Postponed by one year because of the global pandemic, the year’s edition of the Biennale de Lyon, which runs until December 31, is the first time that ancient artworks have been displayed alongside contemporary creations. There are 66 commissions, including artists like Leyla Cárdenas, Zhang Yunyao, and Philipp Timischl, and it is also the first time the exhibition has expanded throughout the entire city.
In addition to the Biennale’s traditional venues of the Usines Fagor and Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon (macLyon), a dozen institutions are participating not only as venues for the show but were consulted as part of the curatorial process by the show’s cocurators, Sam Bardaouil and Till Fellrath, who were named co-directors of the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin earlier this year.
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“We did not only turn to them for loans, but also for advice”, said Isabelle Bertolotti, the Biennale’s director, whose only instruction for the curatorial duo was to go as local as possible. They were to find the best possible theme to tell the story of Lyon.
And the winner was silk, the industry for which took over the city beginning in 1643 and is now celebrated each year around December 8. The curators’ subsequent research on silk led them to the path of Louise Brunet, a silk spinner who came to Lyon to work. In 1834 she was arrested, among 10,000 other weavers, for joining what is known as the Canut Revolt. Once she got out of prison, she ended up in Beirut, Lebanon, where many silk factories had taken root.
In addition to a section in the exhibition devoted to a partially fictionalized telling of Brunet’s life, this binational profile inspired the Biennale’s team to dedicate a second section, entirely devoted to Beirut, focusing on the period between the cultural boom the city experienced in 1958 to the beginning of the civil war in 1975; and a third part connecting Lyon to the rest of the world.
Those three chapters are underpinned by the idea of fragility as a form of resistance. Nothing is what it seems. One minute you are fine, but the next anything can happen. Prosperity, happiness, even luck, come and go. And so, Bardaouil and Fellrath titled their exhibition, “Manifesto of Fragility.”
“As my mother once told me, while teaching me never to discriminate anyone: we are all going to die. Mortality is the one thing we have in common,” added Bardaouil, who sees the Biennale as a platform for everyone to share.
“It takes a group of people to write a manifesto—it’s not a one-man job,” Fellrath, said. “A fragility told from the standpoint of an individual, Louise Brunet, of a people, and of humanity.”
Below, a look at 7 standout contemporary works on view the 2022 Lyon Biennale that deal with how vulnerability is actually a strength in disguise and that one should never take anything for granted.