Mise en abyme is a research project and exhibition that features a body of work conceived during our residency at Cité International des Arts in Paris, France. The works in the exhibition are based on historical representations of modernity in contemporary Paris with a particular focus on the city’s constant negotiation between the future and the past.
In his seminal essay Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century, Walter Benjamin suggested that 19th-century Paris was the origin of modernity itself. It was the first city to foster the idea that no reason need be given to visiting Paris except to see the city itself and its sights. Once a city defined by groundbreaking technology and artistic accomplishments, our inspiration was that contemporary Paris had succeeded in preserving the future as an idea of the past.
In 2007 we were residents at Cité International des Arts Paris, through the generous support of Ingrid Lindbäck Langaards stiftelse, where we conceived a new body of work consisting of three projects. During the residency at Cité, we became fascinated with the “touristic membrane” to which a city like Paris presents itself to a new visitor. As such, the Eiffel Tower represents a symbol, not only of Paris and France but also of the very idea of tourism and the modern progress behind it.
In the three projects we created during our residency, we question this membrane of experience, using its concept as a mental starting point for reflection on the historical representation of modernity. We are researching this concept through three types of city fabric; the tactile in Drawing Paris by Arrondissements, the historic in Révolution Fantastique, and the mental in Par Hasard.
By drawing direct references to the radically restructured understanding of time and space emerging in the 19th-century progressive Paris, the works are connecting current discourses of the effects of the networked society to its industrial origins.