May 12, 2012 - BAK - After History: Alexandre Kojève as a Photographer
May 12, 2012

After History: Alexandre Kojève as a Photographer

Schematic itinerary made by Alexandre Kojève
depicting his travels through the Netherlands in 1946.*

After History: Alexandre Kojève as a Photographer
20 May–15 July 2012

Opening: 19 May 2012, 17

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Curated by Boris Groys

BAK, basis voor actuele kunst proudly presents the research exhibition After History: Alexandre Kojève as a Photographer, which for the first time unveils to the public the unique visual work of Russian-born French philosopher and diplomat Alexandre Kojève (1902–1968). Curated by philosopher and art historian Boris Groys, the exhibition includes nearly 400 photographs that Kojève took in the 1950s and 1960s while traveling in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), China, India, Iran, Japan, Nepal, Russia, and throughout Western Europe, as well as over 1,700 postcards that he collected during his lifetime. This image collection captures the essence of both Kojève’s philosophical thinking and his political practice.

Kojève’s influential reinterpretation of philosopher Hegel’s writing inspired a generation of French thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan. Kojève thought history ended with the French Revolution, as it had achieved particular individual freedoms and the universal recognition of human desires. This notion of the “end of history” was later famously transformed and popularized by political scientist Francis Fukuyama to explain the loss of ideological antagonisms after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Yet in Kojève’s concept, rather than lamenting the impossibility of changing the status quo, the post-historical condition meant that the imagined ideals of the French Revolution must finally become political reality; this would not be achieved by thinking or dreaming of another revolution, but through the practical implementation of these ideals by the sage. True to his beliefs, Kojève abandoned philosophy to work for the French Ministry of Economic Affairs and in the service of the European Commission following WWII.

Remarkably, after this shift from deliberation to action Kojève started to develop his own obsessive photographic practice in order to register the post-historical world. The many generic postcards he collected show what inspired his artistic style. The collection of both photographs and postcards portrays the world as Kojève articulated it through his philosophical thinking: an aesthetically harmonious and exotic East; a stiflingly complete and hollow West; and Russia, Kojève’s rapidly changing homeland, is shown mainly through old churches frozen in time. Through its premiere presentation, the exhibition questions the critical capacity for change in our contemporary reality and shows us a world stage waiting to be filled with activism in anticipation of another tomorrow.

Accompanying the research exhibition After History: Alexandre Kojève as a Photographer is a public lecture by exhibition curator and FORMER WEST research advisor Boris Groys on 25 May 2012 at Het Utrechts Archief, Hamburgerstraat 28, Utrecht. The lecture focuses on Kojève’s multifaceted biography, his renowned philosophical positions, and the developments in his work and thinking over the course of his eventful life. Departing from reflections on Kojève’s biography, Groys explores the remarkable relationship between Kojève’s writing and his photographic practice, linking them to the field of contemporary art today. A video recording of this lecture will be archived on the FORMER WEST Digital Platform at www.formerwest.org.

The exhibition After History: Alexandre Kojève as a Photographer and the accompanying lecture are organized within the framework of the project FORMER WEST, an international research, education, publishing, and exhibition undertaking (2008–2014).

The exhibition has been made possible by Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; Institut Français, Amsterdam; and Nina Kousnetzoff.

*Image above:
Schematic itinerary made by Alexandre Kojève depicting his travels through the Netherlands in 1946. Courtesy Bibliothèque nationale de France. Copyright Nina Kousnetzoff.

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