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CoCA, Torun, Polen

Jan 22, 2010 07:00 PM to Mar 07, 2009 06:00 PM CoCA in Torun, Polen

The past is a foreign country presents artists who bring to life and explore imaginary geographies of places, ask for their role in creating one’s identity, and who investigate and illuminate the nature of remembering and forgetting.

The Past is a Foreign Country

Johanna Billing / Persijn Broersen & Margit Lukács / Banu Cennetoglu / Šejla Kameric / Deimantas Narkevicius / Agnieszka Polska / Jasper Rigole / Slavs and Tatars / Jutta Strohmaier / Levi van Veluw / Ingrid Wildi / Krzysztof Zielinski / Edwin Zwakman /

Curated by: Aleksandra Kononiuk, Agnieszka Pindera
Exhibition Designer: Joeren de Vries
Graphic design: Kasia Korczak & Boy Vereecken

Phrenology – a picturesque theory merging human mind and geography, was forged at the turn of the 18th century. It aimed at quantifying the mosaic structure of human brain and underlying physiological functions. The German anatomist, Franz Joseph Gall, the father of phrenology, claimed that from the shape and size of a skull one can determine efficiency of memory, fluency in speech, or more abstract: intensity of “love of home” and strength of one’s hope. The efficacy of a given area of the brain would therefore be reflected by locally increased size of the skull surface. Jacobus Doornik compared phrenology to cartography: the skull was transformed into a map indicating places housing human perceptions, desires, weaknesses and habits. This metaphor of human mind failed to be scientifically confirmed. However, it curiously resembles the phenomenological approach to a place popularized by humanistic geography in the 1970s, which defined a place as the focus for accumulation of emotions and patterns of habit. Places are born gradually, slowly acquiring complexity and character, gathering recollections and meanings.

Today, the number of such places dramatically declines. Instead, the globe is flooded by impersonal, transit non-places, described by the anthropologist Marc Augé. Perpetual Fernweh (the “homesickness for abroad”, need for escape and crossing borders) discourages settling down. Topophilia (the emotional, aesthetical or intellectual bond between a person and a place) turns into topofobia. Contemporary tourists, migrants and virtual travelers systematically lose the settler’s instinct. But at the same time, dissolution of places results in a feeling of discontinuity, insecurity and threat, which in turn increases longing for stability and familiarity. As Marc Augé put it, “(…) one must be able to forget in order to feel the taste of the moment, presence or desire”.

The exhibition space of The past is a foreign country will represent a phrenological map of recreated or invented places – hubs of emotions like nostalgia, irony, joy or doubt. Encoded within this map will be the question: How do we define place today?

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