Reinventing the "Ordinary"
The Biennale de Lyon 2009
by Michèle Vicat
Barry McGee, "Installation"
10th Biennale de Lyon, which runs until January 3, 2010,
intense look at the ordinary things that
we often overlook, and it establishes an unusual dialogue between
a promising group of international artists and the vast public
that is often ignored by the establishment. The official theme
is Le Spectacle du Quotidien, "The Spectacle
of the Everyday."
Biennale, conceived as an integral part of Lyon and its neighboring
areas, presents more than 60 international artists most of them
in their 40s. The major exhibitions are concentrated at four
locations in the city. In addition, Résonance,
a series of 150 events, is being held at 90 different spaces
in the Rhône-Alpes
Hanru, the Biennale de Lyon's curator, brings us into the event
not as a spectator but as a participant. The reinvention
of the "ordinary" as a unique experience is intended
to put ordinary people and artists on the same plane. Questions
about the role of art in the 'quotidien'(or
Hanru, curator of the Biennale
life) lead to a reflection on social, political, cultural and
issues. The exhibitions are at La Sucrière (a former sugar
factory and warehouse at the Docks on the Rhône River),
The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Bichat Warehouse, and
Hou Hanru, currently Director of Exhibitions and Public
Programs at the San Francisco Art Institute, and
the Biennale's artistic director, Thierry Raspail, who
is also the director of Lyon's Museum of Contemporary Art,
their exhibitions around an important theme. "We perceive
the world and communicate with each other through the spectacle," says
Hou Hanru. He explains that the spectacle is: "a system
of image production and representation dominated by the logic
of market capitalism which tends to 'develop' our faculties
of perception, imagination and reflection towards a 'one-dimensional
model' formatted by the language of consumerist ideology."
Thierry Raspail points out that computerized globalization
has left the 20th century with overlapping cultural models.
quotes the famous Gertrude Stein metaphor, "There is no
there there." Instead, Raspail explains, "there are
only fluctuating 'heres.'" Raspail continues, "There
is no longer any outside and there are no longer any exoticisms,
except shared ones...as a result, the art of imagined worlds
is turning towards the everyday and the ordinary." Hou
Hanru and Thierry Raspail focus on four areas showing how
us to use the spectacles around us to take control of our
Magic of Things concentrates on artists who appropriate
and reinterpret the objects and experiences of our everyday
life and show us the potential for a new beauty.
the Drift deals with the urban environment and the new writing/reading
emerging especially in the streets. With globalization, many artists find new
spaces, more accessible, to develop strategies that give them more freedom but
also put them in a direct dialogue with the everybody evolving in the realm of
the everyday. The drift contains at the same time a geographical notion and a
political one. More artists are working in collaborative groups, combining different
disciplines and nationalities as well. The street is their place of choice to
give us the possibility of evolving and becoming a political animal.
World is Possible is certainly one of the most surprising
approaches for a Biennale. "Art for art" is no longer an issue. There is a new
map of the world in which the "everywhere" is possible, and in
which artists and social activists increasingly look at alternatives to
social models involving a reflection on democracy.
Together, mainly installed in the Museum of Contemporary Art, focuses
on a dialogue with the city and the communities outside of it.
Undeniably, there is a strong Asian presence at the Biennale. As Hou Hanru explains,
art takes new dimensions in regions where social, economical and political tensions
are particularly fervent. Artists from China, South East Asia, the Middle East
and India have strong reasons for questioning their societies and values; and
they do it on a large scale, and a visible one that puts them at the forefront
when it comes to creativity. These artists are trying to understand their own
deeply fractured heritage, largely ignored or ridiculed by colonial powers and
by their own regimes that are often brutal. The globalization of financial markets
and of communications forces these societies to reflect on their core values.
The shift is quite significant. It provides a wealth of material with little
in the way of an established structure to shape their expression -though this
is changing now with the creation of important national museums and biennales
in China, Japan, Korea, and Indonesia. The experiment focuses on a local scale
with actors, who are rarely included in any decision-making process, much less
one involving art. It is a testimony to the new imagination of artists confronted
with the disastrous after effects of the current crisis.
Takahiro Iwasaki, "Out of Disorder" (socks)
notion of beauty will always be linked with art. But how do
you reinvent beauty and create a magical world when you are
by so many
human and environmental disasters? Takahiro Iwasaki's sculptures
belong to the
meditative sphere that Westerners qualify as "Japanese." A "typical" oriental
landscape attracts our attention because of the beautiful contrast of the black
and the white. What a surprise to discover that the landscape is made of black
socks and bath towels! The tiny pagoda erected on this "everyday" material
looks ephemeral, nearly virtual. We nearly need a magnifying glass
to discover its existence on the edge of a cliff. It is a reminder
Takahiro Iwasaki, "Reflection Model"
Model," done in 2001, is a double-axis representation
of a Tokyo palace suspended from the ceiling. The lake that
should reflect the image
the building is absent: our attention is caught in the mirage
of its reflection.
