Selma and Sofiane Ouissi, Laaroussa, 2011. Video projection, color, sound, 12 min. Courtesy the artists and Cecil Thuillier
“Intense Proximité/y,” the third Paris Triennial organized by Artistic Director Okwui Enwezor, “sets off on a journey to explore the nodes where art and ethnography converge in a renewal of fascination and estrangement.” The primary venue for the first two triennials was the Grand Palais, but this year it has moved to the newly renovated Palais de Tokyo—now nearly three times its original size, with some 22,000 square meters overall and 5000 square meters of exhibition space. This means the triennial is vast, flowing over several floors interspersed with public spaces, cafés, and other exhibitions. (In addition to the main exhibition, there are six collaborative projects around Paris at Bétonsalon, Le Crédac, Musée du Louvre, Instants Chavirés, Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, Grand Palais, and Galliera.)
At Palais de Tokyo, the exhibition opens with a dense and intense installation that sets a relevant and challenging tone, which interrogates the intersection of anthropological and ethnographic modes of interpretation, display, knowledge production, and organizational logics with the politics of our time. With 115 contributors, “Intense Proximité/y” casts a broad net but somehow maintains a welcome specificity of purpose. Of particular note are remarkable drawings from the late 1930s by Claude Lévi-Strauss recording the string games of the Caduveo people from the Mato Grosso region in Brazil, and The Ax Fight (1975) by anthropologist and filmmaker Tim Asch, which records an altercation in a Yanomami village and the filmmakers’ inabilities to decipher what is going on. Questioning the relationship between culture and nature, Camille Henrot offers a series of Ikebana arrangements paired with quotes in the work Is it possible to be a revolutionary and like flowers? (2012).
The exhibition includes one of the standout works of the 2012 New Museum Triennial, Jewel by Hassan Khan—a complex installation of sound and film derived from an interaction the artist witnessed on the streets of Cairo that revolves around his original composition in the style of popular Cairean music. In his installation Sleeping City (presented at the 2011 Venice Biennale), Dominik Lang uses the tools of exhibition and display to intervene, dissect, and elaborate upon the dormant sculptures of his late father, Jiri Lang (1927–96). Éric Baudelaire’s The Anabasis of May and Fusako Shigenobu, Masao Adachi, and 27 years without images (2011) is a fascinating film and photographic installation that employs the tenets of master filmmaker Adachi’s “landscape theory” to explore solidarity, radical politics, memory, concealment, exile, time, structures of oppression, and film.
As Enwezor notes in his introduction, “Based on our research, it seems clear that the point of critical address for Intense Proximity is not the question of how contemporary societies might share a common space or live together. Rather, the more salient question is how to live with disjunction, in the thickness of ethnocentric and identity based processes…. Here we can begin to consider, in quick succession, the link between the historical and the contemporary, between artists and ethnographers, comparing ethnographic fieldwork and contemporary curating. Or perhaps it is the obverse: contemporary curator as ethnographer.”
On view from April 20 to August 26, 2012. For more information, including a useful “contributors” section, visit latriennale.org.