Third edition of Ateliers de Rennes
15 September – 09 December 2012
Curator: Anne Bonnin
The collective exhibition on the theme of Les Prairies is spread across two sites, in two original, prestigious buildings: Frac Bretagne (Brittany Regional Contemporary Art Fund), designed and developed by Odile Decq Benoit Cornette architecture, and the Newway Mabilais, the former Telecommunications Centre built in 1975 by Louis Arretche.
The solo shows are held in several places dedicated to contemporary art in Rennes: 40mcube, La Criée centre d’art contemporain, PHAKT – centre culturel Colombier, Galerie Art & Essai, Cabinet du livre d’artiste, and Musée de beaux-arts de Rennes. The artistic project of the third Ateliers de Rennes – biennale d’art contemporain confirms its international dimension by bringing a significant number of artists together and producing over 20 original pieces of art.
Concept by Anne Bonnin:
The spirit of new beginnings
The artistic project was drafted in response to a call for tender that sought to explore the relationship between art and business, and art and the economy. I took the key word of this edition of Ateliers de Rennes, “enterprise”, and went back to its roots: in French, the original meaning of the word is “to begin” (see “Je forme une entreprise (I am embarking on an enterprise)[…]”, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in book 1 of Confessions, 1782). This attitude led progressively to a method, and shaped the way that I work with artists and how I approach the event context, which I then brought a clear definition. I looked at Rennes as a whole, but focused on how the city has been developed since the 1960s.
I designed the event programme around artists whose work I was familiar with, before broadening the selection and seeking out other artists. The theme of conquest, which is parallel to that of the “prairies”, draws on various sources and justifications: appropriating space for a purpose, inventing artistic ways of working (in) space including the exhibition itself, and exploring the ideas of range and attitude, with space being defined by attitudes. Indeed, what beginnings are possible in a hyper-developed world, which today is seen and shown as being saturated?
An image of conquest
The image of the pioneer is key to this problem of the conquest and the prairie. The pioneer is ambiguous, both positive and negative: a figure of historic and legendary conquest, which must be unfolded into its contradictory aspects. If modern usage of the term remains positive: that of a scout or pioneer who moves forward or crosses boundaries in a field of research or enquiry, opening up as yet unknown panoramas, the historical image is, on the other hand, somewhat negative: that of a conqueror or coloniser embodying the imperialism particular to Western civilization.
It follows that this spirit of conquest forms the backdrop to modernity, a plural modernity: scientific, technical, political, and, of course, artistic. Visionary, revolutionary; inventive, constructive: the pioneer sets out to make a new world. Operating on the vanguard of society or everyday life, the pioneer embodies the modern hero that now belongs to the past. Just like the word “vanguard”, “pioneer” has military origins: in the army, they were the front-line infantry or engineers that paved the way. In either case, the pioneer travelled on foot, and stood at the bottom of the military hierarchy. Three characteristics remain from the etymology of the word “pioneer”: a position (spatial, social, intellectual), mobility, and a physical relationship with the environment.
While its etymology defines a pioneer as barely being a man, living a rudimentary, harsh, life, it also bestows an essential quality: movement; it finds its roots inpedonis, which it shares with “pawn” and “pedestrian”. This being in a state of movement is, in other words, displaced. Displaced: in another country, another society, another world, in which they have no place.
Thus, the figure that is formed and defined in relation to space and territory is understood in terms of an attitude towards a space. Attitudes and cultural norms form an environment, either in an authoritarian fashion or through a more intimate cooperative interaction. Conquest is embodied by a variety of spatial positions that confront each other: from the American pioneer to the post-colonial migrant. The plant world also provides a model for examining the relationship between the “individual” and the environment: some pioneering plants prepare the earth for vegetables that will follow later, while others colonise ecosystems and destroy their diversity.
A flat expans
The Prairie: a grassy expanse, where space and an open horizon spread out in all directions. It is a shared, scenic, and poetic space, and even a cliché of cinema: European, American, Western. Natural or artificial prairies are home to a range of species, and vary with the climate, latitude, or continent, with a specific set of flora and fauna (African savannah, Russian steppes, and the Argentinian pampas) prairies also belong to the built world. Thus, the American Prairie represents the experience of an uncontained expanse: that of unlimited space and boundless horizons. And it is exactly this flat and monotonous geography that Gertrude Stein, for example, transformed into a modern poetic experience: by humbly stripping it, she removed it from its essence.
A certain flatness also characterises the generic, green, European prairie: geographic and poetic flatness. Monotony produces repetition. Repetition is an act that is made real when carried out; it produces poetry that begins with action rather than with an ideal.
When exploring the horizontal, we discover the vertical plane afforded by the grass: “A flat expanse seen horizontally from above; yet it is formed by a multitude of upright stems whose verticality gives it its ‘green quality’”. (Francis Ponge). We move from a flat expanse to a three dimensional expanse: all bodies occupy an expanse in space, depending on how the term is defined. An expanse is not a surface: a literal interpretation turns space in on itself, and flatness results in a simple vitality: “Awareness that the grass is vertical, the constant insurrection that breathes life back into us”. The horizontal also gives rise to concept of equal relationships, developing on the same level instead of a vertical, hierarchical organisation. Flatness is in fact an attitude: a way to approaching the expanse as a grouping of things, things on an equal footing, things like death. Yet it is a beginning that begins.
Les Prairies literally expresses the flattening of spatial practices: a number of pieces work with the expanse and recognise the importance of definite spaces, of sites in all of their complexity and history. The “use of the ground” seems to be a concern for artists who have compiled a site practice history (Katinka Bock, Fernanda Gomes, Guillaume Leblon): while others break down our décor (Gyan Panchal), reset depth (Dove Allouche, Irène Kopelman, Batia Sutér), or develop plant life (Loïs Weinberger).
Today’s artists adopt an objective or literal attitude, resetting reality and objects in such a way they consider to be egalitarian – and for which they are often criticised. Remember that Manet was a master of flatness. Thus, “artists reveal modern composition” (Gertrude Stein) : they work using a developed world. Their work reflects the composition of the modern world: reality is the composition.
To the American pioneer, the expanse represented opportunity, in the form of a virgin, promised, land. But Indians lived on the prairie. Two spatial concepts collided: occupation and habitation. To occupy is to take by force, to map and to order; to inhabit is to, “see a latticework of lines rather than a continuous surface” (Tim Ingold), and environment woven from the lines of our lives. The straight line and the grid or even the curve, live lines, paths made by men and animals that follow the lay of the land. The Indian was the precursor to the pioneer, clearing a path for the latter, which was in turn shown to the Indians by buffalo and other animals.
Les Prairies will take you on a journey across flatness, over the expanses. Exhausting repetition, description, or the deconstruction of the “grammar of space” removes a territory of its substance and dissociates it from its origins. We cannot escape the tyranny of context: today, context is a world of interconnected networks with no physical connections. Les Prairies express a need to fully accept reality as it is, in its literal sense: an attitude and flatness that develops an expanse from existing spaces.
 Francis Ponge, La fabrique du Pré, in Oeuvres complètes, Gallimard, Bibliothèque de la Pléade, 2002.</br>
 Gertrude Stein, Lectures in America, ed. Christian Bourgois, 2011.</br>
 Tim Ingold, Lines: a Brief History, Routledge, 2011.</br>