Reality extends to the enchanted part of the fantasy world
that we still imagine belongs to us.
Portable Planetarium" is another sculpture that creates strong
emotions. Made in 2009 by Sarah Sze, an American artist born in 1969
in Boston, the sculpture
is an incredible accumulation of thousands of small- scale items
usually found either in the street or in our household. Sarah Sze
creates a relationship between
us and the "Portable Planetarium" which is not
only at an ephemeral level but also explores our everyday
uses ranges from a Cuisinart box to thumb tacks, pliers,
small plants, photographs,
small plastic jars and thousands of other items that surround
our daily life. These objects are so banal -but often not
that we don't pay much attention to them when the time comes
to throw them away. The Planetarium is a reflection of ourselves,
or at least the representation of the world as a communication
system that we are trying to grasp intellectually.
Sarah Sze, "Portable Planetarium"
planet is at stake and Sarah Sze's Planetarium opens to allow
us inside to participate in its movements. This
and then leads us to contemplate our own delusions, or
at least the items that keep us moving forward into a society
Everything moves, animated
by a gentle force, nearly a romantic one. The sky is present
and an articulated
arm illuminates stars on a screen whose reflection appears
on the opposite wall as faded reflections of our own dreams.
at the "Portable Planetarium," we
confront the notions of memory and accumulation.
spaces do not usually get our attention. But when an entire
shop is reconstituted in a cultural space, the experience of walking
a personal and social event. "What a Difference a Day Made," is a composite
installation starting with a narrow passage through a tiny Chinese shop whose
accumulated products were brought back en masse from Shanghai by the Taiwanese
artist Michael Lin. Pots and pans, brooms and dust cloths, rice cookers and instant
noodles, accumulated and superposed in layers from the ground to the ceiling,
offer an exact image of a practical space where people can go anytime day and
night to fulfill their household needs. As we walk through this tiny space, the
viewer enters a bigger room where screens show a juggler. Sometimes, an object
falls and we can hear the noise of a dish that broke. The noise is an allusion
to the objects that we discover neatly presented in wooden crates displayed in
an unspecified order. Woks, baskets, plastic buckets...everything from our modest
existence is now gracefully arranged as though they were on museum shelves. Objects
from our everyday use are catalogued and placed according to function, color,
and shape. The "everyday" becomes "spectacle" by
connecting us with personal and collective memory, objects and
Michael Lin, "What a Difference a Day Made"
Lin, "What a Difference a Day Made"
city offers artists new opportunities to dialogue with communities.
The flow of ideas, frustrations, constraints,
collides with environments
conceived to protect social values. New forms allow us to go
beyond spatial constraints and political power. When
from the guts
of New York City in
the late 1960s and covered deteriorated walls and ramshackle
subway cars, a youth expressed -consciously or not- its
an establishment that
and abandoned them essentially because they were Hispanic and
African- American. The movement created new forms of
writing. Today, Sao
Paulo, a city rapidly
expanding to accommodate its population, which is soon expected
25 million, is
running short in innovative architectural and urban planning
models. The pixaçao
was born in the 1960s to confront dictatorship. The pixadores,
who often can barely write, represent an assault by the favelas
financial ghettoization of the city. These signs of courage and
desperation are usually
made at night. Each morning, they appear as signs of an infringement
against the establishment, although they are really an attempt
to communicate with
Barry McGee, "Installation"
Barry McGee, an artist from San Francisco, also takes inspiration
and expression from the city. He started as a street artist,
tagging buildings, bridges and doors
with his signature "TWIST." Later
on, he went to the Art Institute of San Francisco. His "Installation" is
placed in a large room at La Sucrière, where the elements
have space to communicate with each other in a coded language,
the language of the street.
The work mixes old battered vans covered with graffiti, decorative
panels made of bright geometrical patterns, small wooden statuettes
nearly coming from the
world of cartoons and spraying paint. A bigger, articulated sculpture
is composed of three men standing on each other's shoulders, repetitively
paint on a wall. The popular is here with its uneasy environment
of people who cannot make it inside the society. Barry McGee himself
resisted for a long time
having his work shown in galleries and museums. The moment he did,
his graffiti images were scavenged or stolen. His urban vision,
as he explains, is " a
collection of urban ills, frustrations and addictions, and
trying to maintain a level head under the constant bombardment
UN NOUS, "Installation et Affichage"
UN NOUS, "Installation
NOUS, a group working as a collaborative, created in France
in 2006, proposes an exchange with the city. Its members, Antonio
Gallego, Jose Maria Gonzalez, Patrick Pinon and Roberto Martinez
question the notions of meeting and connectedness between the
city's fabric and its people. For the Biennale, they have combined
an exhibition space with an "audible
and luminous utopia,"composed of a big rectangular volume
pierced with Plexiglas windows placed at different levels
forcing the spectator to either stand on tip-toe or bend
over to be at eye-level in order to look at a fantastic city
inside, a white city composed of everyday objects. Egg boxes,
juice containers, old toys, miniature animals, are jumbled
next to fragments of models created by architecture students
from schools in Versailles, Grenoble, Saint-Etienne and Lyon.
