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Elsa Dorlin, Disarming Slaves and the Indigenous…

Several artworks in Anticorps argue that not all bodies are subjected to violence and risks exposure equally. Some of the artists summon potential weapons and devise means of resistance or protection that chime with the genealogy of self-defence as shown by Elsa Dorlin in her book Self Defence. A Philosophy of Violence (2017; English ed. forthcoming). The excerpt presented here dwells on rulings and habits developed by the colonial system to keep supposedly violent social groups defenceless, while introducing a “corporal discipline” leading to a dispossession of the self.

Disarming Slaves and the Indigenous:
the Right to Kill Versus
“Bare-knuckled” Subjectivity

by Elsa Dorlin
Translated by Callisto Mc Nulty

In 1685, article 15 of the French Code noir [Black Code] forbade “slaves from carrying any offensive weapon, or large stick,”⁠1 otherwise they would be whipped. The Spanish Código negro of 1768 in Santo Domingo also prohibited Black people from “using any type of weapon on pain of fifty lashes of the whip;”⁠2 the machete was authorised for agricultural labour but its total length could not be more than a half-cubit.⁠3 The 1784 edition, also known as “Código Carolino,” renewed the ban but specified however that the machete had to be replaced by tools that were more “practical” and less “detrimental to the public and private peace and rest on the island,” and reserved their use to the quadroons, half-castes and “beyond.”⁠4

This ban on carrying and possessing weapons betrays the colonists’ endless worry that attests to the effectiveness of the slaves’ practices of resistance. Anything that could give the slaves the opportunity to prepare and to train for revolt also had to be prohibited. In the 19th century, in the US pro-slavery context, Elijah Green, a former slave born in 1843 in Louisiana, reported that it was strictly forbidden for a Black person to be in possession of a pencil or a pen on pain of being sentenced for attempted murder and hanged.⁠5 On the other hand, in most colonial and imperial contexts, the right to bear and use arms was systematically granted to colonists.

Under the French colonial State in Algeria, a decree dated 12 December 1851 prohibited the sale of arms to indigenous people. An order from 11 December 1872, following the Kabyle insurrection of 1871, gave on the other hand the permanent right to “French colonists of European descent” to buy, possess, bear and use arms when living in regions that were isolated or unprotected by garrisons⁠6 : in this way, they “will continue, on their request, and wherever the need arises, to be authorised to possess, in their houses, the weapons and munitions of war deemed necessary by the territorial commander, to ensure their defence and that of their family and the security of their home”.⁠7 In fact, the colonial State cannot function without a militia system capable of ensuring the occupation’s measly jobs.

The Code noir already granted the right to policing⁠8 to the inhabitants of the colonies, specifying that any slave found outside their house without a “pass”⁠9 (a detailed authorisation written in the owner’s hand) would be punished by whipping and branded with the fleur de lys. Any subject of the king who witnessed a gathering or an illicit meeting thus enjoyed the right to arrest the guilty parties “and to take them to gaol, even if they are not officers and there has not yet been any decree issued against them”⁠10 (article 16). Despite these drastic measures, the colonial government was in permanent crisis: the criminalisation of the slaves’ acts and deeds required costly surveillance. The Seven Years’ War against the English having hardly finished, the French, back in Martinique, could not contain the slaves’ “criminality.” In a letter to governor Fénelon, the Comte d’Elva wrote: “I have received many complaints about Maroon Negroes who ravage houses, and about others who march armed, assemble and insult Whites, and who publicly sell in town all kinds of things without a permission slip signed by their masters.”⁠11 The governor’s reply evokes the lack of means and men to carry out policing tasks, but not without promising a new general regulation—to be published the following month—imposing tougher penalties on slaves for the crime of gathering together and freely moving around.⁠12

During the entire pro-slavery period, disarming slaves went arm in arm with a veritable disciplining of bodies to keep them defenceless, which necessitated redressing the slightest martial activity. This process found its philosophical principle in what constitutes the very essence of the servile condition: a slave is someone who does not enjoy the right and responsibility of self-preservation. Disarmament must be immediately understood as a security measure for the free population, but, more fundamentally, it institutes a watershed line between subjects who are their own masters and solely responsible for their own preservation, and slaves who do not belong to themselves and whose preservation depends entirely on their master’s good will. In this context, two views of self-preservation are in play: preservation insofar as it is to do with the preservation of one’s life and preservation as the capitalisation of one’s own value. The collision between these two understandings of self-preservation takes place at the very moment when beings are considered as things and the preservation of their life only depends on the person who owns them and on the market on which they are traded and which sets their price.

