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The Spectacle of whose Everyday?

September 30th, 2009 by Remco de Blaaij

Last week I read the following text, a text that left me totally in-between wondering if I was reading a naive text, or an underskin attempt to radicalize critical thought on a biennial and a supposed global phenomenon that ‘everyone’ is experiencing.;

“In the age of globalisation, it is not enough for contemporary art to become a spectacular phenomenon embraced by almost all people in all corners of the world. It’s even more important to testify that artists and art communities from different parts of the globe are increasingly sharing the common understanding and strategies to reinvent themselves through engagements with the realm of everyday life. More and more artists are magically turning the ordinary into novel forms, meanings and usages while innovative collective mobilisations are brought to the forefront as a more democratic structure of art practices and their social functions. They are the core of the global art and culture scene today. Through intensely presenting and promoting these initiatives using the most efficient tools, including spectacular events like international biennials, truly innovative and relevant contemporary art practices will obtain a much larger visibility and help us build a new, genuinely public space for our era.

After 20 years of existence and growth, the Biennale de Lyon is now facing a new challenge to reinvent itself. Exploring and presenting the new tendency of the global art scene in its common efforts to reinvent the ordinary into something spectacular and unique, or a new multitude of expressions of diversity, complexity and interactivity, the Biennale itself will certainly reach a new youth. And it’s the best recipe to confront the current crisis that the whole world is entangled with…
The Spectacle of the Everyday is fundamentally changing both the spectacle and the everyday!”

Reading these few paragraphs as I said earlier, struck me with a serious feeling of doubt. It left me in the middle of reading a naïve joke or a complex underskin form of self-reflection. Is globalisation really a phenomenon that can only be understood by the timeframe of ‘one’ age? Is there really an increasing number of artists as described and if so is there a core that accounts for a bigger part of others? If we need a biennial as most efficient instrument, should it be only open to the most innovative of our globe?

Many of these and other questions fuel that very sense of doubt and feeling of in-betweenness. Where are we standing after reading this and where is the maker of all this standing? It may very well be the only question that really positions myself and others in a critical rethinking of our positions, as the Lyon Biennale very much would like to see. The spectacle of the biennale is clear, it’s rethinking the traditional model that is not suitable anymore for it’s likewise traditional task of exhibiting new innovations. Instead we have arrived in a new era that suffers from globalisation and needs to come up with new techniques to cope with all these new influences, experiences and possibilities. But is it really? Are our experiences so contemporary and new like we did not recognize before. Could we think of art as a bridge between the reality of everyday and what happened in the past?

I guess the text offers me no more than rhetoric’s captured in very clear assumptions that leave you in between. The rhetoric’s in this text leave, at least for me, no room in thinking otherwise or offering alternatives for any of the suggestions made. I would like to argue if indeed we are so new to globalisation and if art, as understood through our spectacle, is the only spectacle worthwhile to consider in any case? The spectacle of everyday seems to be quite overrated here as an instrument, because it is simply always there. There is no alternative for everyday reality, but if you can name it, please do so.

The text is exactly acknowledging that the everyday is something special that should be embraced and taken with care, in this case in the form of art. The biennial offers us those instruments to do so, we only need to rethink our position a bit, because we live in another everyday reality than before. I’m unsure if this disconnection with everyday reality needs to be glued, it probably never existed. The text takes a very high ambition in changing the world and changing a biennial that has been sleeping for over twenty years. A biennial that will visualize fresh young artists that really have something to say and change about their lives and their contexts, regardless of where they come from, because we all know that living in Ramallah, West Bank is almost the same as living in Lyon, France.

One Response to “The Spectacle of whose Everyday?”

  1. Steven ten Thije Says:

    Hi Remco, thanks for your reflections on ‘the spectacular of the everyday’. It’s indeed remarkable that Lyon has chosen the concept of the ‘spectacular’ to break open a ‘new, genuinely public space for our era’. Not only because of Debord’s well known critique on the notion of the spectacular in his ‘society of the spectacle’, but more so, due to their reference to the idea of ‘uniqueness’ and ‘novelty’. It seems somehow paradoxical to try and arrive at a state of collectivity (one would expect necessary for ‘public space’), through mechanisms that separate one from the other. If the everyday is spectacular, it seems that that would be more something to fear than to celebrate, for it would suggest people are getting more isolated and drift away in a phatasmagoric state of being solitary contemporary, up-to-date, but alone. I guess your last remark in its irony or even cynicism hits the mark quite well. If there is something common about our current state, it is that we are not coming closer, for even the misery of the other is translated into a common visual vocabulary neatly folded in between commercials and sit-coms. The complex fabric of our experience that switches so easily between the utopic, the disinterested and the everyday, needs an engagement that acknowledges this complexity and allows us to investigate how and when we can be, truly something as universal as ‘we’.


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