Jimmie Durham is showing two works. The first, created for the Biennale, brings a scaffolding and CCTV cameras together in an unexpected pairing of objects with opposed uses and symbolism. The first is gleaming and factory-fresh, the standard equipment you see adorning walls being built or refurbished. The second is usually hidden, being intended to keep us under surveillance. Together they add up to a strange system: who’s building what, who’s spying on whom? Further along Durham offers "Thinking of You": a perch with an aluminium vulture on it. The bird of prey’s silhouette stands out haughtily against the light, playing the guardian of the established order more surely than all the cameras in the world.
Interview with Hou Hanru, currator of the Biennale de Lyon 2009:
HH : I suggested the title to the Bienniale's artistic director Thierry Raspail right at the start. In today's world existing means being part of the spectacle - that's the situation we're in. Everything's spectacle: any image in a magazine, any exhibition, etc. And in that same world there's also what's called the "everyday": a living, shifting terrain on which people come up with all kinds of ways of resisting the implacable logic of consumption as embodied in the spectacle.
The idea for the Bienniale is to use the spectacle to spotlight this invisible world of the everyday and the ceaseless creation that goes on within it.
HH : The project this time round is to get people thinking about the why and the wherefore of art. Today everything's spectacular, everything's shackled to consumption, superficiality, the market, institutions. The Bienniale is an attempt to get back to the close ties between artistic creativity and people's lives.
It's not solely a matter of turning on the enjoyment with a biennial devoted to daily life. There's a philosophical side as well: the world really does fall into two parts, one highly visible, which is the spectacle and the other invisible, which is the everyday; and artists look for inspiration in their experience of that existence.
To sum up, the core notion of the project is that with the Bienniale now twenty years old, we've reached a point where we really have to rethink the relationship between artists, art and people; so that the linkage between society and the world of creativity can continue to function.
HH : Because the theme is multifaceted, the Bienniale is based on a multidimensional model; there are five pillars that can be easily identified as you move through the exhibition. In the course of discovering The Spectacle of the Everyday, you'll come across The Magic of Things, made up of the work of artists who orient everyday objects and situations towards new horizons so as to raise social, historical and political questions. Celebrating the Drift looks at artists who make use of urban spaces and produce works that resist order and spatial constraints.
Living Together explores the dialogue between the city and its communities, while Another World is Possible gives the floor to artists taking a critical look at reality and imagining new, sometimes utopian social orders.
Close in spirit to the last-mentioned is the project called Veduta, which stands the usual art situation on its head. Instead of bringing the public to the works of art, it brings the works to the public, and does so in neighbourhoods undergoing urban regeneration. Veduta is the Biennial on your doorstep: with brand new contemporary art experiences we're trying to set up a dialogue so people can talk about art - or simply just look at it.
HH : All the exhibitions I've curated embody a direct link with the city, with the street, with the way people organise their lives on a daily basis. I see it as a real necessity that artists should begin to engage with people's lives again.
What we have to make sure of is that our agenda includes dialogue and discussion with audiences that have different kinds of access to this type of intellectual project. We can't make art if we're disconnected from society and the way it lives.
HH : As I see it, I don't just create exhibitions. I'm looking for meaning, a meaning for life, and through my artistic projects I offer a way of thinking that fosters certain ideas.
Being a "curator" is not just inventing the best exhibition ever. An exhibition is not an end in itself, it's the beginning of a long process of coming up with ideas for the future, for society. It's not just a display of objects - a presentation - but a setting in which to start thinking about what we are and what we're doing here.
HH : A title and a project like this one don't come out of nowhere. They're the combination of an investigation - a theoretical quest I've been on for a long time - and a large dose of practicality and acquaintance with artists. I work a lot with artists, I learn from them, I swap ideas with them. I chose some I know well, whom I see as essential, then I looked further afield. I broadened my horizons. After all, looking for artists is my job! I also invited artists I'd never met.
The Biennale of Lyon is a Les Biennales de Lyon event