Rennes Biennale: Cries and Echos
City of Rennes
September 29 - December 2, 2018
Review by Helena Julian
Scattered throughout the city, the sixth edition of the Rennes Biennale brings together thirty-three artists in ten venues. There is a balanced composition of generations, disciplines, existing and newly commissioned work, as curators Céline Kopp and Etienne Bernard propose a more fluid structure to the coherence of the works. Instead of binding themselves to an overarching narrative, the works share an ecosystem where the practices develop on the borders of systems of knowledge, signification and identity. Many of the practices build around lived experience of feminism, representation, expressions of the body, gender and sexuality. The biennale seems to initiate a dialogue between these works, without guiding them to a singular resolution but at the same time, allowing for dissonances, contestation, and even confusion. ‘A Cris Ouverts’, associated with cry or crisis, offers a temporary hybrid structure for these peripheries to be explored. The title stems from Edouard Glissant, whose work has gained more visibility in art narratives in the last five years. Poetics, systems of language and how acts of language can be transformative seem to appear in a significant part of the presented works.
In Musée des Beaux-Arts we are drawn to the corridors that guide visitors around the main hall. In this peripheral site Dan Walwin installs ‘Bridge with sound’ (2018), an intricate composition of rigid, repetitive structures of metal, with a few appearances of suspended screens, often obscured by see-through materials that figure irregular drawings. The shown images bring us to the desolate outskirts of urban environments, shallow rivers, and remarkably to a scene of a child playing with printed paper and face paint. The wealth of fragments refuse a singular narrative, but instead figure as an evocative pathway to its references, such as documentary material, intuitive hand held camera footage, and landscape investigations by drones. We are unsure of who is guiding us through these images, human, animal or technology, contributing to the experience of a speculative space where erratic movements seem to be the only certainty.
In one of the main venues of the biennale at Hall De La Courrouze, I follow a soft chant by Julien Creuzet to his impressive installation which imagines an ecosystem of mangrove trees, with their specific ways of self-protection and fertilisation in harsh environments. In Creuzet’s makeshift forest, we encounter the sound of the artist’s voice, reciting poems and songs that echo Caribbean narratives. Combined with screens that refer to a love story played out on Tinder, we enter into a collage where different images and textures freely sway against each other.
This dialogue of image and texture is also witnessed in Wu Tsang’s evocative ‘We Hold Where Study’ (2017). The film consists of two neighbouring but contrasting images of moody, saturated colours: deep red, greens and blues. There is a small strip on the border of the two projections where the images overlap and accumulate to an almost abstract form. We see two duo’s sharing space through dance in a dance hall and a meadow. These duets evoke thoughts that are rooted in Tsang’s ongoing collaboration with Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, authors of The Undercommons. The whirlwind of dance and sound (composed by Bendik Giske) seems to sensually give form to thoughts about identity, gender and community building.
From Tsang’s whirling bodies we encounter Paul Maheke’s contribution to the biennale, one of the performative components of the programme. He presents a luscious scenery of draped fabrics of soft toned yellow hues, amongst puddles of water, dimmed lighting, emptied aquariums, a soft humming drone sound, and a wall-wide painting of a cosmic constellation. The space of Dans l’éther, ‘là, ou l’eau’ (2018), seems to have been flooded just before the bodies of the performers enter the location and intermingle voices, stories, traces of theory and dance ranging from diverse sources such as Edouard Glissant, Audre Lorde and Michael Jackson. The traces of the cultural significance resonate through the space, as liquid as the presence of water and draped fabric. The performance is a sensuous play on the remembrance of poetic and political matter. Could it be that Maheke’s constellation proposes a way of approaching the wealth of works that are on show at the biennale, proposing a more emotive access to what is heard, remembered and reenacted?
In their collaborative work of multimedia installations, films and performances, Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz continue to explore their approach to what they term ‘queer archaeology’. They consider voices, figures and bodies of queer signification, often focussing on key moments of identity construction and political force. In the video installation ‘I Want’ (2015), we encounter the voices of New York poet Kathy Acker and whistle-blower Chelsea Manning, embodied by a single figure. Although their personal narratives have very little points of correspondence, the analogy of their formed identities through the use of text, statements and political acts is condensed to an impressive monologue composed of fragments of their life stories. The line between the political and personal is entirely blurred. The script seems to introduce a consideration of post-identity, accessing different timeframes and spaces.
Moving between generations but focussing on a shared narrative is also present in the video work of Meriem Bennani. She often depicts memories and thought images of her Moroccan cultural heritage. ‘Siham & Hafida’ (2017), is presented on an array of screens and objects throughout the space, often with comically enhanced fragments challenging the handheld documentary genre. The film depicts tensions between generations and the inherent transmission of cultural heritage through dance and music. Siham and Hafida are two singers of the Aita, a musical genre of the Chikha. Their intergenerational conversations throughout the film give insight to how lived experience is transmitted and challenged by the fact that the younger generations learn the treats of the Aita through clips on youtube. By showing performances of both the generations, Bennani draws parallels between the shift in knowledge transmission, while both contributing to shared cultural expression.