The fourteenth edition of the Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon calls on our senses to redefine the notion of modernity. With curator Emma Lavigne in charge, the event unfolds like a vast flowing music score, both for the ears and the eyes. A dive into the heart of “Floating Worlds”…
The poetic title of the new edition of the Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon – borrowed from the Japanese artistic movement ukiyo-e, literally “images of the floating world” – offers a perfect illustration of the gliding feel which characterises this second episode in the trilogy of biennials from 2015 to 2019, whose overall theme, “Moderne”, was chosen by the event’s artistic director, Thierry Raspail. Emma Lavigne, director of the Centre Pompidou-Metz invites us to discover a shifting universe in which liquid vies with the solid, in which flows, the invisible and impermanency furtively take form – to encourage a broadened and connected grasp of our world. After the “Modern Life” event conceived by Ralph Rugoff in 2015, “Floating Worlds” – imagined by one of the most sought-after French curators at the moment – is mooring at La Sucrière and the MAC de Lyon until January 2018. Between the ebb and flow of the Rhône and Saône Rivers in Lyon, some 70 international artists are offering sound and visual installations that stage the choreography of “objects of experience” – in the words of Thierry Raspail –, as the random movements of the elements, light, air and energy, blend with the architecture and space of the various sites, along with occasional interventions from the public. In Lyon, rich dialogues between historic pieces in the Centre Pompidou’s collections and current works, as well as the intercultural viewpoints of the artists, sketch out afresh the “augmented” contours of modern aesthetics. An “extendable” modernity, composed of suspended worlds, intended by Emma Lavigne as a trigger for contemplative reflection.
This fourteenth edition continues to follow the model of a global programme accompanied by numerous satellite events. The “Resonance” platform renews its commitment to the visual arts, literature, music and dance in multiple regional creative spaces. Meanwhile, “Veduta”, for ten years now, has been an event that unifies visitors and artists through initiatives, residencies and “aesthetic situations”. In 2017, the head of “Veduta”, Adeline Lépine, has invited artist Thierry Boutonnier, known for his sensitivity to environmental issues, to interact with the public through his project Eau de Rose. Associated exhibitions include the event at the Couvent de la Tourette where Brother Marc Chauveau continues to bring into dialogue some of the most influential international artists (this year, Korean artist Lee Ufan is invited to take part in a witty conversation with Le Corbusier). But back to the biennale on impermanency, under the keen eyes of its director.
How, Emma Lavigne, did you end up agreeing to curate this new edition of the Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon?
Thierry Raspail envisaged offering me this curatorship for some time. In 2016, he asked me to produce texts on Yoko Ono, for his retrospective “Yoko Ono. Lumière de l’aube”, organised that year at the MAC de Lyon. Since he knew about my interest in crossing over artistic territories, and also in the performance fields of music and dance, he wanted me to curate the event. It seems that he was convinced by my aptitude for merging artistic practices and my widened vision of modernity – which he defines, in his words, as “a universe with porous edges and augmented realities”! But this is a question you should ask him…
Regarding this modernity, you cite Charles Baudelaire who defined it as “the transitory, the fleeting, the contingent, the half of art whose other half is eternal and immobile”… How did you interpret this 19th century definition and fine-tune it to become your own?
I started off form the postulate that there’s something anachronistic about the word “modern”. You know, my curatorial work implicitly carries a running thread of modernity in its relationship to flows. At the Cité de la Musique, I organised many exhibitions, namely “Espace Odyssée” in 2004, which brought together music, sound and contemporary art. In 2011-2012, at the Centre Pompidou, I co-organised with Christine Macel the event “Danser sa vie”, which studied the links between dance and the visual arts. Let’s remember Isadora Duncan “freeing” her body from the tradition of her discipline… In the 19th century, artists were already getting emancipated and broadening this notion of modernity, enabling other aesthetic forms of power to emerge and exist later.
How do you bring this postulate into view in Lyon?
One way is through rapprochements between influential modern artists and a few of today’s artists. To celebrate the Centre Pompidou’s fortieth birthday, we constructed dialogues between some of the collection’s pieces and others from the 21st century. For example, Calder’s mobile, 31 janvier 1950, which already, in his time, offered an original approach to art and music by “opening up” sculpture to music and the visual space, converses with Cerith Wyn Evans’ sound installation, which borrows its title A=P=P=A=R=I=T=I=O=N from poet Stéphane Mallarmé, and reinterprets the American sculptor’s mobile. There’s also Brazilian Ernesto Neto who told me that he begins “where Jean Arp stopped”. Lucio Fontana’s “spatial concepts” in Fine di Dio weave ties with the cosmogonic installations by Tomás Saraceno or Dominique Blais. Today’s artists are the new moderns who are pushing back the frontiers of art, whose forms seem infinitely extendable, in the way that some modern artists, during their time, adopted extremely radical attitudes.
