Since its creation in 1991, Thierry Raspail, artistic director of la Biennale de Lyon, has been inviting each guest curator to reflect on a word spanning three editions. La Biennale 2015 will start a new trilogy with the word ‘modern,’ a word that Thierry Raspail gave to the Director of the Hayward Gallery in London, Ralph Rugoff. As the 2015 Guest Curator, Ralph Rugoff answered to this term with a statement for 2015: La vie moderne.
La Vie Moderne, by Ralph Rugoff:
The 13th Biennale de Lyon, titled la vie moderne, will bring together artists from 28 different countries who explore the contradictory character of contemporary culture in varied regions of the world. Their work addresses the ways in which multifarious legacies of the ‘modern’ era continue to colour and shape our perceptions as well as the salient scenarios and issues of everyday life. With acuity and wit, a desire to engage and provoke different ways of understanding, and an adventurousness in fashioning new forms and images, their work invites the public to reflect on and re-imagine our relationships to the present moment.
There is (unavoidably) an ironic dimension to this title la vie moderne, which evokes a more optimistic moment in history characterised by a confident faith in the ‘new,’ the virtues of progress, and the centrality of reason. Today, when current events continually remind us that reason has a limited role in a world propelled by passionate and irrational convictions, the phrasela vie moderne seems like something of a period piece, a relic from another age. It thus evinces a decided ambiguity: to say something is ‘modern’ imbues it with an aura of uncertainty—it suggests something haunted by history as well as forward-looking. It seems to me this ambiguity captures the changing character of our current relationships to time and history, which mark a significant departure from classic modernism’s pretense of suppressing or disguising its debts to the past and so concealing contradictions within its own character. Today it seems clear that there is no escape from history; instead our only choice is to engage with and repair its legacies.