At the height of the slave revolts in Martinique, it was custom to execute the “Maroons” in front of their mothers and to force the latter to watch the torture inflicted upon their children.⁠13 This practice was regarded as among the most “didactic” by the administrators, and among the most entertaining by the colonists who enjoyed such torment. It aimed, in fact, at making fugitive slaves understand that by trying to preserve their own life they were only “robbing their master of the price of their value”⁠14 : colonial justice, thereby creating an unprecedented crime, wanted to teach slaves that the right to self-preservation neither belonged to themselves nor to those who had given birth to them, but only fell under their master’s interest, he being the only one able to make decisions about it. Slaves no longer have lives, they only have value.⁠15 As Joseph Elzéar Morénas then wrote in his abolitionist plea: “the right to their own preservation belongs entirely to the master”—any attempt to preserve one’s own life is thus turned into a crime, any act of defence on the part of slaves is akin to an act of aggression towards masters.

In the same way that slaves were deprived of the natural right to self-preservation, they had no right to jurisdiction—a privilege of the colonist alone. Regarding the administration of justice, a royal order of 30 December 1712 forbade White people from interrogating their slaves under torture, for which the penalty was a fine of 500 livres; but Black people were judged in closed courts by a single magistrate, without a lawyer and without the possibility of calling a witness. They were, strictly speaking, defenceless.⁠16 To this, one has to add the principle of impunity. Article 43 of the Code noir allows for “absolving masters who have killed slaves under their power”⁠17—and, if the murder of a slave belonging to another master was punishable by the death penalty, in most cases the killer was acquitted. This was notably the case with the murder of a slave named Colas, aged 25 and pregnant, who was killed by gunshots by a planter, M. Ravenne-Desforges, while she was crossing his coffee plantation in Marie-Galante on 5 October 1821. In the first trial, the court rejected the application of article 43 on the pretext that the colonist was armed with the intention of going hunting and that “the gunshot fired by Master Ravenne can only be considered as the result of the instinctive impulse of his anger, with the design to mark the Negress with a couple of lead pellets so as to be able to recognise her, rather than that of killing her.”⁠18 The punishment sentenced him to be banished for ten months and confiscated his gun; in the event of reoffending, it was provided for that he would definitively lose his right to bear arms in the said colony. A second judgement once again did not apply article 43 of the Code noir, on the basis of a letter from the king in 1744. Finally, while the Minister ordered a retrial of the case, Ravenne-Desforges’ defence consisted in judging his slave Cajou in his place—as the said slave was carrying his gun. Cajou was sentenced to ten years of forced labour, considering that he was still a minor. Customary in the colonies, this “guilty party substitution”⁠19 was eventually rejected by the royal court of justice which nonetheless considered that there was no need to sentence Ravenne-Desforges. Thus, slaves represent a legal replica20 for their master—they are judged, sentenced, tortured on their behalf and constitute their best defence.

The colonial order established the systematic disarmament of slaves, natives and subalterns for the benefit of a White minority who enjoyed the permanent and absolute right to bear arms and to use them with impunity; the “old” rights to preservation and jurisdiction were retranslated into a set of special rules which granted colonists a right to policing and to justice that aligned with disarming certain individuals to render them per se “killable” and “sentenceable”—a privilege that was codified as a legitimate right to self-defence.

But this is not all. The colonial definition of the right to self-defence moreover included much “exceptional” casuistry⁠21, which defined a minority as alone capable of asking for justice to be done. Isabelle Merle cites the decree of 23 December 1887 that fixed a list of special offences for the Indigenous people of New Caledonia, among which featured “bearing Kanak arms in the areas inhabited by Europeans, but also moving around outside an administratively defined perimeter, disobedience, entering cabarets or drinking establishments, and being naked on roads”. The list was continually added to, in 1888, in 1892, then in 1915, including the “refusal to pay head tax,”⁠22 the “failure to appear at the Office of Indigenous Affairs,” refusing to provide the information requested or to collaborate with the authorities, “disrespectful acts,” or “holding public speeches with the aim of weakening the respect due to the French authority.”⁠23 From the exponential creation of special crimes and offences emerged a racialist anthropological categorisation of criminality: from then on, every act, if carried out by a slave, or an Indigenous, colonised or Black person… became unlawful or criminal.⁠24 Justice then proceeded against a type of individuals always presumed guilty⁠25—i.e., whose only recognised agency fell within phantasmagorical aggression—to the benefit of a type of people always entitled to demand justice.

The history of systems of disarmament bears witness to the construction of social groups maintained in the position of being defenceless. They go hand in hand with the regulation of access to weapons and defence techniques that attempt to curb multiple forms of counter-conduct. If we have witnessed throughout Modernity a process of judicialisation of conflicts which has consisted in drastically framing social antagonisms and clashes “among peers,” inciting individuals to turn to justice and the law, this same process has also produced a space outside of citizenship. The exclusion of the right to be defended has implied the production of undefendable subjects because they were deemed to be “dangerous,” violent and always already guilty, even though everything was done to render them powerless to defend themselves.

