Magazine article Artforum International

La Biennale De Montreal: Various Venues

Magazine article Artforum International

La Biennale De Montreal: Various Venues

Article excerpt

La Biennale de Montreal


The week before "L'avenir (looking forward)," the latest edition of the Biennale de Montreal, opened, a group of experts met at Berlin's Haus der Kulturen der Welt to debate whether the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch marked by humanity's profound impact on the earth, has indeed begun. While the thematic overlap between these two convocations can be chalked up to coincidence, the growing precarity of life has become difficult to deny, and the need to envision alternative possibilities is becoming at once more urgent and perhaps less feasible, as both the Montreal Biennale and the Berlin meeting suggested. As environmental, economic, technological, and geopolitical crises abound--with human actions their direct cause--the future itself seems imperiled.

Borrowed from Jacques Derrida, the avenir of the biennial's title refers to a conception of the future as speculative and uncertain, one that retains the potential to be reimagined and changed, providing a fertile prompt for artists. The title's English semitranslation highlights the central role of vision in such acts, but also introduces a sense of levity, and even of eager anticipation. While this biennial, cocurated by Gregory Burke, Peggy Gale, Lesley Johnstone, and Mark Lanctot, was not the first, nor will it be the last, to address the growing impasse we find ourselves in, it distinguished itself by localizing these issues through artworks anchored in proximal histories and geographies.

The 1960s was a decade of urban rejuvenation and expansion in which Montreal pulsed with radical politics and utopian visions. Drawing on this ethos, the biennial presented a trio of text pieces by Lawrence Weiner--A NATURAL WATER COURSE DIVERTED REDUCED OR REPLACED, AN ABRIDGEMENT OF AN ABUTMENT TO ON NEAR OR ABOUT THE ARCTIC CIRCLE, THE ARCTIC CIRCLE SHATTERED--all conceived in 1969 and realized shortly thereafter, during a trip to the Canadian Arctic accompanied by critic Lucy R. Lippard. With each piece presented at a different venue (the Musee d'Art Contemporain, the Darling Foundry, and the Place Ville Marie mall and office building), Weiner's work spans the breadth of sites that the biennial occupied: museum, nonprofit, and shopping mall somewhat ironically positioned as public space.

During a curatorial presentation on October 20, Gale pointed out that certain guiding words--liquidity and speculation among them--linked the seemingly disparate discourses covered by the biennial. …

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