Reviewed by Kat Fournier
Photo: THE DOOR OF NO-RETURN, Democratic Republic of Congo. © Philippe Ducros, 2010
La porte du non-retour (The Door of no return) refers to monuments on the west coast of Africa erected in memory of the millions of slaves deported from Africa to America. Once they passed through the door, they knew that they would never come back. Director and photographer Philippe Ducros presents his life-changing trip to the Congo in the form of a multi-media photo-exhibition that converges with history, storytelling and landscape to become a haunting narrative related to the slave trade.
The event presents the story of a Canadian man who visits the Congo to witness the shattered world left in the wake of its colonial history. Two voices guide the tour: the male voice represents Philippe Ducros, the female voice represents his girlfriend who corresponds with him from Canada. In the scope of this piece, she represents the safety and comfort of home, and ultimately the naivety of the distant observer. While she stays home, reaching out to him through letters or phone calls, he is drawn further into a nightmare from which he cannot wake.
Whereas a traditional gallery tour may cast the viewer as a distant observer, Ducros’ exhibit draws the viewer closer to the colonization of the Congo whose history unfolds alongside the photos. The viewer follows Ducros’ own journey as he travels from Kinshasa and to Camp Magumba 3, where thousands of displaced people live in squalor, fear and an atmosphere of violence. In fact, The Door of No Return eventually implicates the viewer as Ducros follows an economic trail back to Canadian soil.
The photographs are enriched through the narrative’s description, giving a sense of the sounds and smells Ducros experiences.].The chaos emerging from the stories of the people he meets produces a narrative rife with confusion and anger. An echoing sound leaks into the space from a speaker set up at the back of the exhibit Thus, when a particular audio sequence cuts out, the reverberating sound lingers as the spectator passes from one station to the next.
This exhibit is not only documentary, but also testimonial where Ducros ultimately becomes the subject of his own piece. The story reveals the artist’s difficulty in accepting this post-apocalyptic landscape. He struggles with his role as an outsider, with his relative amount of freedom of choice as well as with the violence of daily life in Camp Magumba 3. Ducros captures a complex and conflicted experience but he always has one eye trained on the airport and his passport tucked into his pocket.
Soon, the female voice is no longer that of his girlfriend at home, but morphs into the voice of a woman he meets at the camp. The change reflects the artist’s shifting allegiances. Now, he is forever tied to this world he only intended to observe.
The Door of No Return contructs a difficult and powerful story. The artistic language of the play is rich with oppositions and illusions that reveal themselves slowly over the course of the presentation which will undoubtedly follow you home. This multi-sensory experience changes all earlier narratives of Congo’s colonial history (remember Aimé Césaire’s Une Saison au Congo) and brings us almost too close to the ruins left in its wake.
The Door of No Return continues at SAW Gallery to Sunday, June 1, 2014.
The Door of No Return
The Door of No Return, presented at the SAW Gallery and hosted by the Théatre du Trillium, is a theatre photo exhibition with audio available in English or French
A co-production between Hôtel-Motel Productions and Le Festival Transamériques.
Script, Direction and Photography: Philippe Ducros
French Version: Étienne Pilon and Klervi Thienpont
English Version: Alex Ivanovici and Catherine Bérubé.
Design Consultants: Magalie Amyot and Romain Fabre
Music, Sound and Recording: Ludovic Bonnier
Assistant Director Producer: Catherine La Frenière