This text is an excerpt translated from Se défendre. Une philosophie de la violence (Paris: Éditions Zones, 2017). Copyright Éditions Zones, 2017
Forthcoming from Verso Books: Elsa Dorlin,
Self Defense: A philosophy of violence, translated by Kieran Aarons.

Elsa Dorlin teaches political and social philosophy at the University of Paris 8. Her main research focuses on the fabrication of modern sexism and racism, approached from the angles of history, philosophy and epistemology. Her publications include: Self Defense: A Philosophy of Violence (2017; English ed. forthcoming), Sexe, genre et sexualités. Introduction à la théorie féministe (2008) and La Matrice de la race. Généalogie sexuelle et coloniale de la Nation française (2006). She coedited Penser avec Donna Haraway (2012) with Éva Rodriguez.

  • Louis Sala-Molins, Le Code noir ou le calvaire de Canaan (Paris: PUF, 1987), 120.

  • Black code of Santo Domingo, 1768, article 27, reproduced in Manuel Lucena Salmoral, Les Codes noirs hispaniques (Paris: UNESCO, 2004), 260.

  • See Manuel Lucena Salmoral, Les Codes noirs hispaniques (Paris: UNESCO, 2004), 269.

  • Manuel Lucena Salmoral, Les Codes noirs hispaniques (Paris: UNESCO, 2004), 115. We witness here two different modalities of the same process of racialisation: in the Spanish part of Santo Domingo, the colonial administrators, via legislation on bearing arms, granted mixed-race people a relative privilege, thus creating an intermediary class distinguished from «Negroes» and from whom loyalty was therefore guaranteed. On the other hand, in the French part of the island, while until the end of the 1750s pro-slavery legislation articulated race with the servile condition, several judgements were announced in order to clearly impose colour discrimination among «free» people: forbidding, for example, freedmen and freedwomen and free people of colour to «carry a machete (1758) or a sword (1761).» In the same period, they were prohibited from «selling or buying powder or munitions without the governor’s authorisation;» certain professions, functions and ranks were from then on forbidden to them (priesthood, nobility, doctor, surgeon, militia officer), as was bearing a White name (they were forced to adopt a surname of African origin), or being called master or mistress. See Dominique Rogers, «Raciser la société : un projet administratif pour une société domingoise complexe (1760-1791)», Journal de la Société des Américanistes, 2009, 95—2, 235—260.

  • Norma R. Yetman (ed.), Voices from Slavery: 100 Authentic Slave Narratives (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970), 149.

  • This right goes hand in hand with the strict ban on Indigenous people to walk around with weapons. Édouard Sautayra, Législation de l’Algérie (Paris: Maisonneuve & Cie, 1883), 26 (2nd edition). General Governor’s decree dated 11 December 1872, quoted by Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Coloniser, exterminer. Sur la guerre et l’État colonial (Paris: Fayard, 2005), 260.

  • First Article of the decree of 11 December 1872, quoted by Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, De l’Indigénat. Anatomie d’un « monstre » juridique : le droit colonial en Algérie et dans l’Empire français (Paris: Zones, 2010).

  • In the same way, in France, a «police for Blacks» was set up in August 1777, the king’s order declaring: «We were informed today that the number of Black people [in France] has increased so much, due to the ease of communication of America with France, that we take daily to the colonies this portion of men who are most necessary for cultivating the land, as their stay in the towns of our kingdom, especially in the capital city, causes the greatest disorders; and, when they return to the colonies, they carry the spirit of independence and unruliness, and become more harmful than useful,» «Declaration for the police for Blacks,» Versailles, 9 August 1777. All Black people were therefore banned from staying in France and colonists from bringing more than one slave as a servant, who had to remain confined to their port of arrival; free people of colour had to obtain a «certificate of presence,» after declaring themselves to the Admiralty upon their arrival. See « Police des Noirs, certificat pour un an » (Après 1777).

  • The same «passport» system was systematised in 1897 in Algeria. Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison also noted that in 1781 a working class book was created in Metropolitan France, a major control instrument of the working class, abolished in 1890. See Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison, Coloniser, exterminer. Sur la guerre et l’État colonial, Sur la guerre et l’État colonial (Paris: Fayard, 2005), 255. See also Robert Castel, Les Métamorphoses de la question sociale. Une chronique du salariat (Paris: Fayard, 1995), and John Turpey, L’Invention du passeport. État, citoyenneté et surveillance (Paris: Belin, 2005).

  • Louis Sala-Molins, Le Code noir ou le calvaire de Canaan (Paris: PUF, 1987), 122.

  • The Code noir prohibited slaves from selling in markets—-notably because of a fear of poisoning. See Caroline Oudin-Bastide, L’Effroi et la Terreur. Esclavage, poison et sorcellerie aux Antilles (Paris: La Découverte, 2013).