You’ve gathered, at the La Sucrière and the Musée d’Art Contemporain, around 70 artists in sections including “Flux et reflux”, “Oceans of sounds”, “Circulation infinite”, “Cosmogonies intérieures”… Is there a particular itinerary or progression that should be respected to explore them?
No, there is no set itinerary. Although every artist has a specific universe, their own aesthetic home, the walls are often porous. Generally, there are three themes that come through. The notion of sound is fundamental. From Debussy and his open-air music to Doug Aitken and his Sonic Fountain – a hollow filled with water, onto which taps drip according to a written score –, “sound matter” is omnipresent. David Tudor’s piece Rainforest V and Susanna Fritscher’s installation reveal the phonic potential of La Sucrière’s silos, but there’s also Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s work and many others… all carry the musical imprint of flows. The relationship with the cosmos is another major theme. Lucio Fontana and his concepts, along with Japanese artist Shimabuku reinventing the landscape of the Grand Parc Miribel-Jonage with kite-flyers, young Yuko Mohri from Tokyo and her mechanical ecosystems that revisit Duchamp’s Grand Verre and Erik Satie’s works, but also Renaud Auguste-Dormeuil’s reactivated performance I Will Keep a Light Burning… all these create systems that call on the invisible, the intimate, even the infinite, light…
And the third aspect that comes through?
The notion of “floating worlds”. In other words, I wanted certain works to call on all of the visitor’s senses. I’ve always been interested in the organic nature of the artwork. In the 21st century, the artwork is open to the world in all its interstices.
Let’s get back to Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, whom you knew well after showing her at the French Pavilion in the 2015 edition of the Venice Biennale. Did you design, here in Lyon, a special system for her installation?
Céleste’s work, presented at the Biennale, is Clinamen v2 – a work that’s frequently shown internationally. It’s composed of a circular pond of bluish water, on the surface of which white porcelain bowls come and go, carried along by currents, creating delicate musical clinking as they move. Clinamen v2 is showing on the Place Antonin-Poncet in Lyon, under the Radome, the geodesic dome designed by architect-artist Richard Buckminster Fuller, which is part of the Centre Pompidou’s collections, and which offers spectators exceptional acoustics. In addition, the video 67-76 by young Julien Discrit draws inspiration from this particular architectural creation which caught fire in 1976 in Montreal. On top of carrying out this initiative on a new site, I wanted to offer the public an experiential global trail in the course an artistic stroll in Lyon, filled with multiple sensations for the spectator.
On this topic, you say that you and artists strolled through the city and approached it like an “imaginary terrain”. Why was it important for them to explore the geography of this territory?
Water is omnipresent in Lyon. Crossed by the Rhône and the Saône, the city’s aquatic topography seduced the artists, and some of them were fascinated by this recurrence. There’s also the fact that Cypriot artist Christodoulos Panayiotou was a dancer in Lyon, Melik Ohanian was born in this city… All this creates a natural link between the artists, the space to inhabit and their works. But Lyon is also historically reputed as the city of silk. Hans Haacke, who is presenting three works in France for the first time, and also Damián Ortega, explore this textile aspect that is dear to Lyon. Hollow/Stuffed: market law by the latter is a sculpture designed as a ghostly suspended vessel, made out of bags of salt from which a trickle flows to the ground…
You have selected only eleven French artists. Why didn’t you want to represent the French scene more widely?
Simply because the previous edition, overseen by Ralph Ruggoff, already presented many French artists. I personally preferred to let myself be guided by the scope of works that related to my vision of modernity, regardless of the artist’s nationality. We engaged in a stimulating exchange, which was the most important factor. The other thing is, there’s still a significant representation of today’s French scene with the presence of works by Julien Discrit, Julien Creuzet, Melik Ohanian, Philippe Quesne…
Generally speaking, what are your goals for this new edition?
For visitors to really feel the extent to which an artwork is a vast territory of freedom which they are part of. It is a place for them to become aware – to dream, to wonder, often through immersion – about the state of the world, its fragility and poetry. The “floating worlds” are an immense sensory and imaginary landscape, which, despite its dissonances, captures this harmony as visitors stroll around. And this melody gives birth to the beauty of forms, like vital breaths, in these troubled times.
“Floating Worlds”, 14th Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon. Until 7 January 2018, La Sucrière, Les Docks, 47-49 Quai Rambaud, Lyon / Le Mac Lyon, Cité Internationale, 81 Quai Charles de Gaulle, Lyon / Le Dôme, Place Antonin-Poncet, Lyon (until 5 November 2017). www.biennaledelyon.com