Restless Earth: How History Is Being Rewritten

BY Katrina Kufer / May 4 2017 / 12:11 PM

The Triennale di Milano addresses how the migration crisis is encouraging a restructuring of perceptions

Restless Earth: How History Is Being Rewritten
Photography by Roberto Rubalcava © 2016 Francis Alÿs
Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Rafael Ortega, Julien Devaux, Felix Blume, Ivan Boccara, Abbas Benhim, Fundación Montenmedio Arte and the kids of Tangier and Tarifa. Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River. 2008. Two-channel video projection, colour, sound. 7:44 minutes.

Massimiliano Gioni, along with the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi and Fondazione Triennale di Milano, has curated the latest edition of the Milan Triennial, themed La Terra Inquieta (The Restless Earth). Sixty-five artists from 40 countries, among them John Akomfrah, Kader Attia, Mona Hatoum, Thomas Hirschhorn and Steve McQueen, have been brought together to explore the current refugee and migratory crisis that has resonated through visual culture.

Considering real and imaginary geographies through personal stories and fictionalised accounts, the artists (many of whom are from the MENA region) play the role of subjective documenters of history, away from the pseudo-objective narratives of the media. As reactors to the time guided by personal insight and emotional response, each artist provides a critique that offers an additional perspective to throw the common perception of migration off-balance. This serves to reinforce the notion that art plays a powerful role in restructuring contemporary narratives by providing a platform for exchange of multiple viewpoints through the more easily digested form of visual metaphor.

With a curatorial remit outlining that the truthfulness of the image in times of crisis is of particular concern, Gioni has formulated an exhibition that appears to comprehensively explore this complex and popular theme. “For many artists in the exhibition, images are meant to seek truth in crisis, while, at the same time, inducing a crisis in the concept of truth as a single, simplistic narrative” he says.

The premise of La Terra Inquieta is based on instability and indeterminancy, or, with a more down to earth description, the ever-evolving state of today as cultures are no longer restrained by geographical boundaries. “The exhibition revolves around a series of geographic and thematic lines of inquiry — the war in Syria, the state of emergency in Lampedusa, life in refugee camps, the figure of the nomad or stateless person, and Italian migration in the early 20th century — which intersect with works that serve as visual metaphors for conditions of mobility and precariousness,” the triennial statement explains of its aims. It is from this concept that the triennial received its titular theme, borrowed from La Terra Inquieta, a collection of poems by Édouard Glissant, a Caribbean writer who explored the ability for multiculturalism to harmoniously exist (or not). The exhibition is a story of humanity crossing borders, “an epoch-making transformation that is reframing contemporary history, geography and culture.”

Triennale di Milano runs until 20 August at Viale Alemagna, Milan, Italy. For more information visit