  • Letter from the Comte d’Elva sent to the Marquis de Fénelon, 5 August 1763, C.A.O.M, C 84 66, fol. 334, quoted by Jean-Pierre Sainton et al., Histoire et civilisation de la Caraïbe*, T. 2 (Paris: Éditions Karthala, 2012), 326—327.

  • «Very recently, in Martinique, we have made thirteen Black people perish in this way, of whom several were not yet 15 years old; the judgement states that they had wanted to escape,» Joseph Elzéar Morénas, Précis historique de la traite des Noirs et de l’esclavage colonial (Paris: Éditions Firmin Didot, 1828), 89. See also the case from 30 November 1815: «A certain Élisée and ten other companions are sentenced to death for having wanted, by seeking to escape, to strip the price of their value from their masters.» Agnès, the mother of Élisée, was sentenced to witness the execution, and then imprisoned for not having delivered her child to justice and having fed him while he was in hiding. Throughout the pro-slavery period we have to remember that everything was done so that colonists had precisely no interest in preserving the «value» that the slave represented: while the average buying price of a slave at the end of the 18th century was around 1700 to 2000 livres, the courts gave out 2000 livres per «head of tortured slave» to their owner in compensation. On the slaves’ resistance and their repression, allow me to recommend this text: Elsa Dorlin, «Les Espaces-Temps des résistances esclaves : des suicidés de Saint-Jean aux marrons de Nanny Town (xviie-xviiie siècle)», Tumultes, No. 27, 2006, 11—26.

  • Joseph Elzéar Morénas, Précis historique de la traite des Noirs et de l’esclavage colonial (Paris: Éditions Firmin Didot, 1828).

  • Joseph Elzéar Morénas, Précis historique de la traite des Noirs et de l’esclavage colonial (Paris: Éditions Firmin Didot, 1828). We also note in the framework of this systemic negation of «the right to self-preservation» that the pro-slavery system banned slaves from taking care of themselves: the prohibition of defending one’s body from afflictions was achieved through the criminalisation of healthcare practices: the use of plants and self-medication, making remedies, caring for the sick (see the order of 1 February 1743). See Samir Boumediene, La Colonisation du savoir. Une histoire des plantes médicinales du Nouveau Monde, 1492-1750 (Vaulx-en-Velin: Des mondes à faire, 2016) (many thanks to Hourya Bentouhami for having brought my attention to this reference); Londa Schiebinger, Plants and Empire: Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).

  • Justice of exception that would be reinforced by the setting up of a provost court (a criminal court set up temporarily, making unappealable judgements) during the Restoration in 1815 to judge the «political offences» in Martinique and which would sentence hundreds of slaves and free people of colour to beheading on suspicion of poisoning between 1822 et 1827. Joseph Elézar Morénas reminds us that slaves could thereby be arrested, sentenced and executed in the morning. A number of slave owners also used this judicial process to get rid of old slaves whom they denounced for poisoning in order to obtain financial compensation. See Joseph Elzéar Morénas, Précis historique de la traite des Noirs et de l’esclavage colonial (Paris: Éditions Firmin Didot, 1828), 322 onwards.

  • Louis Sala-Molins, Le Code noir ou le calvaire de Canaan (Paris: PUF, 1987), 176.

  • Louis Sala-Molins, Le Code noir ou le calvaire de Canaan (Paris: PUF, 1987), 319 onwards.

  • Louis Sala-Molins, Le Code noir ou le calvaire de Canaan (Paris: PUF, 1987), 322.

  • Hourya Bentouhami provides, in an ongoing work of research, the heuristic concept of «the double» to think more broadly about the ontological status of enslaved, racialised and dominated subjectivity. I would like to thank her for having kindly introduced me to this text.

  • «The regime of the indigénat, characterised as an exceptional legal system, cannot be thought of outside of the legal norms in use in Metropolitan France, and more generally cannot be thought of independently of the context in which it was produced: the French State, and the nation […]. One of the main contributions of a certain number of recent works focusing on the colonial State is their attempt to bring to light the tensions and contradictions that accompanied the expansion process of Metropolitan States as they were becoming imperial […], these new perspectives, which were developed in the first place in North America, insist […] on the continuities by considering colonies not as stand-alone cases but as borderline cases», Isabelle Merle, «De la ‘légalisation’ de la violence en contexte colonial. Le régime de l’indigénat en question,» Politix, Vol. 17, No. 66, 2004, 154—155; 140.

  • The head tax was established in the colonies at the end of the 19th century and refers to the personal tax that each colonised person had to pay the French State in lieu of fair financial participation in France’s «colonial effort» (understood as the «development» and the «showcase» of the colony, «access to infrastructures,» to «peace» and to «colonial protection,» sic). On this point, see Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, L’Afrique occidentale au temps des Français. Colonisateurs et colonisés (Paris: La Découverte, 1992), 108.

