Jonathas de Andrade Souza
Thiago Martins De Melo
Paulo Nimer Pjota
Dineo Seshee Bopape
The Bruce High Quality Foundation
Gunnar B. Kvaran
Meanwhile... suddenly and then. The exhibition brought together artists from all over the world who work in the narrative field and use art to experiment with the modalities and mechanisms of storytelling. It gives pride of place to the ingenuity and inventiveness of contemporary artists in undoing mainstream narrative codes and off-the-peg plotting devices in order to tell new stories differently.
Guest Curator: Gunnar B. Kvaran
Artistic Director of the Biennale de Lyon / Contemporary Art: Thierry Raspail
Biennales de Lyon – the rules of the game
Since the first Biennale in 1991, I have invited my guest curators to think in terms of a key word. The word remains the same for three successive Biennales and is always a common word with topical connections and a fairly vague semantic range, a word capable both of artistic and societal interpretations. The first word, in 1991, was History. Then in 1997 it was Global, followed by Temporality in 2003 and, from 2009 to 2013, Transmission.
When I submitted the word Transmission to Gunnar B. Kvaran, he responded in literal fashion with the word Narrative. The term is no more a subject than it is a title. It is merely the starting point for a dialogue upon which we are constructing three platforms. In the first place an exhibition – however the works are combined and in whatever venue, whatever is chosen and whatever is left out, it is still all about designing an exhibition. Second, Veduta – the laboratory of visual creation and experiment, in which artists in residence, the collection of the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art, works from the exhibition, and amateurs of all ages and social backgrounds combine to construct a new visual relationship with the world. And third, Résonance – a vast, polyphonic mass of creativity in which artists’ collectives, young galleries, neo-institutions, or just people taking risks with form, pay homage to the irrational in a sort of counterpoint to the exhibition, in the plural, and in the most valid of tenses, the present – the only tense that is independent of time.
Art, for some, is a structured language with an obvious narrative, for others it is a silent image with something that can vaguely be said about it. Like Italo Calvino’s Cloven Viscount, it is a split terrain with permeable front lines, an area in which two opposing and antagonistic factions operate. On one side the idea that anything other than language can tell a story is rejected. On the other side, like Nelson Goodman, people think that works of art exemplify form, feeling and ideas, and can construct whole worlds. The dispute is as old as it is insoluble.
People have always sought to explain the world through narrative. It began with myths. Then came gods and legends, and then History. And, quite clearly, everything pertaining to language, whether articulated or not, spoken or written or kept silent – hysteria, poetry, literature, thought.
But what do images tell us? Does Altdorfer’s Battle of Alexander have anything to say? Is it perhaps telling us that from Issus in the Hellenist period until William IV of Bavaria nothing ever changed, that things were always the same and History has to be reinvented? And does Piero della Francesca’s Baptism of Christ reveal anything to us? Is it saying that the agreement between East and West is fragile or that the spirit is all one? Do these images relate all that, or none of it? And yet, whether it is the work of art telling the story or History speaking, there is nevertheless something there which looks for all the world like a narrative.
In the middle of the 1980s a new ‘universal’ hero came into existence in the form of Text. Born of the sacred marriage of European structuralism and American academic textuality, it spread across the world, becoming in the process an ‘intertext’ and then a generalised ‘supertext’. Fredric Jameson put it like this: “The older language of the ‘work’ – the work of art, the masterwork – has everywhere largely been displaced by the rather different language of the ‘text’, of texts and textuality – a language from which the achievement of organic or monumental form is strategically excluded. Everything can now be a text in that sense (daily life, the body, political representations), while objects that were formerly ‘works’ can now be re-read as immense ensembles or systems of texts of various kinds.”1 Thus the ‘dictatorship’ of the future, borne up until then on the shoulders of messianic History, the one of modern times, was eroded in favour of an infinite narrative encompassing the here and now, the event and, of course, the image.
It was at this precise moment that new modes of composition for visual narratives were seized upon by artists, or rather invented by artists. All of a sudden they were climbing up walls, filming things, wearing masks, drawing, sculpting, and all at the same time. They construct things, move things around, meander, concentrate and superimpose temporalities, supports, shadows and inversions, unfold things, uncover things. They have discovered the complexity of the world’s temporalities and the micro-narratives that inform the world. Whatever it is they are doing, they are telling stories, which is another way of saying that they are transmitting.
Tell me a story
For Gunnar B. Kvaran to place narrative side by side with transmission is to state the obvious about what happens (“Reality is what happens”, as someone said). Gunnar B. Kvaran’s response to the neo-modernism that covers our walls with a patina of soft nostalgia is to place a new emphasis on form, which is a totally new form of thought. And the form of that thought is probably what is most eloquent about it. A story can be as good as you like but what makes it stand out in the end is the relevance of its form. The form creates the meaning by forming the narrative.
The Little Prince said, “Tell me a story”. The poet drew it.
Meanwhile... suddenly and then
by Gunnar B. Kvaran
Novelists and screenwriters always hope they have an interesting story. These days, politicians too and advertisers are all on the look-out for a good story that can be used to influence voters and consumers. Not only are there “countless forms of narrative in the world”, as Roland Barthes put it, but now they are everywhere and an integral part of our daily life.
The Biennale de Lyon 2013 has brought together artists from all over the world who work in the narrative field and use art to experiment with the modalities and mechanisms of storytelling. The exhibition gives pride of place to the ingenuity and inventiveness of contemporary artists in undoing mainstream narrative codes and off-the-peg plotting devices in order to tell new stories differently.
