Feature

À Cris Ouverts: Highlights from Les Ateliers de Rennes

27 Nov 2018

by Sandy Di Yu

The 6th iteration of Les Ateliers de Rennes - Contemporary Art Biennale is winding to a close, and December 2nd will be the last chance to catch the wide selection of contemporary art presented throughout the city. Read on to find out about the highlights, the relevance of the biennale to Rennes’ cultural scene, and where else you can catch these amazing artists.

The 6th iteration of Les Ateliers de Rennes - Contemporary Art Biennale is winding to a close, and December 2nd will be the last chance to catch the wide selection of contemporary art presented throughout the city. With artists across a broad spectrum of disciplines and backgrounds and a theme that is as urgent as it is difficult to pin down, the biennale takes visitors across the capital of Brittany, France in both acknowledging its history and imagining future pathways.

With a total of 10 participating venues housing group exhibitions, solo shows, and performances, the Biennale includes older works as well as new commissions, with a healthy portion of artists that have never before been exhibited in France.

This year’s biennale is named À Cris Ouverts, a double (or triple, or quadruple) entendre taken from influential French Caribbean writer and philosopher Édouard Glissant’s essay La Cohée du Lamentin. If the title, like the theme, leaves too much room for interpretation and too vague a discourse to trace, it is likely done so with purpose. Citing Fred Moten’s question of subjecting subjection to a radical breakdown, curators Céline Kopp (director of Triangle France in Marseille) and Étienne Bernard (director of Passerelle Centre d’art contemporain in Brest) began planning the biennale by initiating conversations with selected artists and thinkers who occupy this broken space. What might have once been a disparate group whose only affinity were found in their relative marginality to a structured norm may here be reframed as the tunnelling up and out of the epicentre of culture, simultaneously creating that radical breakdown and occupying the break.

Madison Bycroft, dead pan ham, 2018

Madison Bycroft, dead pan ham, 2018

The biennale in its inauguration was premised on the role of economics and value production in art and culture, and true to its origins, this year takes on the idea of economy beyond its capitalist colloquialisms to bring it back to both its etymological and historical roots. One might be reminded of Timothy Morton’s Humankind, which states “economics is how lifeforms organise their enjoyment. That’s why ecology used to be called the economy of nature.” À Cris Ouverts gathers those who organise new ways of being to initiate and survive within this radical breakdown.

In considering this, certain keywords keep resurfacing throughout the exhibitions, words that at first glance may be mistaken for having no relation to the overarching motif of value-creation. Such words include water, that source of life which also harbours the horrors of the Atlantic slave trade, a business that Rennes’ economy blossomed from. It also includes reproduction, from both the biological sense to the phenomenological sense, where mothers are not afforded their own means of value-making. It includes destabilising, decentering, dissolving, of language, of power structures, of all that stands in the way of transformation.

At the end of the day, while some may find the biennale’s theme to be too tenuous a narrative, biennales for most of us are about the discovery of new art, while perhaps challenging the status quo to invigorate a process of regeneration and renewal. In bringing together a selection of outstanding artists, both French and international, Rennes presents itself as a city of resounding culture, one that deserves exploring. 

TL;DR? 

Too many words, too little time? Check out the Instagram story of our experience in Rennes for a little personal tour. Otherwise, we’ve highlighted some of our favourites from the biennale and included some of the artists’ other shows, so that regardless of whether you can make it to Rennes in the next few weeks, you might get the chance to experience some outstanding contemporary art.

Wu Tsang, We hold where study, 2017, 2-channel video with sound, Duration: 18:56 min, dimensions variable. Installation view:

Wu Tsang: We Hold Where Study (2017)

Recent (and well-deserved) MacArthur Foundation Fellowship recipient Wu Tsang presents her film We Hold Where Study at FRAC, a double-channel overlapping projection that breaks from language right from the seemingly nonsensical title. It features choreographed dances in two distinct spaces: a lush meadow with mirrors propped up in the grass, and a dance studio with colourful lights that transform throughout the sequence. On the meadow are boychild and Josh Johnson, and in the studio are Ligia Lewis and Jonathan Gonzalez, each of their bodies entangled in movement, their spaces entangled with each other. In line with the Biennale as a whole, the film is informed by Wu’s exchanges with frequent collaborator Fred Moten, and it is his voice that we hear at the beginning, a prose that evokes a refraction of identity and the deterioration necessitated by regeneration.

Like many of her works, the film has a way of remaining on one’s mind like a catchy song that gets stuck in your head. For more of Wu’s works, you can catch her perform with boychild here:

Her film The Looks (2015) is also showing at 180 Strand along with a film by fellow Biennale participant John Akomfrah:

Sondra Perry,

Sondra Perry: IT’S IN THE GAME ‘17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection (2018)

Sondra Perry was recently announced as the winner of this year’s Nam June Paik Award (presented by Westfälischer Kunstverein in Münster) for the very work presented at the Rennes Biennale. Installed in a room at FRAC covered in Chroma Key blue, a colour designed to be impossible to mistake for skin tone and thus acts as a denial of bodies, the work is about the way in which technologies become mechanisms of alienation and appropriation to extend the suffering of visible minorities. Following Sondra’s twin brother Sandy, it tells the tale in her techno-surrealist way of how his entire college basketball team was turned into video game avatars by EA games without their knowledge. The biological reproductive phenomenon of twins is mirrored in the digital reproduction in 3D animation while pointing to the historical and continual appropriation of artefacts and bodies by Western enterprises.

