Opening in May 2009, the sixth edition of the Biennale de Montréal has already been much anticipated for its intention to open the parameters of culture and art practice to a global audience. In association with Claude Gosselin and the Centre international d’art contemporain de Montréal (CIAC), the Biennale gives a new generation of Canadian artists an opportunity to promote their own interests and directly intervene in the means of cultural production.
A hefty assembly of contemporary practices, including art, design, architecture, theatre and music, is at the centre of what is a very democratic platform for cultural exchange. The thread that binds these disciplines together is a will for purposeful intervention. Scott Burnham, the recently appointed creative director of the 2009 Biennale has conceived of something akin to a gift exchange in which works are open to dialogue between the artist and their audiences. Burnham explains the original intention of drawing on international and emerging Canadian artists to this Biennale: “The line between audience and artist is blurring to the point of invisibility – in its place is a democratisation of the creative process and the demystification of the artist as shaman.”
The Biennale has a series of open titles that make up the programme. Open Music is curated by Canadian illustrator and musician Claudio Marzano and writer and musician Scott Clyke. Composer and pianist David Ryshpan devises a temporary soundtrack for Rick Leong’s painting entitled Dancing Serpent in Dawn’s Quiet (2006), recently acquired by the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. For Clyke and Marzano the soundtrack becomes the property of a global audience, who are given creative licence to alter the original piece of music in order to reinvent it as their own. The samples of new sounds that return are broadcast to the Biennale. Clyke and Marzano’s curated interventions are an example of how the relationship between the original work, a music score in this instance, and the subsequent action, the duplicate reinterpretations of that original sound, is at the core of the machinery of creativity.
In the same vein, Open Cinema is a loosely curated platform for emerging filmmakers to demonstrate their ability to produce an original work. Young designer Michèle Gauthier and spoof Bollywood cinematographer Claudine Tissier managed a project in which eight Montreal filmmakers each directed a short film based on material supplied by members of the public via the internet. Tissier and Gauthier used the details of personality tests completed by online participants as the characteristics for the film’s main protagonist.
The inclusion of design and architecture to the Montreal Biennale pushes the cultural platform out even further. Austrian designer Stefan Sagmeister is included on the Open Design curatorial panel for his landmark influence upon global design, and in particular for his ongoing project entitled Things I have Learned in My Life, So Far, in which he uses space normally occupied by advertising to display pithy life lessons. Sagmeister appears to demonstrate the blurred boundary between designer and artist. Again, the public are invited to contribute, conceiving of their own life lessons that have the potential to be open to creative and as well as curatorial intervention.
Significant contributions to all of these open forms include British artist Richard Wentworth. Included as much for the currency of his ideas as for his sculptural objects, Wentworth is one of the leading proponents of interventionism in Britain. For the Biennale he borrows from his Making Do and Getting By series: his works are employed to motivate participants to photograph their own cities as they make do and get by. Such works resemble something of the semantics that Slovenian architect Marjetica Portc employs when reconstructing social reality. American media artist Perry Bard works with electronic media and the politics of war: his works – mobile billboards, magazine advertisements and coffee cup sleeves, all featuring artefacts missing from Baghdad Museums – are interventions in the open environment. Brazilian filmmaker Cao Guimarães mirrors much of the sentiment of Richard Wentworth in demonstrating the creativity of the individual over the larger world.
Canadian Daniel Jolliffe introduces sound pieces that are wholly endearing for their amateurish delivery. Roadsworth is an urban graffiti artist, much like Banksy in Britain, painting over street signs and directly onto roads, and collaborative interventionists Natalie Reis and Vanda Daftari’s aestheticize very simple product labels in order to unsettle recognized advertising and in so doing orchestrate moments of real beauty.