Hou Hanru is director of exhibitions at the San Francisco Art Institute, and a curator of international reputation. He co-curated the 2nd Guangzhou Triennale in China (2005), with Hans Ulrich Obrist and Guo Xiaoyan, and took charge as commissioner of the upcoming Biennale de Lyon, Sept. 16, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010, in February of this year (following the unexpected resignation of Catharine David). His theme for the Biennale is "The Spectacle of the Everyday."
The following is a translation of an interview Hanru gave to Artnet Magazine’s French-language edition. The original video can be viewed here
We are living in the society of the spectacle. In spite of its alienating effects on our life and social relationships, it’s one of the most fundamental conditions of our existence. We perceive the world and communicate with each other through the spectacle -- a system of image production and representation dominated by the logic of market capitalism which tends to "develop" our faculties of perception, imagination and reflection towards a "one dimensional model" formatted by the language of consumerist ideology. This is also the very condition of our contemporary self-identification and of the social order "guaranteed" by the established power system. As one of the main typologies of artistic and cultural events of our time, biennials of contemporary art are, no doubt, an ultimate form of expression of such a tendency.
However, whereas there is no longer any "outside" for the society of the spectacle in the age of globalization, or of the "global empire" (Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt), there is always a necessity to engage critically and negotiate with such a condition of "no-outside." It’s here, in such an engagement, that contemporary art and culture can regain their social role as a critical force and a channel for imaginative propositions for a better future.
If the society of the spectacle has imposed a seemingly unbeatable social, economic and political order and intellectual, artistic and cultural structure, it’s absolutely urgent and permanently necessary for the art and culture worlds to come up with new visions and strategies promoting different and alternative ideas and solutions for the world to embrace its future. They should be diverse, complex, ever-changing and open to all kinds of uncertainties and potentials, against the static-ness, reductionism and control of the established order. The domain of everyday life, or le quotidian, is certainly the most open and efficient space in which, due to "alter-globalization" -- the global trend of social activism and independent initiatives to construct a new, bottom-up and more just world -- one can most creatively imagine and propose fresh ideas and visions, as well as energetically encourage social mobilizations for more freedom and common interests.
As Michel de Certeau pointed out two decades ago, the (re)invention of the everyday life -- le quotidian, or "the ordinary" -- through differentiating usages of game-playing (jeux) with our daily objects, behaviors and modes of practice, we can obtain a new freedom in our negotiation with the established order. We are now, indeed, witnessing the birth of a new order that brings the global structure of human communication and economic, social and political activities beyond the one-dimensional power system. We are increasingly embracing a world reconstructed upon a complexity blending vertebral and cellular, vertical and horizontal, distant and proximate modes of organization and circulation. As Arjun Appadurai states, this is a process of "grass-roots globalization."
Changes in our everyday life practices, or their reinventions, are the most crucial aspect in the construction of this new order. It’s also the most inspiring context for contemporary art to evolve and obtain new relevance. In the age of globalization, 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 the everyday life.
More and more artists are magically turning the ordinary into novel forms, meanings and usages while innovative collective mobilizations are brought to the forefront as a more democratic structure for 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 Biennial 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!
HOU HANRU is curator of the 2009 Biennale de Lyon.