The art of these artist-storytellers comes in many and varied forms and uses a wealth of different registers, materials and techniques. So the exhibition naturally includes sculptures, paintings, fixed images, animated images, arrangements of text, arrangements of sounds and of objects in space, as well as performances. It highlights the way (or rather ‘ways’) in which young artists of today – according to whether they work in Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa or North America – are imagining the narratives of tomorrow: narratives that dispense with the suspense and excitement of globalised fiction as practised in Hollywood, on television, or in the best-sellers of world literature. Theirs are totally new narratives that defamiliarise us with the world and restore the deep-rooted strangeness and complexity that classic storytelling devices have always sought to iron out or to stifle. These are art narratives that enable us to see and understand the world in a new light and more intelligibly.
Thus, a whole range of stories, of all kinds and sorts, developed by these artists from lived experience or imagination, from anecdotes of everyday life as well as from social phenomena and significant historical events, will be spread out around the various host venues of this year’s Biennale: La Sucrière, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Bullukian Foundation, as well as, for this edition, two more venues, La Chaufferie de l’Antiquaille and the Saint-Just Church. Certain works will inveigle their way into private houses and apartments in Lyon for the duration of the Biennale and they and the stories they tell will be displayed and transmitted in whatever way the inhabitants of these unusual venues may choose to invent for them. There will be as many narratives as there are visitors able to absorb and, in their turn, relate them, changing them as they retell them, adding to them, and no doubt twisting them, too. They will spread in various ways – through conversations, rumour, over the social networks – and will give rise to a host of unpredictable, inflated, discontinuous, fragmentary stories.
The 2013 edition of the Biennale de Lyon grapples with the idea of contemporary art biennials as the construction of a shared world rather than a given. This is why the title we chose for the 2013 Biennale avoids any attempt at a descriptive summary of the works exhibited but seeks rather to divert them from any easy explanatory framework, the effect of which too often is only to thwart their inherent variety of meaning.
Meanwhile... Suddenly, And then
This choice of title (or titles), which places the accent on storytelling devices, is a way of asserting the importance for an exhibition of going with the flow of its subject, which in this case is a renewed attention to form; form as a generator of meaning, and the idea that in a narrative it is the way you tell it, the way you make a story of it – the invention of a new narrative form – that counts. The Biennale de Lyon 2013 has wholeheartedly taken this question on board – in the way it is organised, the way it is advertised, in the spatial arrangements and even in the way it unfolds. A weekend in October is devoted to the question of narration in video and the contemporary art film, with special screenings and discussions. And there will be another in November devoted to performance. But, also, a whole set of new contributions by writers and theorists will be published and broadcast throughout the Biennale. Each of these projects will beget potential new sequences, and strengthen the shared interrogations that originally inspired the Biennale.
If this new edition of the Biennale de Lyon aspires above all else to being a collective and shareable event operating on many levels, I have nonetheless taken a completely subjective approach to it, for which I assume full responsibility. The list of artists involved traces the path that led me to give it its present form. Erró, Yoko Ono and Alain Robbe-Grillet are the artists who first impressed me, through their works, with their ability to invent a politics of visual narration. They did this by challenging the myth of a natural narrative order as used by any social, moral or political order for purposes of establishing and consolidating itself.
Robert Gober, Jeff Koons, Matthew Barney, Fabrice Hyber, Tom Sachs and Paul Chan form a second circle of guests – people I have worked with over the last fifteen years who have been involved in this groundbreaking exploration, working out ever more different ways of giving visual form to stories. In working with them and talking to them over the course of various exhibitions, I have come to understand how important a large collective exhibition conceived around these questions can be. However, to avoid ever being lulled into the fallacy of blinkered thinking, and aware as I am of the need to be constantly on the look-out for new modes of interpreting and narrating the world, I am also presenting a whole new generation of artists that I discovered in the course of my research and my many journeys around the world for the Biennale de Lyon. They, in their turn, are reinventing different ways of rendering the complexity of today’s world through narrative experiments with forms beyond words.
Laura Lamboglia 3 rue du Président Edouard Herriot 69 001 Lyon, France T +33 (0)4 27466560 P +33 (0)6 83278446 firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday 10 September
La Sucrière: open from 11am to 7pm
Museum of Contemporary Art, Bullukian Foundation, Saint-Just
Church and the Chaufferie de l’Antiquaille: open from 12 to 7pm
Wednesday 11 September
All venues: open from 10am to 10pm
Venue for the private view and award ceremony for the 2013
Francophone Artist Award: La Sucrière, 6.30 pm
La Sucrière -Les Docks, 47-49 quai Rambaud, Lyon 2
The Museum of Contemporary Art (macLYON) Cité Internationale, 81 quai Charles de Gaulle, Lyon 6
The Bullukian Foundation 26 place Bellecour, Lyon 2
The Chaufferie de l’Antiquaille (former district boiler plant) Rue de l’Antiquaille, opposite No. 6, Lyon 5
The Saint-Just Church Rue des Farges, Lyon 5
Tuesday to Friday: 11am to 6pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11am to 7pm
Closed on Mondays
Special opening times during the Festival of Lights in December: Thursday 5, 10am to 6pm; Friday 6, 10am to 9pm; Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 December, 10am to 7pm.
Late opening on the first Friday of every month, 6-9pm: 4 October, 1 November and 6 December 2013; and 3 January 2014.
Closed 25 December 2013 and 01 January 2014
Full price: €13
Concessions*: €7 For under-26s, job seekers and large families.
Under 15 years old; students on diploma courses in the Rhône-Alpes Region; art-school students; art history and plastic arts students; RSA beneficiaries; MAPRA and MDA card holders; m’RA card holders; ICOM card holders; disabled visitors.