concepts : Bruno Latour
What is Iconoclash ?
»Iconoclasm« is when an image or a representation is smashed to pieces. There might be many reasons for such an act. It might be to get rid of something that is an offense to oneís values, to give way to some other greater and better image, or perhaps to dispense entirely with any form of representation. For many people »iconoclasm« is a curse, what people usually assume that »vandals«, »heretics«, »madmen« or »barbarians« do. But for others to be an »iconoclast« is a virtue, the proof of his or her ability to resist authority, to show critical acumen, to break radically with the past.
What we call »icono-clash« [not clasm], is when there is a deep and disturbing uncertainty about the role, power, status, danger, violence of an image or a given representation; when one does not know whether an image should be broken or restored; when one no longer knows if the image-breaker is a courageous innovator or a vandal, if the image-worshipper is a pious bigot or a respectable devout, or if the image-maker is a devious faker or a clever fact-maker and truth-seeker.
Through a powerful visual experience, we are offering here many »iconoclashes« to put the visitors in a state of doubt as to what can be expected from images, their builders, worshippers and breakers. We donít just want to suspend belief in the images but also to suspend disbelief in them. Maybe those fragile representations are all that is available to us in order to reach objectivity, truth, beauty, sanctity and democracy. But then another distribution between confidence and diffidence in the images has to be proposed.
To do so we have to compare different patterns of belief and disbelief in representation.
In the European tradition, a large part of our repertoire to deal with images comes from religion, especially Christian religion in its relation to Judaism and Islam. In religion there is simultaneously a ban on images and a fabulous proliferation of images. Hence the presence of their many iconoclashes in the show.
But there also exist many types of representations, inscriptions and models that come not from religion but from the rich European tradition in the sciences. Here again, scientific practices simultaneously fight against the power of images and imagination while providing indefinite sources of representation indispensable to produce objective knowledge. Hence another type of confidence and diffidence, also present in the show.
But it is in the arts that the most systematic experiments for and against images has been going on in all the media from paintings to cinema, from theater to sculpture, from dance to video. Here too apparent requests for new modes of image-breaking has also generated a constant stream of new forms of image-making.
All of those various patters of beliefs and disbeliefs in images --whether in science, religion or art --had, at some point, a powerful link with the domain par excellence of representation: namely politics.
We are inviting the visitors to a three stage »pilgrimage« through the many iconoclashes assembled here. In the first part they are invited to witness cases where they have to take sides; ferocious debates are going on for and against the images; iconoclasts and iconophiles are clearly at war. Then in the second part, visitors are invited to shift their attention not to the images but to the complex, devious and clever ways in which they are produced and sustained. Taking sides becomes more difficult when the intricacies of image-making are deployed. Finally, visitors are invited to move beyond the image-wars and explore for themselves different modes of attachment and distance with image and more general mediations. The rich and contested history of image-making and image-breaking can then be revisited.
Professor at the Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris
Bruno Latour was trained first as a philosopher and then an anthropologist. After field studies in Africa and California he specialized in the analysis of scientists and engineers at work. In addition to work in philosophy, history, sociology and anthropology of science, he has collaborated in many studies in science policy and research management. He has written Laboratory Life. The construction of scientific fact [Princeton University Press], Science in Action, and The Pasteurization of France [both at Harvard University Press]. He also published a field study on an automatic subway system Aramis or the love of technology and an essay on symmetric anthropology We have never been modern [both with Harvard and now translated in 15 languages]. With the same publisher, he also published a series of essays, Pandora's Hope, Essays in the Reality of Science Studies. In a series of new books in French he is exploring the consequences of science studies on different traditional topics of the social sciences [Sur le culte moderne des dieux faitiches, and Paris ville invisible, a photographic essay on the technical and social aspects of the city of Paris]. He recently published a book on the political philosophy of the environment, Politiques de la nature [being translated at Harvard]. He is presently doing field work on one of the French Supreme Courts, which is soon to be published in a book called Dire le droit-une ethnographie du Conseil d'Etat.
He is professor at the Centre de sociologie de l'Innovation at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris and visiting professor at the London School of Economics.