Jeremy Deller & Michel Blazy, 13th Biennale de Lyon, 10.09 – 03.01.16

“The impulse to announce a clean break from the past, to instigate a rupture with tradition, is the modernist gesture par excellence. Is it possible then, that our recurring desire to declare the end of the modern era is, in fact, merely a symptom of the modernity it aspires to bury? In any case, it seems well worth considering an alternative scenario: namely, that the various trajectories of the modern project still actively inflect and shape our perceptions as well as the outstanding issues of our time.

La vie moderne, the 13th edition of the Biennale de Lyon, sets out to explore this possibility. Its title unavoidably evokes echoes of earlier, and perhaps more optimistic, moments in history, but rather than its potential irony, what drew me to use this title was its ambiguity. In colloquial usage the adjective “modern” still implies something recent or new, yet this particular phrase carries with it a long history that ranges from the relatively recent documentary on rural France, La Vie Moderne (2008), by filmmaker Raymond Depardon to the publication of Charles Baudelaire’s essay “Le Peintre de la vie moderne”, in Le Figaro in 1863. So today this phrase embodies a bemusing temporal uncertainty: it can serve to indicate our current moment even as it suggests a kind of period piece or relic from a bygone era. Rather than simply evoking the contents or “theme” of this exhibition, my hope is that this title thus poses a question – ot so much about the “modern,” however variously that term might be defined, but about the nature of our present and the kinds of dialogues it carries forward with the past. Bringing together artists whose work reflects on and extrapolates from the contradictory character of present-day life in different regions of the world, La vie moderne is also acutely attuned to the ways in which contemporary culture constitutes a working through, and a response to, prior events and traditions. Even as the artists in the exhibition explore current situations and images, they are also excavating the past. Their work articulates a fluid sense of how various moments in time link up in the current moment, while often confronting us with unexpected connections between them.” (…)

Ralph Rugoff, guest curator
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