Chair: Thomas Kirchner (German Forum for Art History Paris)
Megan MacDonald (American University Cairo):
Out of the Neighborhood and into the Museum: Archival Space and the North African Neighbor in Contemporary French Exhibitions
How is the neighbor produced? How is the neighbor archived? In this paper I will examine a recent televised documentary on immigration in France “Histoire d’une nation” (2018), alongside recent museum shows concerning North African French citizens and discourses around migration and belonging, and a call for family histories and testimonies. The show « Ô Blédi! Ô Toulouse! » looks at North Africans in the French city of Toulouse, and is currently on view in at La mediatheque Jose Cabanis. l’Institut du Monde Arabe in Tourcoing recently put out a public call for testimonies from North Africans in northern France, and Mucem in Marseille has held several temporary exhibits such as “Algerie-France: La voix des objects” (2017-2019). These exhibitions come at a time when the relationship between France and Algeria—and by extension French citizens with intersecting and painful histories—is still described by many as “sensible” [sensitive] or “chaud” [too hot].
In this paper I examine the ways in which the “neighbor” is both incorporated and set apart, frozen in time, and catalogued. ‘Elevated’ in the archive, and re-contained: is the exhibition of the neighbor a form of hospitality, hostility, or the ambivalent both? In other words, what happens to the neighbor when s/he is inscribed into archival and urban space? How might this arguably static representation relate to ongoing protests in Algeria, and solidarity marches in French cities?
My intervention will attempt to answer some of the questions above, and I will conclude with a reflection on Etienne Balibar’s still-relevant question from the late 1990s: Algeria, France – one nation or two?
Falko Schnicke (German Historical Institute London):
Performances of Proximity. Using the English Channel to Stage Twentieth-Century British-Franco Relations
In terms of state visits, the twentieth century was notable for the special relationship between the United Kingdom and France. Not the USA but France was the partner with whom the UK ex-changed state visits most often throughout the twentieth century, with major visits taking place in political circumstances as varied as those of 1903, 1913/14, 1919, 1927, 1939, 1950, 1957, 1960, 1972, 1976, 1984 and 1992. While France remained a challenging European partner for the UK, the way the neighboring nations approached each other during state visits remained constant throughout this period: they used vessels to traverse the point at which Britain and France are nearest to each other, the Strait of Dover.
The adventus of the ruler has a long history, and for these meetings it was transferred into a modern ritual. Complex coordinated manoeuvres positioned British and French battleships in the middle of the English Channel, accompanying and passing the travelling heads of state. In the air, warplanes from both countries completed these scenes, flying formations over the middle of the Channel, and thus highlighting the normally invisible border. Finally, the speeches given upon arrival reflected on this passage publically. These theatrical displays functioned in a way that emphasized not the division but the links between both countries, aiming to translate the geographical neighborhood into a politically significant closeness. The protocol of using the detour via Calais and Dover remained in place even from the 1960s onwards when planes offered a faster, direct connection, making clear that it had a meaning beyond simple transport. In 2003, Queen Elizabeth II used a Eurostar train named Entente Cordiale in remembrance of forming the eponymous alliance one hundred years earlier, and went to Paris via the Channel Tunnel. Constantly going this extra mile via Dover and Calais (and back) when a flight between Paris and London would have been much faster provided a politically intentional symbolic bonus, taking advantage of natural geography to perform the relations between the two nations. My paper will investigate how these performances of proximity worked in detail and were reflected in the speeches given at the end of each voyage. I will explore how the spectacle was adjusted to changing political contexts or used to conceal them. My argument is that protocol turned the spatial propinquity offered by the Strait of Dover into the political statement of good neighborhood, visible to everyone. Comparisons with the protocol of state visits to and from the UK’s other neighbors such as Denmark, Norway or the Netherlands will show that the UK implemented such a sophisticated protocol with no other country than with France, making it an unique example of modern political spectacle and political usage of borderland geography.