“Civilization - The Way We Live Now” is designed to look at the civilizations on earth that have formed over the last 25 years since the early 1990s and illuminates various aspects of contemporary civilization through photographs showcasing over 300 works of 135 artists from 43 countries including Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, North and South America.
This show is a world-scale photography exhibition that comprehensively looks at contemporary civilization for the first time since the Edward Steichen’s “The Family of Man” held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) at New York in 1955. Starting from this exhibition at the MMCA Gwacheon, a tour will be held at 10 museums, including the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing (March 2019), the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia (September 2020) and the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations in Marseille, France (January 2021).
Civilization - The Way We Live Now focuses on collective behaviours and accomplishments that are hidden in the era of individualism. The participating artists observe, examine, interpret, document, evaluate and extend how we live, how we work, how we play, how we think, how we cooperate, how we compete, how we love, how we believe, and how we move our bodies, things and ideas through their own perspectives on vigorous pictures of our civilization taken from all over the world.
Bartomeu Marí, director of the MMCA, who co-organized the exhibition with William A. Ewing (former director of Musée de l’Elysée) and Roussell Perret-Gentil (expert curator of Asian photography and contemporary art), said in the press release: “This exhibition is a panorama of contemporary civilization as well as a noteworthy compilation of works by international photographers.”
The exhibition is divided into 8 sections: “Hive,” “Alone Together,” “Flow,” “Persuasion,” “Control,” Rupture,” “Escape,” and “Next.”
The first section, “Hive,” contains urban organisms developed and expanded by man. For the first time in 200,000 years of homo sapiens’ existence, the population in the city is higher than the population outside the city. The novelist Tom Wolfe described the life of New York as a hive and the hive is a metaphor that can be used in any large assemblages of people. An urban organism is an active swarm that learns, produces, and thinks beyond what we conduct for everyday life. Photographers captivated by the visual opportunities that come from an active hive and constantly crowded crowd in the city. “Hive” brings Cyril Porchet’s Untitled, a frame of a huge cluster of people and Candida Höfer’s Augustiner Chorherrenstift Sankt Florian III 2014, a capture of a library that embodies a human hive built on the collective effort of a human being.
The second, “Alone Together” examines the relationship between humans as social animals. The essential human condition is alone, but we breathe in a crowd while we are living, like the poet, John Donne stated, ‘No man is an island.’ Consequently, we are social animals and mate with many types of friends to share our social interests. In “Alone Together,” photographers demonstrate and extend our interdependence. Dona Schwartz displays contemporary families through the sequel series On the Nest: Expecting and On the Nest: Empty Nester, and Yeondoo Jung’s Evergreen Tower series brings 31 family photos.
In the third, “Flow” follows the movement created by civilization. Civilization in the 21st century moves on the ground, in the sky and in the sea, at a rate that could not be imagined 100 years ago along with people, material, goods, and ideas. Photographers work in every conceivable industry to expose the complex components that make up the planetary civilization with all the possibilities in mind. Edward Burtynsky’s Manufacturing #17, Deda Chicken Processing Plant, Dehui City, Jilin Province, brings a photograph of workers described as a component of a machine at the immense poultry processing factory in China, while Olivo Barbieri’s Site-Specific Mexico City 11 displays a work of high-rise concrete towers pointing to the hopeful future of a fast-growing metropolis.
The fourth “Persuasion” looks at the way of persuasion generated by advertising, propaganda, and marketing. The sophistication of commercials, advertising, propaganda, marketing and public relations, has reached a remarkable level in modern society, and the public is unaware that they are being induced. Photographers are given the opportunity to peek at these manipulations and to get a glimpse of the subtle strategy that others make us follow their instructions. Duplication, Façade series by Han Sungpil reveals a picture of a cover concealing the unsightly look of a construction site and Andreia Alves de Oliveira unveils offices of an advertisement company, a law firm, and a brand consultancy through The Politics of the Office series.
The fifth section, "Control," depicts how authoritative institutions exercise their power in various forms. Control is often hidden in the slogan of safety and innovation, and it has become inevitable in globalized modern society. Photographers find diverse and exceptional ways to capture the complex reality hidden in the public eye. The Proviing Ground, a photograph of Dugway Proving Ground, presents a classified site in a remote region of Utah's Great Salt Lake desert by David Maisel and Reginald Van de Velde brought Inside the belly of an active cooling tower in Belgium to show the facility of control through the inside of a cooling tower.
The sixth section, “Rupture”, deals with the collapse and collision of the society. Photographers convey the story of the rupture and cope with various issues such as collective problems, abandoned justice, violations of human rights, environmental degradation, border conflict and management, armed conflict, displacement of people, failures of political and ideological systems, and collapse of industry by confronting the blind spot and failure of the civilization. Pablo López Luz’s Border series portray the Mexican-American border and Xing Danwen’s disCONNEXION, B12 exposes the impact of consumerism through a massive pile of electronic waste.
The seventh section is “Escape,” which illustrates people enjoying the entertainment through various products. Although the word “Escape” has many definitions, in this section, it implies a meaning of “getting away from everything.” We all dream of escaping through recreation, rest, relaxation, adventure and excitement. Besides, an industry of pleasure offers a spectacular range of merchandise to avid consumers around the globe. Massimo Vitali’s beach series draws people enjoying the commercialized leisure activities on the beach, and An-My Lê’s Film Set (Free State of Jones) reproduces the past in an old filming location.
The last section, "Next," peeks at the new world that is being developed in the 21st century. We expect innovation and change in all areas of life, but we do not know exactly what our world will look like in 2100. But as we have now, our world will not be created without collective efforts. Photographers strive to find signs of the future in the world. Robert Zhao Renhui’s A Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the World raises questions about genetic manipulations of plants and animals, while Michael Najjar’s f.a.s.t. captures a 500-meter-diameter telescope.
Photographers have been moving around the world and interpreting our multifaceted civilization. The “Civilization - The Way We Live Now” is a homage to the efforts of billions of people who have created our world, and to the photographers who have recorded it vividly.
“Civilization - The Way We Live Now” at the MMCA Gwacheon is on show until 17 February 2019
To find out more about this exhibition, click here.