The Great Balcony, a poetic, symbolic and metaphorical title for the Montreal Biennale, aims not at conveying specific data or of informing its public, but rather at creating an impression on its audience. An impression that will shake and provoke a friction stimulating the viewers’ curiosity. Accepting every medium’s incapacity to exhaustively transmit “reality” or “messages”, the Montreal Biennale prefers to create experiences and to present works of art that stimulate the spectator’s mind and provoke multiple emotions. In order for this to happen, friction is at the centre of the Biennale dialectic, opposite concepts meet and dialogue between one another: empowerment and weakness, fiction and reality, politics and indifference… friction is there to give shape to a particular environment; a microcosm run by inner and very specific laws is created at the Biennale. Friction, the spark that constantly ignites, is the condition to keep things circulating and to spare us from boredom, which according to Pirotte is the most dangerous of all illnesses.
Two anachronic objects embody this “friction” principle: the first, a portrait by Lucas Cranach that is believed to represent the biblical myth of Judith and Holopherne; the second, a gas station designed by the German architect Mies Van der Rohe. The first explores the human condition and desire’s role in our relationships with others, whereas the second relocates materiality and usefulness – a philosophical “programmation” on its own – at the core of artistic concerns. Two major forces in art history reunite in the same space creating connections and bridges between various temporalities: the portrait temporality, the gas station temporality and ours. Thus a cacophony of outspoken cries and whispers from all over the world are displayed, not representing geographical art scenes but bearing witness instead to individual ways of expression across the globe.
At the very beginning of the project, the concept of hedonism was to be explored by artists. As the Biennale evolved, hedonism and its by-products were soon replaced by less optimistic narratives that denounced all the misfortunes and injustices that take place daily in our society. It seems that pleasure and the delights of life haven’t become a fundamental value, as Mr. Pirotte accurately noted hedonism is perhaps too big of a question to be approached and pondered upon at a Biennale. The aesthetics of pain and suffering are examined by a number of artists at the exhibition, seemingly revealing the state of mind of our world. A number of contemporary philosophers agree that our society is constructed under false pretenses, that we live in a constant illusion where the material, capitalist world governs all of our relationships with the outer world and the so called “information economy” distracts and misleads our attention. Moreover, media misinforms and prioritizes certain information. This creates a void between information and what is actually transmitted, for instance, some news are relegated to oblivion and others given too much importance. Who determines that a life is worth grieving for and that others are not? Whoever controls media and our perception, controls the world. The Biennale intends to explore our new condition as displaced people and to highlight the alarming number of people who are “displaced” against their will.
H©– Horizontally-striped Brass and Nickel, 2015 Steel stand, metal grid, powder coating,
casters, nickel plated bells, brass plated bells, metal rings 99 x 83 x 83 cm.
Courtesy of the artist and Greene Naftali, New York – Photograph: Elisabeth Bernstein
In addition to politics and the aesthetics of resistance, the objects “regime” in the art ecosystem is part of the Biennial rhetoric. During the 20th century, objects took an important part in the multiple avant-garde movements. Artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, amongst others, introduced objects into their works. By doing so they regressed the usage of the capitalist value and transferred them to a work of art feature. The friction between art and capitalism was enhanced and triggered by these “simple” actions. These bygone objects, conceived in the 20th century, have proven to be more difficult to deflect than before. Mr. Pirotte tried to encourage the artists to rethink the relationship we have with objects: the Canadian artist Celia Perrin Sidarous proposes a new photographic installation where she meditates about the connections between sculptural and architectural forms.
The Great Balcony is a Biennale revealing the intricate human psyche that incites spectators and artists alike to revisit history in order to create communicating vessels allowing us to fortunately learn something from the past and to unsettle us.