Letter of intent
To start the year 2018, we addressed our curatorial intent to the artists and partners of the Biennale in the shape of a letter. The following text, which explains the context and references in which is rooted our project "À Cris Ouverts", was following up the many discussions we had with artists, writers, and friends. Our first intuition was to postpone as much as possible the solidification of ideas into curatorial statements1 , we preferred to inhabit a space for shared reflection before committing to an exhibition typology. It felt crucial for us to listen to the perspectives of artists, their artistic desires and interests.
We have great respect for artists who have been or continue to operate ‘in the break 2 ’ of our systems. As we started exchanging with artists whose artworks interrogate these systems as forms of order, normativity or convention, it became clear that, as curators, we needed to question our methodology and/or professional predispositions.
In response, we try to find a fresh approach and language for the Biennale, in collaboration with the artists. That is why we gathered the artists, researchers, and partners who are taking part in the project in an Assembly last March 28th and 29th that aimed to share a moment of dialogue, of suspension, outside of the public view. The exchanges—which exceeded the mere Biennale’s context—opened up new perspectives at the crossroads of the areas of aesthetics, economics, ecology, gender studies, and animal and racial issues.
Les Ateliers de Rennes - Contemporary Art Biennale was launched ten years ago with the idea that art, the economy and the creative thinking of artists could be brought together. The previous editions of this biennale paved the way for this idea, it did not only help formulate it, but it also broadened the perspective for thinking through art objects and practices within the fields of art and economy. This background has allowed us to start out with the immediate desire to think with artists, beyond a vision of the world ruled by orthodox economics, which continues to demand and shape our civilizational lens.
After all, the word “economy” shares the same prefix with “ecology”. Taken from the ancient Greek root ‘oikos’ or ‘eco’ meant the management and sustainability of an extended family unit. At that time, this consisted of the house, family, land, pets, property, and slaves. In this sense, the archeology of this prefix is as much about dwelling spaces (as in the warmth and bliss of a home) as it is about social structures: power, race, class, gender. Where children, labor, food, earth, and the distribution of energy are understood as elements of an intended operational system. As such, ‘eco’ is about our shelter and how our resources translate into the future reproduction of ourselves i.e. survival. Above anything, ‘eco’ encourages a reconsideration of the logic of value, its representation, material, and idea. Not forgetting the fears of its loss, distortion or abstract gain.
2017 has been a strange year, politically brutal, but economically the most prosperous in the history of humanity. Yet, the collapse of our immediate environment is adding to feelings of anxiety that have been solidly palpable for a while and causing many contradictory reactions. New routines and conventions are being brought up, asking us to update (even if we are paradoxically facing the risk of reproducing) repressive systems into new ones. Moreover, the contradictions informed by change are complex and staggering, even as we are told that more ‘transitions’ are on the way. Often these changes are prompted by financial ruthlessness, inequality, conflict, and breakdowns – without resolutions or remedial measures – which routinely seem to generate waves of denial and short- sightedness. Yet, everywhere, different ways of being are opening up and enacting distinct paths, not only through dissonance but also through contestation (and sometimes) through the break of meaning that happens with the embracing of the unknown.
So here we are, thinking of ‘transitions’ phenomenologically embodied in our anxiety and now through the poetic junction of an unruly or untranslatable French title, which sounds to the ear (or says) other than it reads: ‘with wide open screams / or crisis / or verse / or green’. Our title reminds us that the transitions of meaning found in language often mirror the world before us. To this end, this Biennale project aims to gather artworks and artists who are or have been shaping different ways to inhabit the world, and who are reflecting on distinct imaginaries of a collective whole.
The artists we are presenting in the exhibitions are questioning and looking beyond the established vision of a world ruled by domestication3 , that is, beyond the ruling vision of the world where the subordination and management of other subjectivities - human, non-human or post-human - has imposed itself as the only way to secure value and inhabit the social and natural world. Through this Biennale, we want to introduce artists who are improvising new entangled visions, intersectional outlooks or those who shape new transient values; such as those radicalizing enchantment and practicing non-compliance. In many ways, these artists are asking how to live through transformative or fugitive trajectories and we are humbled by their propositions.
Just a decade ago, and before the Great Recession or Eurozone crisis, we would have ironically smiled when seeing an ad implying “you are the value”. But today, this value, in the work of these artists is emerging as early precursors of intended alternatives which are (despite their pessimism or celebration) quietly surfacing and moving as spaces or times of resistance. These resistance are informed by fleeting borders – and not limited to imaginaries of survival – allowing for lively, unpredictable, disorderly actions and environments of actualized relations. Often found with qualities devoid of contrived violence or mimicry for belonging and with a vision to establish alternate realities as introverted readings. In the end, the aim is to disrupt the politics of invisibility, especially of those that organise our experience from socially or materially unrecyclable (and ungovernable) waste.
