BY Simon Pooley in Reviews | 10 OCT 01
Featured in
Issue 62

6th Biennale de Lyon

Various Venues, Lyon, France

BY Simon Pooley in Reviews | 10 OCT 01

Artists Samuel Boutruche and Benjamin Moreau go under the name of Kolkoz, and their invitation to visitors to conspire in the indiscriminate slaughter of the Musée d'Art Contemporain's oblivious occupants was fortunately not the kind of collusion referred to by the Lyon Biennale's title 'Connivance'.

Despite its somewhat twisted take on the idea of connivance, Half Life (2001) an amusing variation on the PC game of the same name still managed to accommodate the officially sanctioned interpretation: the 'friendly complicity' generated between artists working to challenge the restrictions of their particular medium or genre by exploring the possibilities of an inclusive concept of 'visual culture'.

Seven different curators, each specializing in a particular artistic field art, music, film, photography, dance, performance and literature were asked to either propose existing pieces or to commission new work that conformed to such an agenda. In adopting this approach the Biennale was able to provide a context in which the older work could be re-appraised in terms of its relationship to the idea of an increasingly synthesized cultural landscape, while the newer pieces could be evaluated in terms of their ability to advance it. Nam June Paik's Merce By Merce (1978) is a looped film depicting Merce Cunningham's attempts to remove dance from the stage and relocate it within the realm of the mundane and the everyday: a baby's first steps, a fight scene from a Kung-Fu movie, a Yellow Cab chase through the streets of New York. The legacy of such investigations, as well as the interstices that exist between art and choreography, are clearly present in the elaborate performances enacted in work such as Aernout Mik's Kitchen (1997) and Mike Kelley's Heidi's Four Basket Dances (1992 -2001).

In terms of its ability to straddle different artistic genres, one would have imagined that the Biennale would have focused upon performance-based work, but it avoided this easily anticipated trajectory by turning instead to the proliferating sphere of computer-generated work. Concentrating specifically on the video game, the exhibition presented a variety of work addressing the various aesthetic and cultural issues raised by a phenomenon that only emerged as recently as 30 years ago. In Mel Chin's installation, The Knowmad Confederacy, Knowmad (1999-2000) fantasy and reality overlap in a full-sized Bedouin, tent within which the viewer could wander a virtual desert; Julian Alma and Laurence Hart's Borderland, Cartoon Man (1999) inverts this idea, sarcastically injecting a taste of reality back into a violent fantasy world, replacing its usual parade of mythical warriors with the more recognizable figures of a little old lady and a painter and decorator armed with a Chihuahua and a step-ladder respectively.

Undoubtedly, no interrogation of the video game would be complete without reference to the primitive origins from which it evolved: Space Invaders, Pac Man and the Atari. Panopile's Le Médiateur (The Mediator, 1999), Space Invader's Arcade Game V.3 (2000) and Archangel Constanti's Atari Noise (2001) all contrive to manipulate these forms in ways that exploit their nostalgic value. But it's the juxtaposition with the dizzying potential of present technology that perhaps raises the most interesting point: the way in which in just under 30 years the video game has provided an accelerated compendium of art history's evolution from Byzantine art through to the Renaissance conquest of real space.

Even in work that avoided being interactive, the influence of computerized technology still left its mark. The contributions of Jörg Sasse and Thomas Demand overtly refer to the implications of digital manipulation on the putative claims of the photographic image, while the paintings of Miltos Manetas examined the role of the games console in the wider context of youth culture.

While the threat to colonize the earth posed by the pixellated alien marauders seemed to have finally been realized at the Biennale, the work created by the writers Will Self and Eve Almassy suggested that there still remain viable visual alternatives to those offered by cyberspace. The monolithic canvas and wood construction of Self 's L'Ennui (2001), presented a pastiche of a French newspaper, its stories and articles satirizing the endless circulation of information fed to us by the media. In Almassy's contribution, William Singespeare (2001), a live monkey was chained to a desk and provided with a typewriter in the hope that it would conform to the popular maxim and perhaps come up with a rhyming couplet or two. Although the primate failed in its attempts to emulate the bard, it did manage to create a rather pleasing arrangement of bodily fluids on the floor around the desk.