– Spring 2010

Spring 2010 - Spring 2010

On the Outside: Exteriority as Condition for Resistance

Pieter Van Bogaert

Tags: Michel Foucault

Renzo Martens, Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, 2008, video, 90min, stills. Courtesy the artist

Renzo Martens, Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, 2008, video, 90min, stills. Courtesy the artist

At the start of the twenty-first century, French art historian and philosopher Georges Didi-Huberman caused somewhat of a stir with an essay about four photographs from the middle of the twentieth century.1 The photographs, taken in 1944 by Jewish prisoners in Auschwitz-Birkenau, show the importance images can have for understanding history. With his analysis and reprinting of them, Didi-Huberman sought to expose the futility of the claim that there is such a thing as the unimaginable. Finally, these images show that the existence of an outside - of the camp, of the image frame, of one's own subjectivity - is the ultimate condition of resistance.

More or less at the same time as the publication of Didi-Huberman's text, the Dutch artist Renzo Martens completed his first video project, Episode I (2003), for which he travelled to war-torn Chechnya. In this work, the artist entered the image frame, filming himself among professional image producers - photojournalists, cameramen and political and humanitarian fieldworkers - and Chechen refugees. Four years later, for Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (2008) he repeated the performance in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a nation immersed in violence and trenchant iniquity, and which similarly exists in the West via mediatisation of these miseries. By being on location and becoming part of the images produced in the region, Martens not only shows but also enforces the ongoing erasure of the 'outside' for the people of Congo - an erasure conceived in terms of globalisation, in that the reality of the Western capitalist world has become part of the Congo's reality (through, amongst others, development workers, economic investors, political involvement and other professionals - including this

  1. 'Images malgré tout' was first published as an essay in Clément Chéroux (ed.), Mémoires des camps: Photographies des camps de concentration et d'extermination nazis (1933-1999) (exh. cat.), Paris: Marval, 2001. The essay became the first part of a book of the same title, published in 2003 by Les Éditions de Minuit, Paris.

  2. For a good account of how these images were made and came to be published, see C. Chéroux (ed.), Mémoires des camps, op. cit., pp.86-91.

  3. Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz (trans. Shane B. Lillis), Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2008, pp.3, 33 and 38.

  4. Lanzmann has also been the editor in chief of Les Temps modernes since 1986.

  5. G. Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All, op. cit., p.58.

  6. Ibid., pp.59-60.

  7. See Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences (1966), London and New York: Routledge, 2001, pp.3-18.

  8. Foucault's conception of the painting's perspective is inaccurate: the mirror doesn't reflect the viewer, but rather the canvas Velázquez is painting inside the painting. See Joel Snyder and Ted Cohen, 'Las Meninas and the Paradoxes of Visual Representation', Critical Inquiry, Winter 1980, pp.429-47.

  9. G. Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All, op. cit., p.179.

  10. The Sartre quotation serves as an epigraph to Part II of Images in Spite of All: 'The image is an act and not a thing.' Ibid., p.50.

  11. Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen), New York: Zone Books, 2002.

  12. Ibid., p.82. Though Muselmann means 'Muslim' in German, in the concentration camps it was the name given to the prisoner who 'was giving up and was given up by his comrades […]. He was a staggering corpse, a bundle of physical functions in its last convulsions.' Jean Amery, quoted in ibid., p.41.

  13. Ibid., p.51.

  14. G. Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All, op. cit., p.20. Italics original.

  15. It is interesting to refer here to a contract Martens made, stating that part of his profits go to the Congolese he worked with on this project. He actually made two contracts, fitting the ambivalence of his film, increasing the percentage from donations from 0% to 100%, with a guarantee of $500 if no donations are received (both contracts are reproduced in A Prior, no.16, 2008, pp.174-75). With these contracts, Martens made the villagers in his film shareholders of the work. He also sold some of the pictures of the photographers in his film to collectors in Belgium, of which the profits go to the Congolese photographers.

  16. G. Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All, op. cit., p.28. Quoted from Georges Bataille, 'Sartre' (1947), Oeuvres Complètes, XI, Paris: Gallimard, 1988, p.226.

  17. Ibid., p.3.