Topographies of Mass Violence


Taking as its point of departure two exhibitions being held at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) from February 16 to May 14, 2017—Emanuel Licha: Now Have A Look At This Machine  and Teresa Margolles: Mundos—the program for the Topographies of Mass Violence project investigates the phenomenon of mass violence. Through a variety of activities, the project looks at the ways in which such violence is intrinsically connected to the territories and sites in which it is perpetrated, but also to the spatial and architectural structures through which it is mediated. The program includes the 11th annual Max and Iris Stern International Symposium at the MAC. In partnership with several cultural and university groups and institutions, additional activities designed to broaden its outreach are held before and after the event.

Mass violence is defined as violence enacted by a government or organized group against certain members of a community or an entire population (inhabitants of a country; members of an ethnic, religious or sexual community). It encompasses violence against a few individuals to several hundred thousand victims: shootings, terrorist acts, feminicide, armed conflict, institutional racism, genocide. Climate change—which has its roots in political decisions about territorial management and is often closely intertwined with conflict—is also a source of large-scale violence against civilian populations.

The program brings together specialists in a variety of disciplines (historians of art, architecture and urban planning, and of film and media, as well as architects, filmmakers, artists, curators and activists) who address these phenomena and suggest ways to think about them that go beyond the traditional representations in the media. Their contributions help us imagine how the investigation of certain spatial artifacts inherent to architecture, city planning or military tactics can lead to a better understanding of these forms of violence. They also enable us to envisage the role that art practices can play in the conversation about mass violence.

The activities organized strike different registers, considering mass violence from a diverse set of views—cultural, geographic and discipline-based. Activities take place during the symposium, as well as under a program that includes inter-university study days, film screenings, a reading of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report, guided tours at the MAC with target audiences, and publications.

The program provides the public with new tools, including experiential tools, to give them a better grasp of the issues of mass violence, both locally and around the world. It also encourages students to develop cross-disciplinary research methods in order to fully comprehend the complex issues involved. Lastly, it builds bridges between research in the arts and social sciences on the one hand, and local audiences on the other, particularly Indigenous peoples and immigrants from cultural contexts with experience of mass violence.

Image credit: Irrigación [Irrigation], 2010. Single-channel video projection (Blu-ray), colour, sound, 34 min 12 s. Documentation photo: Teresa Margolles. Courtesy the artist and Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich.