Raqs Media Collective
Does history repeat itself, or simply rehearse its moves in anticipation? Can we read chronicles in terms of deferrals and déjà-vu rather than in terms of climaxes and closures?
Henri Cartier-Bresson took a photograph of a bank run in Shanghai in December 1948. The photograph features a crowd of people desperate to get their money out of a bank in order to buy gold in anticipation of an imminent collapse of the value of paper money (a classic “bank run”) in the lead-up to the takeover of Shanghai by the People’s Liberation Army.
Every bank run is propelled on the currents of a self-fulfilling prophecy. As people lose confidence in the value of money, they begin withdrawing money from banks in order to try and convert it into gold. This leads to a collapse of a bank’s worth (which is made up of the money it holds), and if this panic spreads between banks (which tend to be linked any way) then this phenomenon in turn generates the conditions necessary for the devaluation of paper money and a loss of confidence in banks – which is what makes people withdraw money from them in the first place.
And so, cause becomes effect becomes cause. The anticipation of the future produces conditions in the present which lead to the anticipated future. Time folds in on itself like a snake biting its own tail.
In revisiting and re-staging Cartier-Bresson’s photograph in Shanghai, Raqs meet the conditions of the self-fulfilling prophecy invoked by the event captured in the original image. Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment breaks its banks and seeks the custody of other hands. Mid-wifed by other eyes and cameras, the image reincarnates as its own breathing and vivid clone, close to where we are today. The memory of one moment of crisis is transposed onto the reading of another. Time folds in on itself, again.