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Les Ateliers de Rennes - Biennale of Contemporary Art takes place across 10 city venues from 1 October to 11 December 2016. The 5th edition, called "Incorporated!" explores the links between the art world and the world of business and economics. And this is not the only original idea at the contemporary art biennale, directed in 2016 by François Piron. The exhibition curator, a graduate of the University of Rennes 2, is going back his student roots 25 years on.
The Rennes Biennale is a contemporary art event like no other. Each edition brings a completely reinvented Biennale. Yet, while the exhibition venues and artists change, the Biennale remains true to its original theme and the very ambition that gave rise to its creation by Art Norac in 2008: to examine the links between the two worlds of contemporary art and business. This positioning and the fact that it's supported by a private company - the Norac Group - make the Biennale a unique art event.
The 2016 edition brings a new dimension to the links between art and business and delves ever deeper into this original theme. "I'm expanding it to include the idea of economics, not just business. The effects of economics on existence are what's really interesting. Who better than artists to convey the effects, symptoms and feelings that are in large part brought on by economics. They affect each and every one of us, our livelihoods, our routines, our feelings of exclusion and inclusion. Economics and politics are inseparable," explains François Piron, curator of the Biennale.
"I wanted to increase the number of venues for the Biennale"
"Rennes is perfectly suited to the biennale's format, it's an event which is constantly changing, even though it's an event that has been going on for almost 10 years," states the curator of the fifth edition entitled "Incorporated!" in reference to business talk. The curator is well acquainted with the city after having studied here in the 1990s. For his return to familiar soil, he has devised a new geography for the Biennale as well as a new approach.
"I wanted to increase the number of venues for the Biennale, to be more prominent in the public sphere, not only working with established institutions but to bring to the fore more individual initiatives, self-managed premises, small venues where there are a lot of interesting things happening," explains the curator. The Biennale will also be exhibiting outside Rennes with three venues elsewhere in Brittany: at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Saint-Brieuc, the Passerelle in Brest and Le Quartier in Quimper.
Another unique feature this year is that almost two thirds of the works presented were created specifically for the chosen venues to assert "a dynamic led by innovation, the sense of something emerging in the city". Drawing most of all on Rennes's organic art scene and exhibiting works in public spaces or places of business, it aims to attract a wider audience and not only contemporary art enthusiasts; this is the principle chosen by Ateliers de Rennes this year.
"The idea is to attract all kinds of people, for example to venues like Lendroit éditions, right in the city centre in the Place du Colombier, which targets the student community and art enthusiasts, or the Practicable, Rue des Portes Mordelaises, an intriguing self-managed space," explains François Piron. "These places form part of Rennes's art scene in their own way. It's up to the Biennale to showcase them." These places complement the contemporary art landscape in Rennes, appearing alongside the venues in the Biennale's traditional areas, such as the Halle de la Courrouze, the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Frac Bretagne, the Criée contemporary art centre, the Art et Essai gallery and 40mcube Outside. The aim is to propose an itinerary through the city that will surprise spectators. "The Biennale is spread over a dozen or so venues, each with their own significance, but they're all connected. The spectator will create the links between the works as they move through the itinerary. That's what the Biennale is all about: forging a link through the artists' diversity to create the same atmosphere."
29 guest artists
There is a broad array of styles among the 29 artists invited this year. Among them we have Berlin-based video maker Ed Atkins, New York-based artist Trisha Donnely, unknown in France, as well as Anna Oppermann with some large installations, Swiss Klaus Lutz and his 16mm films and Mark Manders, whose monumental sculptures will be on display at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The 2016 Biennale also offers a selection of works and creations throughout the city.
"As part of the Biennale, we wanted to display some works in public places," highlights le curator. "One of the works will be mobile, and once a week it is set to surprise the general public outside of conventional art venues, on display in shops and streets for a limited time. For example, in front of the university library while students are studying, on Saturday at the Mail François Mitterrand, or at the various markets around the area." Another eagerly awaited artistic link is to be made in the courtyard of the Musée de la Danse where the mysterious question of "do dancers dance in their sleep?" will try to be answered. ». Jean Pascal Flavien's artistic happening will liven up the courtyard, whether or not there's an audience.
Artists at work: the age of "doing"
The link with the economy and the world of work will also be expressed through the staging of the artist's work. A "dramatization of the workshop gesture", something that is important to François Piron. "I wanted to show the artists at work. The Biennale produces almost two thirds of the works displayed, they're being created now, in real time. The Biennale is nothing like a retrospective, the works are made specifically for the precise venues. A large number of the 29 artists exhibiting this year are workshop based, they create things, and are in charge of the entire production chain. So while we're living in an age where much of contemporary art is delegated to artisans, here we have an entire generation of artists who are returning to this idea of doing."
Another touch added by the artistic director of the fifth Biennale: an eclectic choice of artists, some of whom are completely unknown and for many "uprooted". "Economics and globalisation generate migration effects, concentrations of people around capitals cities" explains François Piron. "A lot of artists are split between two places: their home town and where they work. Aesthetically and emotionally this creates shapes and ideas."
The arrival of this melting pot of artists for the Biennale confirms that Rennes is a unique place for contemporary art. The former Rennes student is sure of one thing: "Rennes is known for music, theatre, dance... it also deserves to be recognised in the field of contemporary art".
Art critic, editor and independent artistic director, François Piron has been running the Laboratoires d'Aubervilliers for five years. He is also the co-founder of the independent art space castillo/corrales in Paris and head of postgraduate courses at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. With a degree from the Université de Haute-Bretagne (Rennes 2), he is rediscovering the city in which he studied through the Biennale.
"In Rennes, 25% of the population is forever 20"
"The city is changing, it's expanding with a conurbation logic, but it hasn't lost what I believe to be its main field: Rennes is a city that can be navigated on foot," reveals François Piron. "A town that is kept unique by its student population. In Rennes, 25% of the population is forever 20..."
While the city may have changed, the former student hasn't lost his bearings. "I have a certain affinity with a few social spots. Rennes is a wonderful city in terms of its social life and it's a city that's big on bars! Places like the Café du Port are very important to me, I bump into the people I want to see and, at the same time, meet new people and end up getting into conversations."
"It doesn't take long to find a good restaurant in Rennes"
François Piron is also a big fan of Rennes's bistros. "You can get a good meal in Rennes, in affordable restaurants that aren't prohibitive in terms of budget. I'm constantly finding wonderful restaurants with an almost artistic set up. L'Arsouille comes to mind. I think it's great to have a gourmet destination as precise as this in Rennes. It's a place that is trying to transmit the idea of good produce, and design finesse in a warm atmosphere where you can have a chat with the boss," points out François Piron. "It doesn't take long to find a good restaurant in Rennes. You want to stay, and you want to come back".