L’avenir (looking forward)
22.01.19 – 04.01.19
L’avenir (looking forward) examines the relationship of contemporary art practices to speculation, futurity and its history, as well as the currency of projecting into the future. The exhibition presents artists working in film, sculpture, photography, painting and installation who respond to current conditions by considering “what is to come.” It also includes artists who propose art practices that are socially responsive to challenges presented by possible futures, practices that are frequently situational, performative and temporal, as well as artists who address the vexed question of the current agency of art and whether it has the affective potential to influence the future.
The project is rooted in the locality of Montréal and draws inspiration from the city’s current and historical context. From this position, the curatorial remit ripples out to consider global issues influencing possible futures and how they intersect with the local. The 1960s is a reference point for a number of the artists included, a time when Montréal was being imagined as a future focused city, as suggested by the theme of its Expo ’67, Terre des Hommes/Man and His World, a title borrowed from the memoir of author and aviator Antoine de Saint Exupéry, which outlined dreams and hopes for the future. Ideas of progress were epitomized at Expo by the United States pavilion, the Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome and its display of Apollo space capsules and technology that would take astronauts to the moon. In parallel to this future optimism were the activities of the Front de libération du Québec throughout the decade that led ultimately, in 1970, to tanks rolling into Montréal and a wave of relocation by Anglophile corporations. Such activism was mirrored in locally specific contexts internationally and included the Paris uprisings in 1968, as well as the civil rights and Vietnam War protests in the U.S. Against this backdrop, artists in the exhibition at times obliquely address the failures of modernism and consider the implications for the present of utopian models of society that were never realized.
Other artists consider the notion of a loss of futurity as a characteristic of the current moment, the sense that we are in an epoch that has gone beyond a point of no return. Environmental issues are relevant here, with current concerns that our world has gone beyond a tipping point in global warming. Underscoring such environmental degradation are issues of geopolitics and the ubiquity of an ever-dominant market economy system that is based on speculation, social stratification, constant market growth and the consequent increased consumption of resources. Against a back- drop of a perceived failure of the left, a number of artists highlight the structural limitations inherent in the global condition that mitigate against a crisis-free vision of the future.
More and more, art practices are engaging the potential of recent social and technological developments, and the exhibition includes artists who investigate the impact of technology on social interaction and image making. The positive potential of these developments can be seen in works that insert ethnic and sub-cultural voices into the domain of digital and virtual worlds‐identities that were previously suppressed in the dominant discourses of modernity. The transformation of identity is addressed in the exhibition, in terms of both potential and threat, as is the obliteration of privacy in an increasingly surveilled world. This meta-world, which feeds into and is fed by web-based platforms and social media, is also examined in terms of issues such as the growing immaterialization of contemporary society, the virtualization of labour and the hidden transactions that have increasingly become part of the global network economy.
States of performance and temporality are evoked in the project title and the idea of “looking forward,” which involves an action that simultaneously engages both the present and future. To look forward implies picturing a future moment, a process that is intrinsic to the project in examining the relationship of sight to consciousness and its role in both witnessing the present and imaging the future. However the question of “what is to come” provides no easy answers within the framework of the project. While some works can be more readily identified with hot issues, all are layered in their points of reference and each work connects with others in multiple ways. The exhibition ranges in terms of its philosophical touch points but strives for an ethics-based and practical philosophy that does not overwhelm individuality within collective action.
Historically, artists have postulated fictional futures, often to provide a lens through which to view the present, and many continue to do so. While some artists in the exhibition may infer a dystopian vision of what is to come, the approach of many is open-ended in drawing on a discourse of futurity to examine the condition of the present. Ultimately, our exhibition aims to look backward from possible futures to consider the present and to address the connected- ness of the local to the global in that context.
Co-curator, BNLMTL 2019
BNLMTL 2019 is presented by La Biennale de Montréal and co-produced with the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.