These models were destined to be demolished.
The city "inside the box" will never exist but the fantasy
it creates with sounds and lights belong already to our visionary
future. The perfect
white -inside and outside-is regularly disturbed by sudden noises
that unleash patterns
of light. Green, yellow, red, blue, orange color the Plexiglas
windows blurring our vision, making the image of the city less
it is still
there but now more and more inaccessible, and for some, more dream-like.
track is composed of various noises taken from musical elements
from the 18th through the 20th century. It is not the "I" that
is questioned here but our position in "relation-with." This
urban utopia is surrounded by walls, covered with posterish
slogans and images.
UN NOUS also pasted their graphic works in various parts
of Lyon as an echo of
their quest for interaction with a broader public.
Carlos Motta, "Graffiti Cut"
his "Graffiti Cut," Carlos Motta, the Columbian
artist born in 1978 in Bogota, positions small graffiti
next to each other
on a wall-like
painted black and located in a darkened room. The words
and short sentences that we discover here are real slogans
walls in various
cities. Placed out of context, they act as banners through
which light emerges. The slogans glow lightly in the dark
of our unconsciousness.
our attention to be deciphered. By documenting the feelings
people the most -God, oppression, torture, money, capitalism-in
the misery of their
life, Carlos Motta creates an archival monument to the
Unknown of the Street.
Carlos Motta, "The Good Life"
another project but this time at the Museum of Contemporary
Art, the same artist, invites us to sit and take our
time to watch over
made with passers-by in the streets of twelve Latin-
American cities. "The
Good Life (2005)," records people's sentiment over
American interventionism and their own government. It
is a cry for democracy
as perceived by ordinary people.
In parallel, Oliver Ressler asked the question "What
is Democracy?" to
people from cities around the world, including Amsterdam,
Sydney, New York, Tel Aviv. Their answers are shown on
and attitudes questioning existing democracies and their
survival. The two projects, Motta's and Ressler's, are
placed in the
same room divided
by a small partition
that helps us to go back and forth between the two models.
On the one hand you have powerful parliamentary democracies,
substitute themselves for individual initiative, and
on the other you have emergent voices of people trying
create an indigenous system. The dialogue is not an easy
without it our daily life can be reduced
once again by exploitation of the spectacle.
that spirit, two artistic experiments are related in their
approach to the "other." Lin
Yilin, a Chinese artist from Mainland China, spends his time between
Guangzhou and New York. At La Sucrière, he presents 37 photographs
and two videos
focused on an event that marked the artist "One Day" in
2006 in the streets of Guangzhou. Lin Yilin saw two
young men walking on
a crowded street.
One was a plainclothes policeman and the other a petty
thief, who was bent over nearly double because his
wrist was handcuffed
by the indignity of the situation, and by the fact
that people looked at the scene without intervening.
he saw as a lack
Lin Yilin, hired an actor to reenact the scene in public
in China, and had
videotaped. No one seemed to bother or ask what was
going on. The lack of a
connection is striking in the busy life of cities and
reveals what appears to be a lack
of humanity. Lin Yilin reenacted the same event himself
at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Paris' Arc de
Triomphe, and the
eventually two French police officers asked the artist
stage his happening at a different location. In both
conclusion was the same,
that there are certain scenes that we choose not to
question in our
not even in Western democracies. If we were to do so,
we would cross the boundaries from being a spectator
actor in our
Lin Yilin, "One Day"
Lee Mingwei (L) and Lin Yilin (R)
Lee Mingwei, "The Moving Garden"
contrast, Lee Mingwei puts us in a situation where a simple
us to communicate with
Taiwanese artist, who lives in New York, works with
the symbolism of our daily life. "The Moving Garden," exhibited
at the Musée d'Art Contemporain, is an installation
composed of a long, narrow, granite table on which
are placed every day. The visitor is invited to pick-up
a flower with two conditions: he or she must give the
flower to a complete
stranger and this must be done outside
the exhibition. These conditions seem easy enough
because they involve doing something that is nice and
related to pleasure. But
at the exhibition, some people
instinctively gave the flower to a friend or a spouse
rather than looking for a stranger. Others did follow
Lee Mingwei's instructions,
and offered the flower
to a passer-by in the street. I gave mine, which
I received from a young man waiting for the bus, to
the lady at the cloakroom of
the night of the opening. In Lee Mingwei's installation,
the act of giving and
involves bringing people together, and to do that
we must connect with our "I" in
order to relate to the "
we." It is an act, which epitomizes the Biennale, when
alternative visions of the world come from the gestures
of ordinary people,
who perceive themselves in their human and cultural
article was first published in the internet magazine The
Essential Edge. Michèle
Vicat is one of the arts editors for The Essential Edge.