  • Cited by Isabelle Merle, «De la ‘légalisation’ de la violence en contexte colonial. Le régime de l’indigénat en question», Politix, Vol. 17, No. 66, 2004, 154—155; 155. In the case of Algeria, Isabelle Merle draws a distinction between, on the one hand, the exorbitant powers of the «high policing» carried out by an administrative authority (the governor) regarding acts deemed serious that threaten «public security» without ever these acts being a priori defined; and, on the other hand, regarding the «‘local’ means of repression» and «simple policing» placed in the hands of the administration’s subaltern officers,» and which concerns an indefinite list of offences and violations, ibid., 147. The regime of the indigénat was extended by decree in 1881 to Cochinchina, New Caledonia and French West Africa. These special infringements were subject to criticism—-including from the inspection missions dispatched locally—-cf. the Fillon/Revel inspection mission (New Caledonia, 1907), the major source for Isabelle Merle’s study; see also the criticism from the corpus of anti-colonial thought, such as L’Indigénat : code de l’esclavage (Paris: Petite bibliothèque de l’Internationale syndicale rouge, 1928).

  • In Coloniser, exterminer. Sur la guerre et l’État colonial, Olivier Le Cour Grandmaison takes up the category of the sacer: «The person and the property of the French, whatever their status, can be considered as sacred—-in the sense of the «untouchables», since sacer notably designates that which cannot be touched without being soiled—-, any physical or symbolical attack against them is immediately punished through the use of exceptional provisions that define specific and particularly severe penalties» (page 261). In support of his argument, he also cites Sautayra’s work (Édouard Sautayra, Législation de l’Algérie [Paris: Maisonneuve & Cie, 1883], 269 onwards) which lists the «disrespectful acts, or offensive words towards a law enforcement officer, even outside their duties […]. Fuss, scandal, dispute and other acts of disorder notably in markets, not being serious enough to constitute a crime […]. Words spoken in public with the purpose of weakening due respect for authority,» Coloniser, exterminer, op. cit., 253.

  • «Confronted with a world ruled by the settler, the native is always presumed guilty. But the native’s guilt is never a guilt which he accepts; it is rather a kind of curse, a sort of sword of Damocles.» Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Constance Farrington (trans.) (New York, NY: Grove Press, 1963). Les Damnés de la terre [1961] (Paris: La Découverte, 2002), 54.

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Exhibition

Inequality —specifically when it comes to risk exposure— has been exacerbated by the management of the crisis, which has also seen governments experiment with novel modes of behavioural control. The exhibition is haunted by a sense of indignation, like a bodily tremor. Many of the artists turn to rebellions of the past, to fiction and to myth, to fashion warlike fables.

>> Wednesday 18 November, 6pm (GMT+1): TokyoSession #1 Insurgence with A.K.Burns [Instagram Live]

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Tarek Lakhrissi, Unfinished Sentence II, 2020
Tarek Lakhrissi, Unfinished Sentence II, 2020. 30 metal spears, chains, colour filter, loud speakers. Soundtrack in collaboration with Ndayé Kouagou. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

Unfinished Sentence II is a light and sound installation featuring a set of gleaming lances suspended on chains, both ornamental mobile and cache of theatrical weapons.

Tarek Lakhrissi created this work after reading Monique Wittig’s book Les Guérillères, published in 1969, when France was witnessing the emergence of the women’s liberation movements in which Wittig was an active member. It is a fable that tells of the struggle of a group of lesbian feminist amazon warriors, an attack both on literature and on “the myth of the feminine”. Its protagonists form a collective heroine – the French elles being the third person plural feminine pronoun, the female “they” – engaged in a full-scale assault on the masculine in general.

Tarek Lakhrissi carries on the tale in creating arms for these warrior women. To Wittig’s mythology, which draws both on ancient myths and the science fiction tradition, Lakhrissi adds the legends of his own childhood: the heroines of the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Xena, Warrior Princess, from which he borrows the syncretic forms of their lances, fighting sticks, axes, throwing weapons and more.

Just as Wittig’s story is set in an indeterminate time, so do Lakhrissi’s fantasy weapons hover between mythic past, utopian future and contemporary reflection on queer and racialised identities, shifting in aspect as the visitor moves. The battlefield might as well be that of the construction of the self.

