Nouvelles histoires de fantômes [New Ghost Stories] is a poignant installation conceived by Georges Didi-Huberman and Arno Gisinger after the legendary Atlas Mnemosyne by early 20th century art historian Aby Warburg. The result is certainly not an exhibition, nor an artwork in the traditional sense, but a presentation—in a previously nonexistent form—of an incomparable meditation on the way in which photography and cinema have each prolonged past masterpieces that are testaments to humanity. Georges Didi-Huberman began his methodical reflection on art over thirty years ago, and, through its examination of history, the whole of his work has deepened our psychical and ethical relationship to images. Together with the artist Arno Gisinger, they present a new evolution of the spectacular installation that they devised for Le Fresnoy in 2012 and invite visitors of Palais de Tokyo to dive into the heart of scenes that haunt our gaze.
Just as it was hard for Charles Baudelaire to confine himself to one collection of Histoires extraordinaires, his translation of some of Edgar Allan Poe’s Gothic Tales, so it seems hard for anyone who observes the ghostly destinies of images to remain content with only one episode of their Ghost Stories. Towards the end of his life, Aby Warburg coined a remarkable aphorism that crystallized his historical and anthropological thinking about images as well as his use of the photographic Atlas, stating that for him it was a question of a kind of “ghost story for the full grown-up” (Mnemosyne. Grundbegriffe, II, 2 July 1929). In 2010, on the basis of this double, or rather triple incentive—prompted by the words atlas, stories and ghosts—Georges Didi-Huberman conceived an extended exhibition entitled “Atlas,” presented with new variants at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, the ZKM in Karlsruhe and the Deichtorhallen-Sammlung Falckenberg in Hamburg. In this perpetual process of transformation, the exhibition was destined to take a totally new form when Arno Gisinger agreed to develop, with about 1200 images, a photographic interpretation of it, not only through the objects contained in it, but also through the process of its making, through its staging, its unnoticed aspects, and its objective coincidences.
This exhibition deals therefore with the ghostly life of the images, which make up our present as well as our historical and artistic memory. It takes on the guise of a contemporary homage to the work of Aby Warburg whose great atlas of images—entitled Mnemosyne, the Greek name of the goddess of memory and the mother of the Muses—brought together a thousand figurative examples in which the entire history of images was arranged in such a way as to let us perceive the most fundamental problems of western culture. Today, however, it is up to us to recompose “New Ghost Stories,” a task incumbent on artists, philosophers and historians alike. One that needs to be constantly redone in order to enable us to understand that we only experience our present through the combined movements, the montages of our memories (gestures we make toward the past) and those of our desires (gestures we make toward the future). The images should then be considered as potential crossroads of all these combined gestures.