Ou la mort

Balaskas, Bill [Artist] (2014) Ou la mort. (mixed-media installation).


‘Ou La Mort’ is a mixed-media installation which was commissioned by the John Hansard Gallery of the University of Southampton for its group exhibition ‘The Small Infinite’ (2014). The title of the work originates from the second part of the famous motto of the French Revolution “liberté, égalité, fraternité”. The work furthers Balaskas’s long-term investigation into contemporary political ideologies, through a playful interpretation of the notion of “scale” – the exhibition’s central theme. In order to conceive his new work, Balaskas’s research focused on two main areas: language as an ideological tool that defines and manipulates our collective understanding of “scale”; and the current relevance of the Enlightenment’s doctrine of total socio-political transformation. Accordingly, Balaskas studied how different notions of “political scale” have been expressed in the language, the art and the visual culture of different historical periods, with a particular focus on the aftermath of the global financial crisis of 2008. This revealed that many of these expressions have faced significant ideological barriers from the a-historicity and depoliticization relating to the spectacularised context within which contemporary politics and political communication are conducted. In ‘Ou la mort’, the artist replies to these conditions by putting forward a diachronic reading of socio-political struggles, through a combination of three distinct historical periods: the French Revolution, in the form of its motto “liberté, égalité, fraternité”; the ideologically charged year of 1968, in the form of the vintage French typewriter from the same year; and the present (the post-2008 period), in the form of the action of removing the keys required in order to type the famous motto, which synopsises some of the Enlightenment’s key principles. Following its exhibition at the John Hansard Gallery, the work was presented in Turkey (2014) and Belgium (2015), before becoming part of a European private collection. The work’s parallel engagement with the past and the present also formed the basis for a peer-reviewed paper that Balaskas presented at the University of Oxford (2014).

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