What Moves You?: Georges Didi-Huberman’s Arts of Passage and Pittsburgh Stories of Migration
Contact Zones: Photography, Migration, and Cultural Encounters in the United States
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Contemporary art historian, critic, and theorist Georges Didi-Huberman thinks of images not as static objects, but as movements, passages, and gestures of memory and/or desire. For the French “historian of passing images,” as he has been called, “all images are migrants. Images are migrations. They are never simply local” (D2017). His book, Passer, quoi qu'il en coûte ("To Pass at Any Price"), co-written with the Greek poet and director Niki Giannari, takes on precisely the visual dynamics of passages, passengers, and passageways in the context of contemporary migration flows. In April 2018, only several months after the launching of the book, the Carnegie Museums in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, engage in a series of events and exhibitions celebrating and investigating the contemporary process of “becoming a migrant” in America. The challenging title of the series, What moves you?, points not only to the experiences of loss, encounter, and transformation that occur between the departure and the arrival of the migrant, but also to the presence of absence of an empathic affective response from the host culture. For the individuals whose identity becomes defined by their passage (homo migrans, to use a term coined by Didi-Huberman), passing over the American border may be a matter of survival. Their desire to pass through a wall of interdictions and restrictions moves not only the image in which it is reflected, and – obviously – the migrants themselves; through its visual embodiments, this desire also ‘moves’ some of the witnesses of this passage.
My paper aims to present Didi-Huberman’s most recent thoughts on the intrinsic nomadic character of the image (in general) and of photography (in particular), in the context of a photographic project that stands out among those proposed by Carnegie Museums. Entitled “Out of Many,” the project consists of migration-related shots taken as recently as 2017 by a group of 5 photographers living and working in Pennsylvania: Brian Cohen, Scott Goldsmith, Nate Guidry, Lynn Johnson, and Annie O’Neill. Their selection of migration images, seen through the lens of Didi-Huberman’s “nomadic image,” have a strong potential to rekindle discussions on how art history deals with contemporary phenomena of American migration as reflected into photographic production.
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Citation of this paper:
Irimia, Alexandra. "What Moves You?: Georges Didi-Huberman’s Arts of Passage and Pittsburgh Stories of Migration." In Contact Zones: Photography, Migration, and Cultural Encounters in the United States, edited by CARVILLE JUSTIN and LIEN SIGRID, 205-28. Leuven (Belgium): Leuven University Press, 2021.