Adam Curtis is not an artist, but a television journalist. Over the last decade, many artists have become interested in his work. Because of this, e-flux and Hans Ulrich Obrist have decided to create a solo show of Adam Curtis’ films—February 11–April 14, 2012―that will include most of his work from 1989 to the present day.
In our current age of uncertainty, both art and journalism are struggling in their different ways to make sense of the present time. This exhibition of Adam Curtis’ works aims to try and break down the divide between art and modern political reportage, to open up a dialogue between the two.
Since the early 1990s Adam Curtis has made a number of serial documentaries and films for the BBC. They are linked through their interest in using the fragments of the past—recorded on film and video―and reassembling them to try and make sense of the chaotic events of the present.
The last twenty years has seen the collapse of many of the grand narratives that drove the world since the Second World War. TV journalism has changed as well, with reporting on events around the world now arriving to us as avalanches of recorded moments, yet carrying little comprehension of what the events mean. Reality slips in and out of focus, much as a fever grips the human mind.
In response to that, Adam Curtis’ films go back into the recent past to tell dramatic stories that lead the viewer to look again at the present day, to help make sense of it. The films are playful with images from the past, mixing journalism with a wide range of avant-garde filmmaking techniques. They also borrow from trash pop and are sometimes silly―but they are also deadly serious in their desire to break through some of the dangerous myths that today’s “avalanche journalism” has created in the modern sensibility. These are myths that those in power attempt to exploit in order to maintain their status at a time when their influence is in decline.
The old idea was that the heart of power was primarily located in the realm of politics. Adam Curtis’ films challenge that notion head-on by demonstrating how power really works in today’s complex society, how it also flows through all sorts of other areas: through science, public relations and advertising, psychology, computer networks, and finance and business.
Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. He works for BBC television in London. His films have won many awards―including six BAFTAs. His series The Power of Nightmares was invited to the Cannes Film Festival in 2005. Curtis also writes multi-media political and cultural essays on a BBC website using longer sections of film from the archives―www.bbc.co.uk/adamcurtis