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Tarek Lakhrissi, Unfinished Sentence II, 2020
Tarek Lakhrissi, Unfinished Sentence II, 2020. 30 metal spears, chains, colour filter, loud speakers. Soundtrack in collaboration with Ndayé Kouagou. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Tarek Lakhrissi, Unfinished Sentence II, 2020 (detail)
Tarek Lakhrissi, Unfinished Sentence II, 2020 (detail). 30 metal spears, chains, colour filter, loud speakers. Soundtrack in collaboration with Ndayé Kouagou. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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A.K. Burns, Marianne Deludes the World, 2020
A.K. Burns, Marianne Deludes the World, 2020. Aquaresin, concrete, newspaper, steel rebar, charcoal log, woven polypropylene bag. Courtesy of the artist and Michel Rein (Paris/Brussels). Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

A.K. Burns questions the limits and intrinsic properties of the body, seen as protean, porous and permeable to its environment.

Assemblages improvised from commonplace or industrial materials, the two sculptures presented in the exhibition have the appearance of outstretched arms – could they be from the same body? One holds a torch made out of a half-burnt newspaper, the other an empty water container of lurid, chemical tinge. Referencing fire and water, the artist reproduces the cycle of natural resource depletion: the charcoal of the sculpture’s base, produced by the action of fire, is used to purify the polluted water we consume, and it is the lack of water that causes ever more frequent and devastating forest fires.

The torch raised to the skies makes reference to the Statue of Liberty, its title, Marianne Deludes the World, to the symbolic personification of the French Republic. Two female allegories of liberty, then, are represented here by skeletal limbs, the artist seemingly alluding to the collapse of the ideologies of modernity, the shrinkage of democratic space and the end of history understood as permanent progress.

Hands outstretched in an appeal for help, or fists raised to rouse the crowd – the two phantom bodies seem pervaded by the political and environmental conflicts all around us. They are an appeal for awareness, a prompt to action.

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A.K. Burns, Pitch Black Dry Sack, 2019
A.K. Burns, Pitch Black Dry Sack, 2019 (detail). Aquaresin, concrete, epoxy resin, steel rebar, charcoal log, plywood, shipping pallet. Courtesy of the artist and Michel Rein (Paris/Brussels). Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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A.K. Burns, Marianne Deludes the World, 2020
A.K. Burns, Marianne Deludes the World, 2020 (detail). Aquaresin, concrete, newspaper, steel rebar, charcoal log, woven polypropylene bag. Courtesy of the artist and Michel Rein (Paris/Brussels). Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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A.K. Burns, Pitch Black Dry Sack, 2019
A.K. Burns, Pitch Black Dry Sack, 2019. Aquaresin, concrete, epoxy resin, steel rebar, charcoal log, plywood, shipping pallet. Courtesy of the artist and Michel Rein (Paris/Brussels). In the background: Achraf Touloub, National Materials, 2019. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020
Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020. Sound installation for 14 loudspeakers and 2 screens. Courtesy of the artist and gb agency (Paris). Composition, editing, music and spatialization by Dominique Petitgand. Ondes Martenot by Ott and F.Lor
Video editing in collaboration with Elias Grairi. English translation by Michael Angland. Thanks to the filmmakers and rights holders for their kind permission. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

The exhibition opens on a question, a question that echoes throughout the entrance in a diffuse and fragmented fashion, raised by nameless voices speaking out in witness, protest and rebellion. Dominique Petitgand has adapted to the scale of the Palais de Tokyo an installation presented at the Grand Café de Saint-Nazaire in 2019 (as part of Contre-Vents, an exhibition on the convergence of social struggles in Brittany) and afterwards reworked as a broadcast piece for Arte Radio.

The work marks a turn in the practice of the artist, who for the first time did not record the voices himself but extracted them from the soundtracks of political films dating from the 1970s to the present. While the material might be different, the method is not, Petitgand cutting and splicing fragments to create a “collage of voices, a moving and musical sound piece”. In the voices he thus presents to us, energy and emotion take precedence over the understanding of what is said, now stripped of its context.

By eliminating historical reference points, Petitgand presents us with a timeless figure of struggle. The voices the public hear could be those raised in today’s France. The question posed here, then, is surely that of the presence of bodies rendered invisible. Echoing with their chants, their slogans and their silences, the exhibition entrance itself becomes, as the visitors listen, an all-enveloping body in struggle.

