Few Memories of Things Past
A monographic exhibition by Arnaud Cohen curated by Simon Njami
From September 18th till October 3rd
In this inaugural monographic exhibition at Babel Mallorca, Arnaud Cohen offers us the paradoxical vision of a world that is disappearing before our eyes. Fragments of antiques with forgotten origins sheltered in fragile moldings of bodies of disabled people, his Temporary Shelters are altars dedicated to the desperate resistance of inevitable erasure, that of our imperfect and perishable bodies, but also that of the memory of cultures that preceded us.
The sculptor also presents new tapestries from his Winter over Europe series. This series, which began in 2018, extends a second life to old, damaged tapestries by giving them a new meaning. They were by then meant to announce to elites, blinded by the comfort of their certainties, the inevitable return of violence in Europe.
Overlays of images generated by artificial intelligence are now replacing the previous embroideries and images made in the tapestries by the artist himself. These new images draw from the global human corpus while ignoring and disguising their origins. They are, for Cohen, the perfect echo of this inevitable erasure that begins with human memory and will perhaps end with the erasure of humanity itself. These images are also a reflection of the shrinking of creative freedom, one of the artist’s main themes. Like most societies today, the AI that seems to allow everything actually prohibits many things, like the representation of the nude, or certain political violence. Thus, for the most recent tapestry presented here, the AI refused to portray an Iranian man being hanged. The artist had to combine several AI-generated images himself to achieve this forbidden representation.
Cohen believes, along with some artists and art critics, that AI will participate in the necessary reinvention of art, as was the case with the advent of photography. Just as the latter pushed the impressionists to represent a reality other than that of the strictly visible, and just as bad painting legitimately succeeded the icy industrial mechanics of pop art, he anticipates that human art has no future other than far from the constantly progressing technical prowess of AI and the ideological constraints that accompany it, and will continue to accompany it for a long time to come.
This exhibition could be perceived as an archeology of the future. A quest that those who will come after us will have the responsibility to pursue. What is the meaning of the objects? What role did they play in the life of a vanishing humanity? What kind of message will they be able to decipher from these ordinary remains? It is a riddle composed on the basis of our own memories. Things are never what we think they are and our memories are most of the time a reconstruction, a puzzle that we try, on and on, to recompose.