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.