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Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020 (detail)
Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020 (detail). Sound installation for 14 loudspeakers and 2 screens. Courtesy of the artist and gb agency (Paris). Composition, editing, music and spatialization by Dominique Petitgand. Ondes Martenot by Ott and F.Lor. Video editing in collaboration with Elias Grairi. English translation by Michael Angland. Thanks to the filmmakers and rights holders for their kind permission. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020
Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020. Sound installation for 14 loudspeakers and 2 screens. Courtesy of the artist and gb agency (Paris). Composition, editing, music and spatialization by Dominique Petitgand. Ondes Martenot by Ott and F.Lor. Video editing in collaboration with Elias Grairi. English translation by Michael Angland. Thanks to the filmmakers and rights holders for their kind permission. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020
Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020. Sound installation for 14 loudspeakers and 2 screens. Courtesy of the artist and gb agency (Paris). Composition, editing, music and spatialization by Dominique Petitgand. Ondes Martenot by Ott and F.Lor. Video editing in collaboration with Elias Grairi. English translation by Michael Angland. Thanks to the filmmakers and rights holders for their kind permission. Center : Carolyn Lazard, Pain Scale, 2019. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020 (video extract)
Dominique Petitgand, La question est posée, 2019-2020 (video extract). Sound installation for 14 loudspeakers and 2 screens. Courtesy of the artist and gb agency (Paris). Composition, editing, music and spatialization by Dominique Petitgand. Ondes Martenot by Ott and F.Lor. Video editing in collaboration with Elias Grairi. English translation by Michael Angland. Thanks to the filmmakers and rights holders for their kind permission.Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Lola Gonzàlez, Summer Camp, 2015 (still)
Lola Gonzàlez, Summer Camp, 2015. Video, HD color, stereo sound, 9’. Courtesy of the artist and Marcelle Alix (Paris). Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

“Landscape!” This exclamation is the only line of dialogue in the video, and thus, perhaps, the key to it all. The alert once sounded, four young men tumble out of their makeshift sleeping quarters to mount watch outside. Their observation post, however, offers no view, for they face a wall of trees.

Lola Gonzàlez takes us to a strange summer camp suggestive of both confinement and paramilitary training. It is impossible to guess who or what these people are, or why they all remain together. The one thing we can be certain of is the energy that unites them against the outside world, their determination to act in the name of a shared cause, of which we know nothing. What are they training for? Are the names they call out and write on the walls those of enemies to eliminate, friends who have died, or possible recruits? We will never know. What is important here is the way Lola Gonzàlez conveys their shared commitment through the play of bodies, voices and looks. The individual point of view gives way to the collective, as when one of the bodies, eyes closed, is passed from hand to hand.

Soon, the figures are no more than a single, united choir; they make one with the building that shelters them. It is simultaneously refuge, gym and score for their performance. It stands, in fact, for the group as a whole, being the vehicle of everything the work wishes to show but does not. Like the screen in Özgür Kar’s work, the house marks a line of demarcation between interior and exterior, a place of withdrawal in the face of the invisible dangers that haunt the landscape.

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Lola Gonzàlez, Summer Camp, 2015 (still)
Lola Gonzàlez, Summer Camp, 2015 (still). HD video, stereo sound, color, 8’52’’. Courtesy of the artist and Marcelle Alix (Paris). Collection MAC/VAL (Vitry-sur-Seine) and Kadist Art Foundation (Paris). © Adagp, Paris, 2020.
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Forensic Architecture, Cloud Studies, 2020
Forensic Architecture, Cloud Studies, 2020. Video, 23’28”. Courtesy of Forensic Architecture. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo. (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

Cloud Studies is an inquiry into a new form of cloud, namely the nebulous weapons used by states and large scale corporations: toxic gas, chemical weapons, and airborne poisons.

This study is the result of an investigation that began in Gaza in 2008 and which continues to this day. It takes the form of a film accompanied by six investigations on toxic gases, from the tear gas used to disperse protesters to the herbicides which destroy harvests and create forced migrations. These investigations are at once scientific and activist in tone, bringing together questions of environmental degradation and destruction with issues of state violence, from colonial dynamics to police brutality.

Forensic Architecture is a research group directed by architect Eyal Weizman at Goldsmiths, University of London. The group’s name points to its anchoring in criminology and suggests its methodological approach, which consists of the creation and presentation of images that serve as evidence of political violence. With the help of cartographic tools, 3D animation and simulated virtual environments, Forensic Architecture contributes to numerous legal and political inquiries throughout the world.

In the context of a contemporary art exhibition, this study also serves as a poetic meditation on the forms of clouds, their intangible nature and the threat that they can pose as immaterial arms. Cloud Studies opens the final section of the exhibition, a reflection on invasion and intrusion, the visible and the invisible.

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Forensic Architecture, Cloud Studies, 2020 (still)
Forensic Architecture, Cloud Studies, 2020. Video, 23’28”. Courtesy of Forensic Architecture. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo. (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Forensic Architecture, Exhibition view « Anticorps »
Forensic Architecture, Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Josèfa Ntjam Unknown Aquazone, 2020
Josèfa Ntjam Unknown Aquazone, 2020. Photomontage, printed plexiglass, clay. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

Josèfa Ntjam’s technique of choice is montage. Photomontage, of course, but also montage of voices and times. The work she shows in the exhibition is an aquarium, but an aquarium stripped out of its scientific or decorative functions. The Unknown Aquazone is a capsule containing a mythical past and new futures in preparation.

