Caught in the 1980s

Caught in the 1980s


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Unbearable Lightness: The 1980s, Photography, Film (till 23 May, 2016), currently held at the Centre Georges Pompidou, is a free exhibition that focuses on this turbulent decade of our recent past that witnessed the demise of Communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, multiple terrorist attacks (including the Iran hostage crisis in 1981, the 1983 Hezbollah suicide bombing in Beirut or the 1988 bombing of the Pan Am Flight over Lockerbie in Scotland by Libyan agents, among others), environmental disasters (such as the drought and famine in Ethiopia in 1983-85, massive  poisoning in Bhopal, India, in 1984, Chernobyl  nuclear accident in 1986 or the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989), murder attempts against President Reagan and Pope John Paul II in 1981, but also numerous Prime Minister assassinations (Anwar Sadat in 1981, Indira Gandhi in 1984 and Olof Palme in 1986).

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Despite significant medical advances in the field of organ transplantation and the start of the Human Genome Project, the 1980s were marked by the AIDS epidemic and the identification of the HIV virus in 1983.

However, the 80s also paved the way for technological innovation with the development of the now ‘ancient’ CD’s, the first Motorola mobile phone and the first Sony camcorder in 1983, as well as the first PC Convertible laptop by IBM in 1986 and Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal for the World Wide Web in 1989. 

Unbearable Lightness dives into the cultural history of the 1980s and its worries: consumerism, drug abuse and self-destruction as well as narcissism and individualism, in a world perceived as unstable, hostile and dangerous.  The exhibition is organised thematically and split into four main themes: ‘Settings’, ‘Class Practices’, ‘Duplicitous Artificiality’ and ‘Dis-appearing’, and features 60 works (mainly photos and videos) from over 20 well-known Western artists: American Elizabeth Lennard and Ellen Carey, British Martin Parr, Mark Wilcox and David Buckland, French Hergo, Agnès Bonnot, Jean-Paul Goude, David Rochline, Unglee, duos Pierre et Giles and BazileBustamente, New Zealander Boyd Webb, Spaniard Joachim Mogarra, Dutch Paul de Nooijer and German Karen Knorr, among many others.

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As seen in the exhibition, in the 1980s, photography, which had just become an art form in its own right, reflected the tension between two opposing trends: a ‘modernist’ objective depiction of reality as defined by the functional, documentary style of the Düsseldorf School, and a postmodernist vision that made use of existing art forms like collage or ready-made and included references to classical painting, advertising, set design, and installation art. Being meticulously staged, art photography winked at the viewer through irony, pastiche and Surrealist touches.

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