You can find more of her work at the events at Performance Space New York in the group show A Wild Ass Beyond: ApocalypseRN as well as S.M.A.K. Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele in Ghent, Belgium:

Anne le Troter, “The Four Fs: Family, Finances, Faith and Friends”, 2018. Courtesy the artist. Coproduction  Fondation d'Entreprise Ricard and Les Ateliers de Rennes - 2018. Installation view at Halle de la Courrouze as part of

Anne Le Troter: The Four F’s: Family, Finances, Faith and Friends (2018)

This newly commissioned work, presented at Halle de la Courrouze, leads visitors into a soundproof and refrigerated room, through an entrance on which lines of small white tubes hang. These tubes are in fact storage containers designed specifically for the cryoconservation of human sperm. Prior to this, Anne registered herself as a client at a sperm bank in the United States, where she gained access to the profiles of donors, each consisting of several components including a photo of the donor as a child, a recording of his voice answering questions such as what makes him happy, and a recording of the employees, 90% of which identify as female, describing the donor. The room is filled with these voices, cut apart, compiled and mixed to create a repetitive sonic landscape that lulls the visitor into a strange, comforting daze. A small aquarium with floating coloured contacts churns in the corner of the room, the motion of the lifeless lenses reinforcing the dreamlike comfort of the sounds and playing into this exploration of the economy of reproduction as well as the semantic re/production of value.

Catch this work at the Nasher Sculpture Centre later this year:

Paul Maheke,

Paul Maheke: Dans l’éther, là, ou l’eau (2018)

For the Biennale, London-based French artist Paul Maheke presents a newly commissioned work at Galerie Art & Essai - Université Rennes 2. A backdrop in the form of a fresco depicting the planet Jupiter sets the tone of the exhibition, a cosmological environment for an occultist exploration. The exhibition consists of objects, film, and performance, with curtains draped around the walls and glowing orbs scattered throughout the space. It acts as an extension of Paul’s research into the decolonial and emancipatory, this time informed heavily by the research of Alix Maheke, his sister and psychoanalysis who specialises in accounts of witchcraft from the Lower Congo.

If you’re in the Netherlands in the next few months, catch Paul’s work here:

Raymond Boisjoly, “Between and Beyond”, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver Production. Les Ateliers de Rennes - 2018. Installation view at Musée des beaux-arts de Rennes as part of

Raymond Boisjoly, Between and Beyond (2018)

Raymond Boisjoly's work explores the transmitting and receiving of information, from scanned, printed, copied images to textual data, the shedding of materiality as words and images transcend each form. For the biennale, he presents photographs from his series (And) Other Echoes (2013) at the FRAC Bretagne and a new commission titled Between and Beyond (2018) for the Musee des Beaux-Arts (pictured above). This new work considers the irreconcilable ways in which languages, specifically his ancestral Haida language and English, cause feelings, thoughts and actions. The result is a clashing array of red and purple words, distorted with xerographic procedures and reproduced in vinyl letters, splashed across the white walls of the gallery in a way that both invites the viewer to consider the message and obscures the message to render it into image. Raymond who will be participating in the 2019 Honolulu Biennial, found here:

John Akomfrah,

John Akomfrah: Mnemosyne (2010)

John Akomfrah is a founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective, a group whose seminal films responded to the institutional racism and police brutality which came to light during the 1981 Brixton Riots. While the Collective disbanded in 1998, John continues to make films reflecting on the culture of the black diaspora in England and beyond. For the Rennes Biennale, his film Mnemosyne (2010) is shown at Halle de la Courrouze. Here, amidst his staple aesthetic of breathtakingly ethereal moving images overlaid with resonating sound that one might never want to stop, archival footage from the BBC is interlaced to create a deeply moving experience. In tying this work back to the biennale, the introduction features words from John Milton’s Paradise Lost, with subtitles by French Romantic writer François-René de Chateaubriand. Chateaubriand studied in Rennes in his formative years, where his father made his wealth through the slave trade via the very port that would serve Rennes’ fruitful economy. The film is perfectly poised to reconsider the violent history inexorably tied to economics, water, and (re)production.

Find more of John’s films screened here, along with the current exhibition Strange Days at 180 Strand:

Other highlights

Some other highlights from À Cris Ouverts: 6th edition of Les Ateliers de Rennes - Contemporary Art Biennale include:

Jesse Darling, whose work can also be found currently at Tate Britain:

Enrico David, whose work can be found on display here:

Senga Nengudi, who is currently being exhibited here:

Meriem Bennani, who has a video showing here: 

Madison Bycroft, whose work will be presented as a part of the Future Generation Art Prize 2019 at the Venice Biennale, and artist duo Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz whose work was shown at 40mcube and will be representing Switzerland at the 2019 Venice Biennale:

For more information on À Cris Ouverts: 6th edition of Les Ateliers de Rennes Contemporary Art Biennale:

About the writer:
Sandy Di Yu, London-based writer, art theorist and artist. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter, or visit her website.