“We are accustomed to think of physical objects as having bounded edges.” So wrote John Dewey in Art as Experience in 1915, adding that “things like rocks, chairs, books, houses, trade, and science with its efforts at precise measurement, have confirmed the belief.” This is why, he maintains, “we unconsciously carry over this belief in the bounded character of all objects of experience into our conception of experience itself. We suppose the experience has the same definite limits as the things with which it is concerned.” Conversely, he notes that whether our visual experience of a scene is vast or minutely focused, “we experience it as a part of a larger and inclusive whole, […], (whose) margins shade into that indefinite expanse beyond which imagination calls the universe.”
Today the world has changed and the prevailing idea is that the most important properties of space can no longer be defined a priori by categories or by tying them down to a territory with borders and impregnable identities. These properties are now determined by a permanent flow of currents and fluctuations (capital, men, risks, ideas, information, etc.) that permanently change the spatial coordinates. In 2005, 90 years after John Dewey, Hartmut Rosa wrote: "The space of flows is first and foremost an organization of nodes that function in networks with no stable hierarchy, operating by means of temporal coagulation and reversible inclusions.” Today, twelve years after Rosa, this observation is simply banal, since technique, lifestyles, images, the invention of connected history, a proliferation of augmented objects with infinite edges, the silhouette of the human, reflections on the question of modernity, the plasticity of historical models, the globalized world and the dynamics of the social networks, have all profoundly altered our relationship to shapes, while shapes have lost their stability.
The Modern question goes back to the 17th century with the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, which has never really gone away. The word "contemporary", which derives from late Latin, appeared around the same time. Both terms have generated crossed genealogies. But for a long time, "modern" indicated the only way to be of one’s time. Baudelaire, for whom modernity was half ephemeral and fugitive and half eternal and immutable, Courbet whose Artist’s Studio was refused for the Universal exposition and who set up the Pavilion of Realism in competition to it, Manet with his scandalous Olympia, and Monet the Impressionist painter of sunrises – these painters were all "absolutely modern".
Contemporary art, in the sense that we understand it today, springs from the 1940s and 50s and asserted itself with the arrival of Pop, Minimalism and Concept in the 1960s. It marked, among other things, the end of the avant-garde and an attempt to escape the diktat of novelty. Then “contemporariness” became "the contemporary". Following Barthes, Giorgio Agamben defined the contemporary as "the untimely" - this is basically what the mainstream does not see - and it is "a singular relationship to (our) own time". The effects of all this have profoundly altered our relationship to the present, to today, to our own time, to the "contemporary", and also, of course, to the Modern and the whole of history, including the future.
The Modern question today involves an infinitely enlarged modernity, in the manner of the connected and now porous edges of the "objects of experience". It is re-examined in terms of the questions raised by the human sciences, science in general, reason, beliefs, cognition, critical universalism and its reverse, integral relativism, globality, the invention of traditions, petaflop computers and the depletion of resources, the rise of fundamentalism, and art.
These are some of the reasons why I decided to make Modern the theme and framework of the 2015-2019 cycle of the Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art. After such heavy cycles as those devoted to History (1991-1995), Global (1997-2001) and Transmission (2009-13), which fortunately were treated with admirable lightness of touch by my guest curators, we now stand on the threshold of Floating worlds.
In 2015, the first volume of the Biennales entitled Modern, which was curated by Ralph Rugoff, showed the exposed outcrops of a layered sedimentary contemporariness of undeniable history. The contemporary was annexed to Modern Life, the title of that edition.
In inviting Emma Lavigne to curate Volume 2, I was guaranteed that she would not elude the question and that she would create a bias towards "temporal coagulation and reversible inclusions." Her Modern seems to be one of Crippled Symmetry, of the cross-woven, coloured threads in those Anatolian carpets that inspire Morton Feldman: a universe of contingent amplitudes in which the planes float, edges blur, tenuous temporalities flow, and Hans Arp hitches up with Ernesto Neto, Lucio Fontana with Julien Creuzet, and the Modern gets it together with the Contemporary. The Pompidou Centre fortieth anniversary collections, as well as collections from Grenoble, Saint-Étienne and macLYON, have contributed to the elaboration of this augmented “Modern”, with its blurred and shifting edges - a Modern woven together by the unique singularity of "untimely" creations by artists of our time, working at the very heart of our contemporaneity. It is all going on at the Sucrière, and the Musée d’art contemporain, in Lyon.
But the Biennale also involves the archipelagos and areas of Veduta, a multimodal platform devoted to the aesthetics of receiving and to that sharing which is so devoutly to be wished: where exchanges, artistic experiences, and workshops converge with the participation of Damask roses, plucked, planted, propagated and transformed into rose water by Thierry Boutonnier with assistance from five of the cities of Greater Lyon. It is here that Rivane Neuenschwander’s angry words, collected in Brazil, meet the words of local young people, from centres and peripheries that we usually hear little from, and where poetry, cut-ups and improvisation are the elements that construct our urban narratives. This is where the macLYON collections, rejigged with “attitude" enter into dialogue with John Cage and rock, and where unannounced encounters take place in laundries, underpasses and bus shelters.