Josèfa Ntjam draws here on a variety of water-related myths, from Mami Wata, voodoo figure and fish-woman divinity venerated in much of Africa, to the ultra-technological universe created by the Detroit electro-musicians Drexcyia in the 1990s, the Drexcyians being an imaginary people living in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, descendants of the pregnant African women thrown into the sea from slave ships.

Josèfa Ntjam uses performance, video, installation and writing to give life to vegetal, animal and cyborg creatures whose doings rehearse black and feminist struggles. Inspired by African and alternative futures as well as the digital culture of her upbringing, she seeks to build a world full of images and myths to create the spaces in which new futures are prepared.

The aquarium enters into dialogue with Tarek Lakhrissi’s Unfinished Sentence II, whose weapons suggest the tridents of mythic female warriors. It also resonates with Jackie Wang’s essay “Oceanic Feeling and Communist Affect”, published on this website, which describes an unconscious association between black identity and the ocean, deriving from the trauma of the slave trade.

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Josèfa Ntjam, Unknown Aquazone, 2020
Josèfa Ntjam, Unknown Aquazone, 2020. Photomontage, printed plexiglass, clay. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Josèfa Ntjam Unknown Aquazone, 2020
Josèfa Ntjam Unknown Aquazone, 2020. Photomontage, printed plexiglass, clay. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Josèfa Ntjam, Unknown Aquazone, 2020 (detail)
Josèfa Ntjam, Unknown Aquazone, 2020 (detail). Photomontage, printed plexiglass, clay. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Josèfa Ntjam, Unknown Aquazone, 2020
Josèfa Ntjam, Unknown Aquazone, 2020. Photomontage, printed plexiglass, clay. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Josèfa Ntjam, Unknown Aquazone, 2020 (detail)
Josèfa Ntjam, Unknown Aquazone, 2020 (detail). Photomontage, printed plexiglass, clay. Courtesy of the artist. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Tala Madani, The Womb, 2019
Tala Madani, The Womb, 2019. Single-channel color animation, 3’26”, edition of six plus two artist’s proofs. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias (London). Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

The animated video The Womb retraces the nine-month-long development of a human embryo in fast motion. Ensconced in a protective, liquid environment, it is nonetheless vulnerable to external violence. On the surface of the womb, however, is projected the history of humanity, likewise sped up, unfolding in all its horrors. An intrauterine revolt is soon to come.

Tala Madani’s expressive paintings deploy black humour, absurdity, perversion, anxiety and grotesquery to denounce the peculiarities of patriarchal society which she observes. She finds her inspiration in the history of painting and in the comics, often speaking of the power of Dave Gibbon’s flashes of nocturnal colour in the comic-book series Watchmen (1986–87). These codes are hijacked by the artist, who mistreats bodies and creates paintings like claustrophobic black holes.

In adopting the point of view of an armed foetus in The Womb or showing a cell being devoured in Tusalava, the two animations presented in the room, created ninety years apart, both examine the idea that human life is a story of conflict and destruction.

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Tala Madani, The Womb, 2019
Tala Madani, The Womb, 2019. Video, 3’26”. Courtesy of the artist & Pilar Corrias (London). In the background: Len Lye, Tusalava, 1929. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Tala Madani, Ghost Sitter (blue chair), 2020
Tala Madani, Ghost Sitter (blue chair), 2020. Oil on linen. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias (London). Collection of Philip Barker. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole

Tala Madani, whose paintings and the film Womb are shown elsewhere in the exhibition Anticorps, makes another appearance here with one recent painting and a video animation. Both show human silhouettes dissolving into objects: either the indistinct contours of bodies merging into dark and hazy environments, or true metamorphoses, such as those of the men who are turning into the furniture which assembly instructions they are reading.

Between grotesquery and satire, black humour and perversion, these object-bodies offer an echo to Pauline Curnier Jardin’s nearby sculptures, ladies’ skins flattened and entangled in street furniture. Tala Madani too is unkind to her bodies, which may be funereal, absent, liquified, airy, faceless, or reduced to a mere ghostly halo looming out of the half-dark. Skins are porous and permeable to the environment: they are to be understood not simply in their relation to the other, but in their relation to an entire space.

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Tala Madani, Untitled (Melody), 2020
Tala Madani, Untitled (Melody), 2020. Oil on linen. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias (London). Collection Michael Ballack. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021). Photo credit: Aurélien Mole
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Tala Madani, On the left: Manual Man, 2019 ; on the right: Ghost Sitter (Blue Chair), 2020
Tala Madani, On the left: Manual Man, 2019. Video, 9’50”. Courtesy of the artist & Pilar Corrias (London). On the right: Ghost Sitter (Blue Chair), 2020. Oil on linen. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias (London). Collection of Philip Barker. Exhibition view « Anticorps », Palais de Tokyo (23.10.2020 – 03.01.2021) . Photo credit: Aurélien Mole