Moving on from Trauma

Gallery 204 and 205

In fact, it was the absence of a visible enemy, an interminable war of attrition and the anonymous destructive power of industrially manufactured weapons that traumatized society. Then, even as the conflict still raged, an influenza virus commonly referred to as ‘Spanish flu’ (because the country’s press, not being subject to censorship, was the first to report on it) spread around the world, claiming the lives of millions of people in a pandemic that lasted from 1918 to 1920. Characteristic of this period is a sense of reality shaped by an increasingly fragmented and accelerating world, described by painter Fernand Léger in 1924 in the following terms: “Never has an age been so hungry for spectacle as ours. […] This fanaticism, this need for distraction at any Price is the necessary reaction to a life of hardship and privation. […] A race for perfection […].” It would be beyond the scope of this exhibition to list all the key innovations of the 1920s: five of the chapters offer an atmospheric insight. Mention should however be made of one of the most important discoveries: quantum physics, a field profoundly influenced by the work of Werner Heisenberg, Max Born, and Niels Bohr. Here, the focus shifted from the construction of the atom to the processes that accompany it. As a result, the supposedly immutable concepts of identity, causality, and objectivity gave way to ambivalence, chance, and uncertainty.