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Sublime. The Tremors of the World

This exhibition explores the ambivalent fascination that the turmoil of the elements exerts on us. In 1757, philosopher Edmund Burke summarised this “sort of mixed passion of terror and surprise,”  in one word, “Sublime.” It expresses the marriage of attraction and repulsion we feel when we face the furies of nature, our mixed feelings of astonishment, loneliness, omnipotence and fear when we are confronted with its unfolding. Seas unleashed by storms, awakenings of volcanoes, immaculate white cliffs and dark valleys became the trademark features of this sublime iconography in Romantic period literature and painting. 

Through nearly 300 pieces, films and documents compiled by the collections of international museums, including the Arts Council, British Museum, Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Fonds Maurice & Katia Krafft, Cinémathèque Française, BNF, Nevada Art Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the exhibition investigates the renewal of the concept of the Sublime as a muse to the 18th century in a contemporary context, bringing together the works of over a hundred artists worldwide, from Léonard de Vinci to Richard Misrach, including William Turner, Agnes Denes and Lars von Trier. The exhibition reveals our persistent fascination with “nature too far,” in the words of Victor Hugo, and the continuous use of the iconography of the Sublime. 
It also shows that this fascination includes two radical mutations. One, the position of the viewer in front of the overflow of the world, who becomes aware of their role as a player. Two, the very idea of catastrophic disaster. Recent natural catastrophes (tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes), magnified by their effect on inhabited, industrial or urban sites, have sharpened our awareness of a delicate balance, of man’s very relative control over his environment and the impact of his activities on nature. They have provoked a sense of paralysing urgency that surpasses simple aesthetic pleasure. From the nuclear disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima, to natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, we are exposed, players at the centre of a possible disaster to come. The exhibition begins with a geographical picture of terror and fear by displaying pieces that reproduce the ambiguity of contemplative or idealised landscapes with invisible scars.

Lastly, the exhibition evokes the resurgence, since the 60’s and 70’s, of a rekindled bond with nature, through a renewed enchantment, an aspiration to unite with the elements, and to raise ecological awareness. This is expressed not only in the poetic realm, but also in the politics of the time. The artists consciously deal with a certain iconography of the romantic concept of the Sublime, like the artists of Earth art and Land art, who play directly with the landscape and the elements through interventions and performances on site. 
Historical, scientific and cinematographic counterpoints (reviews, archives, geographical and volcanologist documents) enhance the exhibition to sketch out a non-linear genealogy of these tremors of the world.

Earlier Event: February 2
Edward Burtynsky: Water
Later Event: July 1