Biennale De Lyon
Rosen, Miriam, Artforum International
MUSEE D'ART CONTEMPORAIN
Culture trickles down in France, and computer culture is no exception. Just like the television set in the '50s and '60s, which was for a long time a luxury item, personal computers - much less CD-ROM players or Internet connections - are by no means widespread. Only about 10 percent of French households have computers, and only 10 percent of these are connected to the Internet or an online service, while the number of CD players is estimated at 500,000. This means, for the moment at least, that the art that has sprung up around these new technologies is remote from most people's experience, but not necessarily in the same way as "classic" avant-garde production. Indeed, the teenager who has grown up with video games and MTV is likely to have more insight into the new "electronic" or "multimedia" art than the museum curator.
The third Lyons biennial of contemporary art is both a product and an illustration of this situation. In an obvious attempt to tap a more general public, 64 artists variously working in film, photography, video, and performance - with a dash of Internet for good measure - were brought together under the somewhat misleading banner of the "moving image." Notwithstanding this gesture toward Lyons' native sons Auguste and Louis Lumiere in the centennial year of the French cinema, the biennial's "historical" section of 23 works began only in 1963 with the respective video distortions of Nam June Paik and Wolf Vostell. A bit like the dinosaurs in a natural history museum, these and other relics of what may well be the prehistory of multimedia art - Bruce Nauman's "Video Corridor" pieces, 1969-70, Michael Snow's De La, 1969-72, Dan Graham's Body Press, 1970-72, Steina and Woody Vasulka's Machine Vision, 1976, Marina Abramovic and Ulay's videos and photographs of their performances, 1977-80 - are displayed in the spanking new galleries of the Lyons Museum of Contemporary Art. Seen out of time and out of context, few of these works are inherently captivating, and this may be the ultimate revenge of their creators, who were at the time doing their anti-institutional best to stay out of museums.
The one glorious exception to the taxidermy syndrome is Bill Viola's 1976 video installation He Weeps for You, which manages to encapsulate the viewer, the gallery, and the world in a single drop of water. …