The last line from WB Yeats’ powerful poem Easter 1916 is the starting point for La Biennale de Lyon.
“A terrible beauty is born” is the banner beneath which a collection of works from Europe, Africa and South America are displayed.
The festival stretches across four sites in the French city, including the 7,000 sq/m former warehouse of La Sucrière.
Inside you can creep through the draped curtains of Germany’s Ulla Von Brandenburg only to be confronted with the grim sight of a pile of coffins. Cameroonian Barthelemy Toguo created the work to reflect what he describes as the dramatic situation in which African countries find themselves.
‘Stronghold’, from Poland’s Robert Kusmirowski is a huge library filled with scattered grey books, perhaps indicating a painful and poignant collection of memories.
Curator Victoria Noorthoorn told euronews: “Contemporary art often creates a kind of disquiet, mystery, and sometimes it’s a source of confrontation.
“But I think that when the pieces have been well presented they clearly speak for themselves. In this exhibition I’ve mainly thought about the public, I really don’t want the visitors to have to read a heap of papers in order to understand the works of art,” she added.
As a curator Noorthoorn likes to create drama, as exemplified by a bloody pool presented by fellow Argentinian Eduardo Basualdo.
“The artist has always been a voice sounding the alert over the problems of society. Artists have also developed utopia that have transformed our understanding of the world. What I’m trying to do here is to bring together a group of artists who all have something to say about our present and our future,” Noorthoorn said.
Mexican Erick Beltran is one of those artists with something to say about the world, and his way of doing so is by making a model of it, a huge globe.
“What I’m trying to offer with my work is a vision of the world divided into four categories. Things that move, things that don’t move, people who move and people who don’t move. And from that point there are repercussions on the political, economic and social level,” he explained.
What do the people think of it: “I’m not trying to understand the art, I’m looking and I just have impressions, but I’m not looking for explanations. It’s not for me to have an explanation, it’s for the artist to explain,” said one woman.
“What’s great about La Biennial is that they make us play, we play with the works and the artists,” said another man.
That intriguing level of interactivity is exemplified by a work from Dutchman Michel Huisman.
Lie down under a blanket and you’re greeted by the sights and sounds of a garden appearing from beneath a bucket.
“It’s really different to the rest of the exhibition in the sense that you find yourself in the country, with the birds, in the undergrowth, but at the same time as you watch the birds you imagine the other visitors watching you, so you become a part of the exhibition yourself,” said one man who had just tried out the bucket-installation for himself.
Perhaps that process of interaction with art, and complicity with the artist, is an example of the ‘terrible beauty’ to which the exhibition’s theme makes reference.
La Biennale de Lyon runs until 31 December.