The world is full of disorder, of catastrophes that can’t be explained. Just as tragedy is traced far and wide, from personal loss to wars and natural disasters, so is the search for a meaning to tragedy’s pain and suffering.

Les Maîtres du Désordre, currently at the Quai Branly, explores how different cultures, and humanity in general, have negotiated with forces outside of their power. Covering sacred rituals, feasts, bacchanals, carnivals, and fool’s festivals, the exhibition delves into all the different manners in which chaos is dealt with. Curated by Jean de Loisy, the exhibition is organized into three parts: the disorder of the world, mastery of chaos, and catharsis. While mostly dominated by anthropological objects, contemporary pieces make their way in as well, showing how the effort to understand disorder spans time as well as borders.

The first section is filled with deities that represent chaotic forces, the second is marked by objects, such as voodoo dolls, that are used to combat these forces directly, while the third features pieces that demonstrate how people process their emotions when dealing with chaos.What’s most impressive about this exhibit is just how powerful the individual pieces are. These pieces are tools used to fend off or cope with the worst horrors of life; you can feel the passion that went in to making them. The most powerful “piece,” however, is not a voodoo doll or diety at all, but a video of Anna Halprin.

A pioneer of modern dance, in 1975 she was diagnosed with fatal cancer. But instead of surrendering to death, she painted an image of her cancer on a canvas, invited 10 of her closest friends over, and exorcised her illness with dancing, crying, flailing, and screaming. At her next check-up, her cancer was gone. Maybe our fate is not in our stars, but in ourselves after all.

Maitres du Desordre will run at the Quai Branley until July 29th, 2012. After that, it will continue on to kunst und ausstellungshalle der bundesrepublik deutschland from August 31st to December 2, 2012, and then to La Caixa Forum Madrid from February 7 to May 19, 2013.


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