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Michel de Broin - Matters of Circulation

Category: Portrait 26. November 2008

In 1771, Louis Sébastien Mercier published the novel 2440, which depicts an utopia of a convenient, more ideal, distant future world. Utopias had already existed in the past. However, in Mercier’s utopia, the ideal world is not stumbled upon – for example, through a storm in which one is shipwrecked and washed up onto the shore of the ideal place – but rather a result of a linear history that is played out through human action.

"Some were immediately enlightened from the beginning, but the majority of the nation was still careless and childlike. Gradually, the population became more intelligent. We still have much more to accomplish than what we have created so far. We are only halfway there," according to the caretakers of the future regarding the intermediate conditions of the half-realized utopia. Mercier’s narration of the gradual realization of an ideal world carried out by mankind is a modern vision – with human capital, reason, and faith, as applied to technical, rational progress, as its focal points.

The modern visions of progress exploded upon its realizations. This we had to recognize in the centuries that followed. The modern project is halfway down a path which leads it further, however not necessarily forward, and the faith in this common path of mankind towards an ideal world, whose vision Mercier calls "The Dream of All Dreams", eventually fades. Generally speaking, both on the large and small scale, the conception of a more optimal world multiplies, and instead of one movement towards reaching one big goal, juxtaposition and constant flux of means and ways takes its place.

The sculptures and public interventions of the Canadian artist Michel de Broin refer to a certain extent to the intermediate conditions of this halfway point. They capture those transformations that have resulted from the greater history of modern progress, objects which are already slightly outdated but still determine our everyday life: for example, the car, that status symbol of progress, which is usually only used by one person at a time, consuming gas and destroying the environment. However, at the same time, de Broin’s works also refer to the many new formulas for progress: a general slowing-down as a strategy for environmental protection, a balanced economy without a loss of energy, postindustrial visions of sustainability – and the appropriate means towards this conversion which occupy our life.

De Broin’s work translates and highlights such visions of optimization and reveals their inner tendencies and contradictions, sometimes through exaggeration, but often only through showing examples of possible realizations. He breaks down the restrictive definitions of old and new forms of dogmatic idealism without becoming didactic. His style corresponds more to that of one who is playing hooky from such lessons, summoned by his instinct for playful exploration, poking fun at the “progress” and “efficiency” that is holding back the world. (wh/jn)

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