It is well-known that Parisians have a difficult relationship with what they depracatingly term la province. Although they appreciate the bon vivre and gastronomic qualities of smaller country towns, they also fear the isolation, the quiet evenings, the lack of culture and entertainment. Unfortunately, 'Xn99', a group exhibition that relies upon networks and interactivity less as curatorial principles than as an uneasy response to its location outside the capital, emanates this mixture of envy, pity and ultimately, condescension.
Hence the interactive, make-friendly-contact-with-the-locals aspect of the show. This includes projects such as getting Jeremy Deller to make a video clip with Generation Ghetto, the local kids breakdance group, and asking Richard Wright to create a 'living wall painting' in collaboration with the bikers' association of Chalon. Other interactive events include an art 'videostore' and a creative writing workshop that attempts to reflect an image of Chalon's inhabitants back on themselves (in other words: what does it feel like to be provincial?). Furthermore, as a gesture to acknowledge local inheritance, the curator has refurbished the 1968 Espace des Arts with its original furniture. This is a cheap way of integrating retro chic into the show, which also conveys an impression of provincialism forever buried in Formica tables and armchairs.
While these interactive devices appear, at best, politically correct and demagogic, and at worst deeply patronising, they are part of the curators' overall intention to present an 'exhibition-in-the-making', as opposed to a traditional theme show. This lightweight theoretical rationalisation supposedly justifies working within a network of critics, curators and associations, who are also responsible for selecting works and bringing in their own projects. But in reality, these devices only highlight a resignation from any kind of critical perspective, reflected in the slackness of the show's display.
Works are scattered about the building with no sense of hierarchy or intelligent order, lumping together photos, posters, films and sculptures that neither share the same intensity nor demand the same type of viewing. There are too many films and videos to be watched in one visit, and they seem arbitrarily dispatched in two cinemas and displayed on monitors in corridors or empty rooms. The accumulation of pieces, which end up becoming names on the exhibition guide, creates a kind of levelling of all the works. This is particularly striking in the section devoted to wall paintings, which brings together artists who seem to have something to say in the medium (Ugo Rondinone, Sylvie Fleury, Jessica Diamond) with others for whom it is a pleasant but meaningless exercise (Douglas Gordon's retro The End (1999), a sign painted on a black, cinema-screen-shaped wall). It is tempting to wonder whether this sudden springing-up of wall paintings is related to the Modernist Pollock/Greenberg discourse or to a reappropriation of New York graffiti, but this line of thinking is probably too far-reaching in the context.
The lack of critical perspective - which the curators see as openness - actually prevents the viewer from really experiencing anything. Very few works are really engaging. Lisa May Post's photographs and related video, which show an elegantly dressed woman attempting to climb on an elephant in a zoo, Trying (1999) succeeds however, because its bizarreness creates a blank space around it, a sort of suspension in time - which emphasises the anecdotal quality of a nearby row of recent posters made by the Swiss-based group In Vitro. The few other works that have something to say for themselves are those that suggest a sensitive response to the exhibition's location. Georges Tony Stoll's simple intervention in the temporary 'videostore', Les Hommes Cible (The Target Men, 1999) consists of large, medallion-shaped photos of male faces. Hung low, the blown-up, ordinary looking, levitating heads disturb the circulation of the public. The faces are depicted with their eyes either open or shut, as if they were sleeping. The juxtaposition of these expressions of intimacy with the anonymity of the place and the visitors, creates a brutal contrast, which instantly brings to mind the difference and interpenetration of private and public, art and the everyday, more pertinently than any of the more explicit interactive projects of the show.