14th Lyon Biennale

20 September 2017 to 07 January 2018

Sucrière and macLYON, Lyon.


Since its creation in 1991, Thierry Raspail, Artistic Director of the Biennale de Lyon, has asked each guest curator to think about a keyword, assigned for three editions. The 2017 Biennale de Lyon is the second volume of a trilogy around the word “modernity”, and it was with this word that Thierry Raspail invited Emma Lavigne, Director of the Centre Pompidou-Metz, to imagine this 14th edition, at the Sucrière and macLYON from 20 September 2017 to 07 January 2018


It is in a context of galloping globalization generating constant mobility and accelerated flow – the “liquidity” of the world and of identities, in Zygmunt Bauman’s analysis –, that the Biennale is exploring the legacy and scope of the concept of “modernity” in the art of our time. Bauman describes contemporary society in terms of a constant mobility generating a dissolution of relationships and identities, and an uprooting of “hypermodern” individuals. His critique of modernity, to which he ascribes a totalitarian essence in which security occupies an invasive place to the detriment of freedom, calls for a reevaluation of the place of the individual in the world, so that the individual will remain able and wise enough to steer his way around in it. The Biennale takes its title Floating world from the Japanese word ukiyô, which describes a view of the world as impermanent and continuously renewing itself, a source of freedom and creativity. The libertarian attitudes of artists, who constantly extend the limits of the work of art to make it even more open to the world, are central to our concerns. The Biennale d’art contemporain 2017, has dropped anchor in the heart of a place whose identity is partly shaped by the omnipresence of water, in a city “born of the waters”, through which the rivers Rhône and Saône flow. The Biennale reactivates an imagination carried along by the two rivers, generating a topography inspired by Édouard Glissant who wrote: “archipelic thought suits the pace of our worlds. It borrows from it what is ambiguous, fragile, and adrift. It allows for detours.” Some artists, such as Rivane Neuenschwander, Marco Godinho, Pratchaya Pinthong, and Julien Creuzet, are apologists for this poetics of chaos, dispersion, nomadism and movement. In the image of Hans Haacke’s huge white sail (Wide White Flow), or Shimabuku’s kites (When Sky was Sea), a wind of uprisings, poetic brilliance and contemporary aesthetic explosions is set to sweep through the Floating worlds of the Biennale de Lyon.

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s climamen V4 (2017) inside Richard Buckminster Fuller’s Radôme Biennale de Lyon


Rainer Maria Rilke raised questions about the place of the poet and the artist in the modern world, in a universe open and in expansion. “Strange to see all that was once in place, floating so loosely in space”, he mused. The Biennale explores the persistence of the modern sensibility for flows and the dissolution of forms in a mobile and atmospheric landscape that reconstructs itself constantly. As in JG Ballard’s writing, the characters who inhabit it appear in a transitional state, on the threshold of a space that they have already abandoned, as if deterritorialised – in the image of the men encapsulated in Darío Villalba’s chrysalises, or Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s celestial phantoms, which capture the frenetic flows and pulsations of the contemporary electric world. 

Some works remain deliberately open, in a fragmentary, sometimes unfinished state, through which we glimpse ideas advanced by Umberto Eco in his book The Open Work (1965), which envisaged the work of art as a “field of possibilities” open to a virtually unlimited range of possible interpretations. The challenge is to reveal the work of art as what Luigi Pareyson termed “an infinite contained within finiteness”. The Biennale sometimes produces porosities between works, temporalities and places, and between certain masterpieces of modern art, such as Calder’s random arrangement of shapes suspended in space, or Fontana’s paintings, “open” to new cosmogonies imagined by Tomás Saraceno or Dominique Blais. Works create connections, share complicities, which is the case for Cerith Wyn Evans’s work in suspension A = P = P = A = R = I = T = I = O = N, inspired by the poetry of Mallarmé, as it is for Marcel Broodthaers, who regarded Mallarmé as the source of contemporary art, the unconscious inventor of modern space.

The space progressively and metaphorically cracks, is invaded by sound streams, from the electronic rain of David Tudor’s Rainforest to the rustlings of the world broadcast by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles’s immense tower of Babel, and the tuneful, rhythmic tinkling of water in Doug Aitken’s Sonic Fountain or the vibrations of Susanna Fritscher’s sonic propellers. Some works, such as Robert Breer’s Floats and Rugs, driven by an animist force that cannot be controlled, create a choreography that blends into the movements of the visitors, an invitation to drift aimlessly in space-time, while a cascade of salt flows endlessly from Damián Ortega’s ghost ship, and the water from Hans Haacke’s Circulation irrigates the ground. From Hans Arp to Ernesto Neto, from Lygia Pape to Daniel Steegmann Mangrané, art and space are biomorphed, open to territories that challenge the abstraction of European modernity in order to reassess its scope, on a global scale.

 By Emma Lavigne, Guest Curator for the 14th Biennale de Lyon




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