The FORMER WEST research exhibition After History: Alexandre Kojève as a Photographer, which for the first time unveils to the public the unique visual collection of Russian-born French philosopher and diplomat Alexandre Kojève (1902–1968). Curated by philosopher and art historian Boris Groys, the exhibition includes nearly 400 photographs that Kojève took in the 1950s and 1960s while traveling in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), China, India, Iran, Japan, Nepal, Russia, and throughout Western Europe, as well as over 1,700 postcards that he collected during his lifetime. This image collection captures the essence of both Kojève’s philosophical thinking and his political practice.
Kojève’s influential reinterpretation of philosopher Hegel’s writing inspired a generation of French thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan. Kojève thought history ended with the French Revolution, as it had achieved particular individual freedoms and the universal recognition of human desires. This notion of the “end of history” was later famously transformed by political scientist Francis Fukuyama to explain the loss of ideological antagonisms after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Believing that under the post-historical condition one should stop thinking about the world and instead change it, Kojève abandoned philosophy to work for the French Ministry of Economic Affairs. Remarkably, after this shift from deliberation to action Kojève started to develop his own obsessive photographic practice in order to register the post-historical world. The many generic postcards he collected show what inspired his artistic style.
The collection of both photographs and postcards portrays the world as Kojève articulated it through his philosophical thinking: an aesthetically harmonious and exotic East; a stiflingly complete and hollow West; and Russia, Kojève’s rapidly changing homeland, is shown mainly through old churches frozen in time. Through its premiere presentation, the exhibition questions the critical capacity for change in our contemporary reality and shows us a world stage waiting to be filled with activism and the desire for another tomorrow.