Ces espaces ou ces temps de résistance suggèrent d’autres modalités d'existence générant des esthétiques singulières et des imaginaires attentionnés. Furtifs mais bien présents, ils dessinent des trajectoires fuyantes au lieu de battre en retraite. Au 19e siècle, on les aurait immédiatement identifiés dans un conte pour enfant. Ces modes ou formulations, qui jouissent d'existences damnées, tendent les bras et célèbrent l'imprévu tout en sillonnant l'impermanence de ce qui se prétend bien arrêté. Le mot anglais « wildness » [sauvage, fureur, aspect non domestiqué] a été récemment proposé comme un outil critique visant à les désigner. Et bien que ce soit justement dans le refus de la définition que ces modes d’existence performent leurs identités, il s'agit bien (une fois l'étymologie décolonisée) d'évoquer « tout ce qui réside au delà des logiques actuelles de régulation ».
These spaces or times of resistance reflect alternative modes of being; driving their own aesthetics and thoughtful imaginaries. They do not cower or runaway so easily. In the 19th century, they would have been easier to tell apart in a children’s story. But in their star-crossed existence, these modes reach out in celebratory contingency, via the impermanence of things pretending to last. ‘Wildness’ has been proposed as a critical term to define them, and whilst these modes paradoxically dismantle the term itself before one can say it, it might be more or less spoken of (now via a decolonized etymology) as what “lies beyond the current logics of rule4 ”.
If these alternative modes of being can be drawn in excess, then they can also appear in the everyday practices of refusal and care; especially as they gently and quietly trouble the fabric of hegemony. These modes emerge in the asperities between language and experience, in difference and sameness. They often glance right back at us with an unsettling truth-telling gaze. What could be understood as the performance of non-normative presences like those of animated materialities, queer touches, distorted glimpses, fugitive sounds, disabled movements –or those acting in non-linear time – in order to provide “a sense of a larger world 5 ”. Or better yet, one can find them in an unfettered and unkempt place/time/idea. This “unregulated” elsewhere (now more accurate in meaning) shies away from grammar and exists outside of the narrative-building boarding schools of capitalist appropriation, and it is embodied by what can only be described in concise detail as “a motion, in between various modes of being and belonging, and on the way to new economies of giving, taking, being with and for6 ”
Étienne Bernard & Céline Kopp
1 One of the most important writers of the French Caribbean (whose work unfortunately is not fully translated into English), Edouard Glissant, started a conference in August 2004 in Uzeste by saying: “I don’t know what I will tell you...”; “ It is important not to prepare...Otherwise, fixed, definitive thought imposes itself once and for all...” Later he concludes the conference by saying: “...let’s rather try to tremble while leaning towards the other instead of being confident in ourselves when we’re about to hit the other. Let’s try to understand how the world in turn trembles, let’s have a rapport with the world, let’s tremble from the tremor of the world,”
In 2015, in La Cohée du lamentin, published by Gallimard, he writes:
“....the tremor of thought suddenly emerges from everywhere,
Music and forms suggested by people. Sweet and slow,
Heavy and beating. Beauty à cri ouvert (with wide open scream).”
It protects us from thoughts and thought systems...”
2 Here we are referencing theorist and poet Fred Moten. In his eponymous book (In the Break:The Aesthetics of A Black Radical Tradition, University of Minnesota Press, 2003), he asks “Is there a way to subject this unavoidable model of subjection to a radical breakdown?”
3 Here, we are thinking of the concept of ‘generalized domestication’ as developed by Ghassan Hage in his recent book Is Racism an Environmental Threat?, collection Debating Race, Wiley, 2017. Domestication being, according to him, by no means the only human way of ecologizing – of making ourselves at home in the world.
4 Jack Halberstam, “Wildness, Loss, Death,” in Social Text 121 (Winter 2014), p.138.
5 Tavia Nyong’o “Wildness: A Fabulation”, Issue 12.1-12.2, Fall 2013/Spring 2014. http://sfonline.barnard.edu/activism-and-the-academy/wildness-a-fabulation/ (last consulted on Jan. 7, 2018)
6 Jack Halberstam, “The wild beyond: with and for the undercommons”, preface to the book by Stefano Harney and Fred Moten The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, Minor Compositions, 2013, p.5.