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.
“Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable.”
In a context of relentless globalization, generating constant mobility and accelerated flow – the "liquidity" of the world and of identities in Zygmunt Bauman’s analysis –, the Biennale is exploring the legacy and scope of the concept of "modernity" in the art of our time. We have taken the poet Baudelaire’s definition of modernity as «the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immovable."
The Biennale unfolds as an atmospheric and expanding, mobile landscape that is constantly reconfiguring itself in the manner of some of the masterpieces of modernity from the Centre Pompidou (National Museum of Modern Art) – here celebrating its 40th anniversary. Calder’s random orchestration of shapes suspended in space, for example, or Fontana’s paintings that open out onto infinite cosmogonies. The White Cube cracks and metamorphoses into an organism, a constellation, in which, with artists such as Hans Arp and Ernesto Neto, Lygia Pape and Daniel Steegman Mangrané, art and space become biomorphic and lead on to projects that challenge the abstraction of European modernity in order to reassess its influence around the world. Like the white sail of Hans Haacke’s, Wide White Flow, or the kites of Shimabuku’s When Sky was Sea, a wind of radical uprisings, poetic effulgence and contemporary aesthetic incandescence has swept through the Floating worlds of the Biennale de Lyon.
Six trails link the artworks on show at the macLYON to the ones on show at La Sucrière and the dôme, place Antonin Poncet: Archipelago of Sensation, Expanded Poetry, Ocean of Sound, Electric Body, Inner Cosmos and Endless Circulation.
How did you relate Floating worlds to what is specifically connected with Lyon?
I wanted to attach the Biennale, to moor it, in the heart of this city, whose identity has been partly shaped by the omnipresence of water – this city "born of the waters", crossed by the Rhône and Saône –, by reactivating the powers of the imagination that are carried along by the presence, at once familiar and mysterious, of those two rivers. To leave open the connections between the city, with its history of silk weaving, and certain artworks which, like those of Hans Haacke or Damián Ortega, explore fabric, as a levitating material. After wandering through Lyon, over its bridges, and along its embankments, sometimes in the company of artists, the city turned into a land of the imagination. The Musée d'Art Contemporain and the Sucrière, a ghost ship on the banks of the Saône, became two inspiring ports-of-call on this journey through contemporary art, punctuated by other stops that changed our perceptions. The Biennale is an invitation to take a privileged walk with artists who guide the visitor into unknown or transfigured territories, temporary cinemas in the open air, gardens full of Damask roses, secret islands.
What discoveries and experiences do you hope to share with visitors to the Biennale?
The works featured in these Floating worlds are underpinned by the awareness that imagination, poetry and art are all instruments that reveal, as well as being antidotes to, the instability of the present time. In Nelson Goodman's words, "Works of art […] literally or metaphorically exemplify forms, feelings, affinities, contrasts, to be sought in or built into a world." I would like people who visit the Biennale to do so as if they were going through an experimental, sensory landscape, enlarging their perception, and their conception of the world. The Biennale unfolds like a voyage through an archipelago of islands that are, by turns, scenes to be looked at or stopping places where we can slow down and steep ourselves in the wonder, the awareness, the contemplation and reflection that they generate