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Articles archive

Fran├žois Aubart

Flash Art  n.269 – November – December 2009



LYON - In order to make sure that only the intrinsic qualities of an artistic project are being judged it is rare to take into consideration the context and the technical conditions in

which it is created. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that this 10th edition of the Lyon Biennial was taken up by Hou Hanru only some eight months before its opening, following the announcement made by Catherine David of her resignation. And it is true that

in these close to unworkable conditions for a biennial, which this year comprises 12,000 square meters of exhibition space over four locations, the result is impressive.

This is chiefly because no trace is left of the urgency in which this event was undoubtedly organized. Instead of the disorder which one could justifiably fear, this Biennial proposes a collection of works, a good part of which are original pieces, presented in a coherent

fashion. Each of the following four pillars (“The Magic of Things,” “Celebrating the Drift,” “Living Together,” and “Another World is Possible,”) on which this event is built, are illustrated with obviousness and clarity. In short, it is a remarkably well-mastered  orchestration, which under the title “The Spectacle of the Everyday” asks the question of the role of art in society; or, more precisely, interrogates the terms according to which art can instill conscience and emancipation in a society where the Spectacle reigns supreme

and makes the law of consumption be respected.

To shake up this social order, Hou Hanru calls on situationist theories and principally Guy

Debord; the criticism of The Society of the Spectacle being clearly cited in the title of the exhibition. The strategies of détournement and dérive [Drift] theorized by Debord tend, each on their own level, to disrupt the established orders. The first one advocates the reuse of existing cultural production, which might be artworks as much as publicity, to pervert its

original message and create new meanings. The other one suggests a renewed experience of urban space through wandering streets without preconceptions. In sum, Debord knocks down tacit social rules presented as unchangeable. Offered to manipulation, the order of everyday social life shatters. People offered the chance to act outside their environment

escape their passive position and overcome the signs that compel their everyday behavior.

But to those attempts to take the spectator out of their condition of passive receptor, the 10th Lyon Biennial responds by often simplistic or at least politically correct propositions.


Société Réaliste, EU Green card lottery: the lagos file, 2006-2009. Wooden structure, paper, paint and adhesive vinyl. Courtesy Société Réaliste. Photo: Blaise Adilon.


The wish to subvert the fetters of everyday life is reduced to its seemliest part by Lee

Mingwei, who proposes visitors to take one of the flowers strewn over a granite structure and, once out of the museum, to offer it to someone unknown. If one sees that certain attempts of emancipation by the reformulation of social relationships are infl uenced here,

it unfortunately stays at the level of a demonstration molded on good feelings. Such is the case with Yang Jiechang, who sells reproductions of human bones in porcelain in aid of a charity association working towards emergency accommodation. If art gets in contact with the exterior and reaches a useful role in society, it is only in a dramatically utilitarian way. Here the artist is only considered to be a simple services provider, his mission ending

only at the vocation of doing good, without any critical agenda and, above all, without risking to offend anyone. Such a naïve submission to a politic of respect towards the public locks down any radical position within a generally agreed rightminded thought.

This remains the case with the project of Carlos Motta, who broadcasts more than 400 interviews with passers-by, asking what they think of Democracy. To this always conciliatory posture corresponds a simplistic speech carried forth in a lightweight manner. HeHe, an artist collective, presents a video in which a toy 4x4 is driven by remote control through the main streets of major cities, zigzagging between cars and emitting from its exhaust a compact and colored smoke. Humor is used only with the aim to set out an obvious truth shared by all, refusing to analyze the situation that is reported.

Thus, the pillars invoked by this Biennial are sustained by several works that makes it remain on an illustrative level. An illustrative level that, as well orchestrated as it might be, gives this exhibition a simplistic and suitable tone, preventing any exhibited pieces from

reaching their goal of subversion.  


Flash Art 269  NOVEMBER - DECEMBER 2009


Pedro Cabrita Reis, Les dormeurs, 2009. Neon, electric cables. Courtesy the artist. In collaboration

with Haulotte France. Photo: Blaise Adilon.


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