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Words by Aude Fanlo

'Psychodemia' experimental exhibition at MUCEM

March 2020, Trainstation Paris Gare du Nord. Digital thermic camera. Homeless man in the street © Antoine d'Agata

Mucem, Centre de conservation et de ressources – from December 10th to March 25th

"Psychodemia" exhibition is a reflection on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the "first lockdown" in France (March 17th to May 10th) on our bodies, our imaginations and our societies. Beyond the unprecedented dimension of this health and social crisis, the exhibition seeks to understand and define what this forced isolation has triggered in us, using the open-ended term "psychodemia".

The Mucem has invited the artist Antoine d'Agata to propose a personal reading of the collection "Life under lockdown" launched by the Mucem in the spring of 2020, which gathered more than 600 testimonies about this experience, both intimate and collective: a polyphonic account of the ordinary within the extraordinary, and of the daily adaptations, sometimes smiling, sometimes desperate, to this situation.

The exhibition confronts this collection with the 13,000 photographs that Antoine d'Agata took during the same period, opposing lockdown with obstinate wandering; relentlessly searching, from the very beginning of the pandemic, for the visible and invisible signs of this crisis, in the deserted and under surveillance streets, in the hospitals where people were trying to understand the virus, in the emergency centres where the sick were screened and treated, in the shelters where the most destitute were taken care of.

 By confronting these two diaries, the exhibition offers a dual chronicle of the 55 days of the "first lockdown" in France. It puts into tension two parallel realities that coexisted during this period: life inside and outside; the immobility of people and the circulation of the virus; the intimacy of the testimonies of donors and the anonymity of lives reduced to their simplest physiological and political expression; the shrinking of live under lockdown and the excessiveness of a world overwhelmed.

The exhibition is also a narrative of the entry of the objects from the collection "Life under lockdown" into the collections of the Mucem, where they will be protected against any deterioration at the cost of what can be compared to a form of "lockdown" in the storages. Their contact with the outside world, their handling and their removal will be controlled. Thus, the exhibition suggests the symbolic echoes that can be found between health protection, social protection and preventive conservation in the museum world: they are the same gestures of care and attention, the same tools, the same methods. But this parallel invites a complex and critical vision: protection can be achieved through forms of distancing, surveillance, mistrust and standardisation. And it remains derisory in the face of what cannot be healed, either physically or ethically: what cannot be repaired, what resists and what Antoine d'Agata calls "la vie nue” in reference to the philosopher Giorgio Agamben: the banal and terrible fragility of each person in the face of death, and the invisibility of the most precarious in the face of social relegation.

The exhibition is constructed like a tragedy in five acts, reminding us of the immemorial and total nature of epidemic crises. Each stage of the exhibition constructs a dialogue between photographic images, objects from the collection and words, alternating their respective roles.

Antoine d'Agata is a French photographer and filmmaker, winner of the Nièpce prize in 2001, has been a member of the Magnum Photos agency since 2004. He explores forms of social violence as extreme forms of life itself - marginality, the "street", fragile or stigmatised populations - not as subjects to be treated but as a personal inner experience to be crossed, from which the artistic language is invented that will allow them to be captured in their human and universal dimension.

This exhibition is part of the European TAKING CARE project, which aims to work on the role and forms of commitment of museums in the face of social and environmental crises by considering these institutions as "spaces of care". TAKING CARE is co-founded by the Creative Europe program of the European Union.

Curator: Aude Fanlo (Mucem)

For more on the Artistic Residency: here and the "Life under Lockdown" project here