This field is dedicated to tracking down photography projects, which revolve around a philosopher or have been inspired by his life, an aspect of his work or a specific concept

Auguste Comte

The Dead Govern the Living

ARTIST David Fathi

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Site-specific installation for Photo Saint-Germain, at Maison Auguste Comte, Paris November 7-24th 2018

A hundred and fifty years ago Auguste Comte imagines a utopian project for society which he names Positivism, where past feeds the present to create a future where order and progress reign.

Comte would say “The dead govern the living”. For him it is the best of the dead that lives on. Society makes progress through the accumulated knowledge of those before us. This quote may seem ambiguous, but it is idealistic in Comte’s mind.

A hundred and fifty years later we are in a standstill. A post capitalist society lamenting not being able to imagine a better future. We see history as a never-ending cycle; rise of fascism, increasing economic inequalities, atomic threat. Our popular culture is filled with dystopias (The Handmaid’s Tale, The Walking Dead, Black Mirror). For modern iconoclastic thinkers like Hito Steyerl or Adam Curtis our society has become a zombie culture, repeating and feeding onto itself without end in sight.
We do not see anymore “The dead govern the living” as positive. The dead seem to govern us, as a past overbearing the present and hindering us from imagining a better future.

Is Auguste Comte’s vision out of date? Have we proven that the arrow of progress is in fact a never ending circle? Or are we blocked in a cycle because we have abandoned a certain form of idealism?
The critique might be made against our own self-delusion.

The site-specific work created for the Maison Auguste Comte is a confrontation between Comte’s idealism and the current cynicism. Utopia versus Dystopia. Found footage of bareknuckle brawls between politicians are the starting point of this confrontation. The current political dead-end is shown in a never-ending video loop, a formless suit-and-tie zombie mass. These governing living-dead contrast and contaminate the preserved apartment of the philosopher, still filled with relics of an idealistic past.

Sound & Music installation : Frédéric D. Oberland.
With support from La Galerie Particulière.
In collaboration with l’Agence PAM.

David Fathi

Visual Artist

[T]wo viewpoints to make sense of the world“. In this way David Fathi describes his guiding line. Holding a Master’s degree in Computer Science, he combines artistic practice and engineering career with the same affinity for science and the limits of knowledge.

His work, be it still or moving image, takes root in various archives and visual databases, depending on the subject, blurring the appropriationist work in the boundaries between documentary and contemporary art. With an intense passion for odd and conflicting facts, David Fathi often tackles them with a biting sense of humor. He hijacks images and reveals gaps and absurdities in the stories he recounts: a subversive visual critique. […]

David Fathi pulls back the curtain, to open up meaning to what is behind the scenes : to counteract documented proof as much as to create new information. At the crossroads of solemnity, banalty and absurdity, his images assert themselves as political.[…] [M]ight David Fathi be trying to reintroduce a spark of idealism in our current cynicism ?

From document to a politic of image, by Aurélie Cavanna, January 2019



David Fathi's work is available on:

Official website


David Fathi The Dead Govern the Living

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      Respectively it is targeted to philosophers and researchers, who are interested in conversing with artists, sharing knowledge and also learning from their artistic practice.It is a lab where visual artists mostly work with philosophers and not exclusively on philosophy. In that respect philosophical texts and wider topics may be in our areas of interest more as a means to explore seeing and thinking rather than the end on which we focus to extract information. It is lab which also aims at creating through experimentation and transfigurations of artefacts material which may raise philosophical questions and discussion.