What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
One of the things you think you know when you think about Love from this vantage point is how adversity can impact it, both positively and negatively. "When Poverty walks in the door, Love flies out the window," is one popular notion, but the exhibition explores another as well:
"Our intention is to disturb the visitor," Ms. Lagrave notes in an exhibition pamphlet. "While people might expect to find images of physical contact and beauty, we show how difficult it is to love today."
Ms. Farge suggests a reason: "In the 18th century, a man and woman lived together for a maximum of three or four years because of wars, epidemics, death during childbirth and so on. Life was a succession of funerals and remarriages. In fact, until today, couples have never had to live together for a long time."
In other words, the organizers argue, love inside or outside marriage is now exposed not only to new challenges but also to an extended test of time.
The resulting mosaic of images, while often specific to France, reflects the experience of other Western societies in which patterns of love have been altered by a host of new or intensified variables: feminism, gay and lesbian rights, H.I.V./AIDS, longevity, late marriages and single mothers, plastic surgery, fashion, falling birth rates, advertising, immigration and unemployment.
In other words, nowhere does love exist in a vacuum. It must constantly confront new problems, freedoms and expectations.
In difficult times, the show argues, love can take the form of solidarity: those coming together to fight a common injustice are also expressing a kind of love. In fact, Ms. Farge points out, "collective emotions" often spawn romantic love. "In the Resistance, there were ardent love affairs," she writes in a book accompanying the show. "And people later suffer when they can no longer share moments of emotional complicity, which can transform love."In reading how the exhibition concludes, I was somewhat disappointed though:
The show's final section leaps into the 21st century, "from love to subversion," as its organizers put it. By that they apparently mean subversion of the traditional rules of love as people set out in search of new versions of happiness, apparent in the rising numbers of gay marriages and falling numbers of heterosexual ones, the obsession with physical appearance and the anonymity of Internet dating.I find this a cynical and not too thorough exploration (and bear in mind, this is one critic's take, not necessarily the intent). Looking at where we stand now a bit more carefully, I would note that internet dating, for example, has led to several of the happiest marriages I can think of; obsession with physical appearance is likely a good portion of why people are living longer than ever; and the falling numbers of heterosexual marriages is in no way whatsoever tied to the rising number of gay marriages (in fact the Times writer should issue a retraction of that implication, IMO).
The article does end on a charming note about the beautiful, if frustrating, complexity of love though:
[A] such-is-life short movie, "Pacotille" ("Trinket") by Eric Jameux, drew the largest crowd one recent afternoon. In it Thierry gives a necklace with a little heart to Karine and points out the inscriptions: "More Than Yesterday" on one side, "Less Than Tomorrow" on the other. Karine doesn't understand. Thierry explains that each day he loves her more.Perhaps what this exhibition is really exploring is the evolution of romance, not love, per se. I'm not sure I want two French intellectuals attempting to explain the difference, but...
"But you said less!" she retorts.
Thierry tries again, but to no avail. "I want someone who loves me the same every day," Karine declares — and walks out on him.