David Tudor, Rainforest V (Variation 2), 1973/2015, mixed media. Installation view. From the 14th Biennale de Lyon. Photo: Blaise Adilon.

David Tudor, Rainforest V (Variation 2), 1973/2015, mixed media. Installation view. From the 14th Biennale de Lyon. Photo: Blaise Adilon.

Biennale de Lyon

David Tudor, Rainforest V (Variation 2), 1973/2015, mixed media. Installation view. From the 14th Biennale de Lyon. Photo: Blaise Adilon.

Like the previous thirteen Biennale de Lyon exhibitions, the 2017 show, curated by Emma Lavigne, is also characterized by an open dialogue with the history of art and with earlier editions. It is also part of a broader thematic exploration that will unfold over several years. At the behest of Thierry Raspail, the biennial’s artistic director, “Floating Worlds” is the second part of a trilogy of exhibitions on the notion of modernity, whose first iteration was Ralph Rugoff’s “Modern Life” two years ago, and whose finale will take place in 2019.

“Floating Worlds” abounds with hemispherical structures, which can be seen in individual works, in containers for holding works, or both. Within these structures, different time frames interpenetrate one another. Sometimes it is the present that is included in the past, as in a 1957 geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller that has been reconstructed in the heart of the city, in a piazza situated between the Rhône and Saône Rivers. The triangular elements that make up the hemisphere, having been piled up in storage for more than two decades, are not all in good condition, but the result is impressive. Inside the dome is Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s clinamen v4, 2017—a pool of water filled with white bowls that bump into one another, producing a sound that the distinctive architecture amplifies.

The immaterial presence of sound is also decisive elsewhere in the show, for instance at the Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, where viewers encounter audio ranging from the cacophony of David Tudor’s Rainforest V (Variation 2), 1973/2015, to the abstract Muzak of Ari Benjamin Meyers’s Elevator Music (LYON),2017. Though not fully explored, this could even have been a generative idea: a biennial with a soundtrack, a biennial to be listened to, at the intersection between the museum and the concert hall. Two works installed in two of the three silos adjacent to La Sucrière, a former sugar warehouse, suggest this. In the smaller silo, Susanna Fritscher’s Flügel, Klingen (Blade, Sound), 2017, stages a hypnotic mechanical ballet. Propellers rotate, setting the sculpture vibrating, filling the air with sound, and converting the cylindrical silos into the sound box of a musical instrument. In the larger silo, Doug Aitken’s Sonic Fountain II, 2013–15, transforms the industrial architecture into the edge of a crater, or into a thermal zone. Spurts of water rain down from nine faucets attached to a grid on the ceiling into a puddle of a milky liquid, their babel amplified by underwater microphones.

Also at MAC Lyon, the present incorporates the past, as in Two Columns for One Bubble Light, 2007, a biomorphic tent by Ernesto Neto that is a set design for and a continuation of Jean Arp’s “Concrétion humaine” (Human Concretion) series, 1933–36. “I start where Arp stopped,” Neto says. In keeping with Arp’s polished forms, the installation demonstrates a liquid modernity, poles apart from the right angles of modern architecture and industrial production. With Fuller and Neto, whose works are iconic of “Floating Worlds,” an elastic and rounded universe and a modern curvature undermine the orthogonal grid.

“Floating Worlds,” with its shelters, mostly presents an optimistic and fairly apolitical view of the legacy of modernity, but there is no lack of dystopian spaces, such as one by theater director Philippe Quesne. Its title, Welcome to Caveland!, 2017, and womblike form (an enormous container of pulsating black plastic) invite visitors to enter a bare, dark, cavelike space that swallows them up. The same is true of the film 67/76, 2017,by Julien Discrit, about another Fuller geodesic dome; made for Expo 67 in Montreal in 1967, this structure partially burned down in 1976. The column of black smoke that rises up from the biosphere in the film could be a sinister message about the future of modernity.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.