And it is here, too, that the forgotten tales of Lee Mingwei await us in a slow vehicle, driving from one city to another, inviting us to hear the intimate voice of someone in bed with an unknown listener. But the Biennale is also Rendez-vous. This exhibition presents twenty emerging artists and is host to ten biennials: Shanghai, Havana, Marrakech, Jakarta, Eva International, Sharjah, Lubumbashi, Kochi-Muziris and also the triennials of Aichi and Brisbane (Asia Pacific Triennial) and Brisbane – all new and undiscovered universes. In 2017, Résonance spreads further into Greater Lyon and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, which also boasts porous edges, and unexpected experiences: exhibitions, a residence at the Fondation Renaud, pedestrian walks with street art in the guise of wall-drawing in the metro, and new connections with the Saint-Fons Fine arts centre, the Factatory, the African Museum, the Butchers' Hall in Vienne, and the creative 7th arrondissement. Special mention must be made, too, of the Lee Mingwei exhibition at the Fondation Bullukian, as well as our favourite Dominicans: Lee Ufan is the guest of Brother Marc Chauveau at the Corbusier-designed Convent of La Tourette – a case of the modern rubbing shoulders with the world of infinite contemplation .
There is more to see on the following pages but, above all, on the 18 and 19 September 2017.
How does the 14th edition of the Biennale de Lyon fit together?
A successful biennial is a strange alchemy between works and artists, a curator and territories. The 2017 Biennale continues its quest for the Modern with a new chapter that Emma Lavigne has chosen to call Floating worlds. Volume 1, which was curated by Ralph Rugoff in 2015 and entitled Modern life, was a mapping of the “contemporary” question and of current issues in art and the world. This second volume, designed by Emma Lavigne, does not avoid the very contemporary question of “modernity”, given the far-reaching nature of such issues as universality, reason, shared aesthetics, identities, reciprocal influences, and so on, which are all relevant issues in art today. Modern and Contemporary have shared origins and common genealogies: with Emma Lavigne, they are both in a close relationship – a kind of crippled symmetry, to borrow Morton Feldman’s title. In 2017, Floating worlds is involved in a sort of capillary action with Rendez-vous 17, the exhibition from here, there and elsewhere, which also involves the platforms Veduta and Résonance, as well as the associated exhibitions of Lee Ufan at the Convent of La Tourette and Lee Mingwei at the Fondation Bullukian.
Why did you decide to invite Emma Lavigne?
The "enlarged modern" which characterizes the contemporary situation has led to an increase in fields, networks, superposition, poetics and politics. It is a universe with porous edges and augmented realities. Emma Lavigne is one of the few curators who has grasped the highly variable range of this reality. All the exhibitions she has put on, from Pink Floyd Interstellar and Warhol Live to Danser sa vie (with Ch. Marcel), from rêvolutions with Céleste Boursier-Mougenotto to the French Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and the Jardin infini which she recently opened at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, where she is director, provide evidence of this flexibility she has, which allows her to combine poetry and rigour, and where the closest is synonymous with the infinite. The way in which she has juxtaposed Lucio Fontana with Ernesto Neto, for instance, is a perfect example of this implicit supposition, which, in my view, must characterize visual culture. From such silences artistic reflection arises.
Apart from the international exhibition, what other platforms are there in the Biennale?
The Musée d’Art Contemporain (macLYON) created the exhibition Rendez-vous in 2002 and it is now an integral part of the Biennale. It is a platform dedicated to emerging creation; we invite ten French artists and we ask ten different biennales to choose an artist from a geographical area of the world. This year we have invited, among others, the biennales of Jakarta, Marrakech, Aichi, Lubumbashi, Sharjah and Cuba.
The Veduta platform is developing over an increasingly wide area, with an ever growing number of visitors whom we get to meet in the course of our wanderings, in our art areas, our contact zones, in workshops and performances. Lee Mingwei’s bedtime stories are part of Veduta, so are Thierry Boutonnier's Damask roses, Shimabuku’s flying ruminants, and Lara Almarcegui’s waste grounds, as well as Rivane Neuenschwander's migrant words of protest re-interpreted by local young people, from centres and the edges of town and who we are not used to hearing much from.
All over the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Region and with the collaboration of artists, art centres and artist-run spaces, Résonance is stretching out to new territories, with fifteen focuses on 150 offerings. These include the Cinéma Biennale at the Comœdia, the Fondation Renaud with its exhibition-residence programme, and the MAPRAA’s 12/12/12, which will take us from Lyon to Dompierre-sur-Besbre by way of various Clermont-Ferrand artists’ studios, and the Biennale Hors Normes, which covers a completely new field of creation from art brut to genetics.