Sunday, September 23, 2007

The 00s- The History of a Decade That Has Not Yet Been Named

Notes from a continuous conversation between Stéphanie Moisdon and Hans-Ulrich Obrist (selections) for the Lyon Biennial.

“To construct history is the atheist equivalent of a prayer,” says historian Paul Veyne, who conceives of the writing of history not as a scientific exercise but as a modelling of the explosive satellisation of knowledge, as the constructing of plots, as a method of investigation drawing on traces, facts, clues, accidents and anecdotes. Here this methodical approach serves as a road map, with the players’ different proposals forming a mass of plots, directions and unanticipated adventures.
The resultant multiplicity of stories and characters produces an exploded time frame,a series of interruptions in which chance endlessly changes the destiny andcountenance of an exhibition transformed into an enormous machination, the locus of asecret conversation. However, the randomness this implies is neither the throw-of-the-dice kind nor the “psychological” variety cultivated by the Surrealists, but one generated by a system when the system taps into and takes over the creators’ intentions. For in the historical novel of the art of today, the question of the creator keeps coming up, and embracing other modalities of representation and of
distribution of subjectivities.

For writer Edouard Glissant, biennials are closer in shape to continents – solid, imposing masses – than to the archipelago model of receptiveness, sharing and exchange. In his view, “The idea or the concept of a non-linear temporality implies the coexistence of several time zones, and at the same time leaves scope for a great range of contacts between these zones.” Seen as a zone of reciprocal contacts, then, the biennial can oscillate between the museum and the city, and between the city, its periphery and the world. It grows like a dynamic force field, radiating out through the whole city and beyond, embracing all sorts of organised partnerships at local,
national and international level – the House of Chaos just outside Lyon, the Bullukian Foundation, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Villeurbanne, Le Magasin in Grenoble, the Athens and Istanbul biennials, and so on – and even the territories of a Wikipedia-style Everyware community. Giving rise to self-run events, subsidiary exhibitions, and undreamed-of extensions, these joint ventures are also the opportunity to add new centres: let us not forget that the quest for an absolute centre that permeated and dominated a large part of the 20th century ultimately
resulted in a polyphony of centres in the 21st – a phenomenon not unrelated to the emergence and the power of biennials around the world. Glissant reminds us, too, that the homogenising forces of globalisation were countered in the 1990s by a proliferation of biennials – whose own homogenising impact led to the disappearance of difference. For despite their urge to breathe new life into the system, the curators of these biennials often did no more than reproduce obsolete models of visibility and geopolitical representation in a balancing act that reinforced the underpinnings of the global market.

This project is a mechanism as defined by Giorgio Agamben: “The mechanism is a network of diverse elements embracing virtually all things, whether discursive or not: discourse, institutions, edifices and aesthetic and philosophical propositions. A mechanism always has a concrete strategic function and is always part of a relationship between power and knowledge.” Within such mechanisms – on which our existences sometimes depend – the question thus becomes: what strategies must we adopt in the daily struggle that links us to them? At a time when we are all faced with the need to get back to the possibilities of appropriate usage, the practicality of play – that purposeless children’s play that allows for the renewal of the
function of every object – becomes the instrument for new ways of doing things. The game space – with the exhibition space – is that of the proliferation of stories and usages, in which the rules ineluctably lead the participants to make choices. The game is never gratuitous, for it makes truly available that which was previously only accessible. To player and viewer alike it makes available the usage of the rules – the means of inventing a mythology of the present. “Each time,” says Agamben, “we have to wrench back from the mechanisms the possibility of usage they have taken captive. The profanation of the unprofanable is the political task of the coming generation.”

Stéphanie Moisdon and Hans-Ulrich Obrist