible and shows that this interiority is lodged in bodies with dissimilar appearances.

The most common images are those which contain tenuous signs of humanity – features of the face, for instance – grafted on mainly zoomorphous shapes. They generally feature non-humans about whom, through a few human attributes, it is shown that they do possess, just as the humans do, an interiority which makes them capable of a social and cultural life. Thus, the Yupi’k masks of Alaska feature the interiority of animals with the insertion of a human face in an animal head, or by adding human limbs to an animal body.

In Amazonia, the Indians were attached to transforming human bodies themselves in images, by borrowing from designs and attributes with animal bodies in order to do this. By putting on an animal costume, humans borrow their biological aptitudes from animals and therefore the effectiveness with which the animals make use of their environment. Humans do not content themselves just with collecting appendages from animals, they also borrow from them designs for adorning their own bodies and mark speci fic status or states – maternity, paternity, mourning, illness…

An objective world: naturalism
The 2nd section of the exhibition exhibits another ontological model: naturalism.

The idea behind naturalism is the opposite of the one behind animism: it is not by their bodies, but by their mind that humans differentiate themselves from non humans, just as it is also by their mind that they differentiate themselves from among one another.

This world view, which has been dominant in the West for centuries, must represent two features:

- the distinctive interiority of each human (the painting of the soul): only humans possess an interiority and are capable of rational discernment,

- the physical continuity of beings and things in a homogenous space (the imitation of nature): all humans are subjected to the same decrees of nature, and do not allow standing out by ways of living, as was the case in animism.

Contrary to the 3 other sections of the exhibition, “an objective world” brings out a very clear historic movement in the iconography, arising from a tension between the interiority and the physicality specific to naturalism: the interiority which asserts itself at the beginning in a resounding manner (right from before the Renaissance) dissolves over time to pave the way for an auto-referential physicality, reducing henceforth both interiority and life to physical parameters (birth of photography in the 19th century).

A sub-divided world: totemism
This section presents the world of totemism, made of a great number of classes of beings comprising humans and various sorts of non-humans. The members of each class share different sets of physical and moral qualities that the totem is considered to incarnate.

Totemism ignores the differences between beings on the moral as well as physical plane in order to favour sharing, within the same class, of qualities which apply as much to humans as they do to non-humans.

In the aboriginal societies of Australia, the core of qualities characterizing each class originates from an ancestral prototype traditionally known as “Dream being”. All the images are all over linked to the Dream beings and to the actions in which these prototypes have been engaged in order bring the world to order and render it apt for the subdivisions that they themselves incarnate. The figurative objectives of Australian totemism are implemented by means of 2 well differentiated strategies:

- the body appears as i f at the origin of the image that it has given rise to; it is for example “imprint of the body” of a painting on bark,

- the 2nd strategy shows how the world was formed by beings that one cannot see but which have left traces on the landscape; this is what we call “the imprint of movement”.

An entangled world: analogism
The 4th section of the image Factory proposes the discovery of the iconological model of analogism to the public, the opposite model to the preceding model. To hold an analogical point of view on the world implies perceiving all those who occupy it as being different from one another. Thus, instead of merging entities sharing the same substances within the same class, this system distinguishes all the components of the world and differentiates them into singular elements.

Such a world, in which each entity makes up a unique specimen, would become impossible to inhabit and to imagine if one did not strive to find stable correspondences between its human and non human components, as between the parts that they are made up of. For example, as per the qualities that we attribute to them, a few things will be associated with heat and other with cold, with day or with night, with dry or with wet. Analogist thinking thus aims at making networks of correspondence between discontinuous elements present, which implies multiplying the components of the image and demonstrating their relations.

We can find numerous contemporary illustrations of animist ontology among the great Oriental civilizations, in West Africa or in the Indian communities of the Andes and Mexico.

The classic figure of analogism is the chimera, a being made up of attributes belonging to different species, but presenting a certain coherence on the anatomical plane. The chimera is a hybrid whose constitutive elements stem from heterogeneous registers, but which can meet in a conjunctural manner in a completely singular being.

Mirages of resemblances: the deceptive cognates
The itinerary culminates with a didactic presentation, side by side, of images having similar formal properties, but whose figurative conventions meet completely different principles. This last stage of the exhibition explains to the public how to decrypt these images in order to weigh the differences, drawing its attention to the fact that a purely formal approach of images does not allow demonstrating the different world views that they express.

For example, a Dutch landscape painting (naturalism) holds a dialogue with a Chinese landscape painting (analogism); a bird shaped mask representing a human type interiority in an animal body (animism)is compared with a bird shaped mask having composite attributes (analogist chimera).

Musée du quai Branly | "Image Factory" | Man |


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