Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts
19.9.2009 - 3.1.2010
Lausanne. The Palais de Rumine in Lausanne was inaugurated in 1906 as the home of the city’s new university. The building is constructed in Florentine Renaissance style as an allusion to the cradle of humanism and the design stems from the aspiration to encyclopaedic knowledge: in addition to libraries and four other museums, the ensemble also houses the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts, where the first retrospective of Renée Green’s work is currently on display.
It would be hard to imagine a better venue for the exhibition, entitled »Ongoing Becomings«, for ever since her earliest works the artist has constantly addressed questions that circle around systems of perception and representation, the arbitrariness of classifications and hence also the fundamental issue of the connections between »knowledge and truth«. Even early pieces such as the »Color« series or »Neutral/Natural« (both 1990) call into question attributions to categories like »colour« and »race«, making clear that these derive from a racist discourse that is anything but »neutral« and »natural«, but instead is constituted through mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion.
Renée Green, who often sets site-specific, political and historical events in relation to art history in her research-based works, linking these elements with her own subjective narrative viewpoint, calls pretensions of objectivity into question by permanently switching back and forth between documentary and fictional aspects. For example, for her installation and the video works shown within it, »Partially Buried in Three Parts« (1996–97), she takes as her points of departure 1970 and the campus of Kent State University Ohio, where her mother taught, in order to establish connections between a work created there by Robert Smithson (»Partially Buried Woodshed«) and a demonstration against the war in Cambodia, where four students were shot in that same year, also linking photos of her father from his days in the Korean War with her own research in the Korean city of Kwangju.
Aleida Assmann writes with reference to the importance of »memory as a resource for legitimation« that the history that is remembered reinforces the self-image of both individuals and groups. »That is why what we remember is not determined by what actually happened but by what we wish and are able to tell a story about later. What is remembered from the past and what is not ultimately depends upon the question of who utilises history and for what purpose«.1 By juxtaposing various narratives, Renée Green generates something akin to a »stereoscopic« effect, rendering apparent the constructed nature of history and identity.
The artist does not simply reference systems of remembrance in individual works such as »Some Chance Operations« (1999), which examines the medium of cinema as a receptacle of memory and as an instable archival form, but also incorporates such references into the overall thrust of her »retrospective« – making the exhibition significantly more than the sum of its individual parts. She undermines the allocation of significance intrinsic to this format as a passive process of looking back on an artist’s more or less completed lifework by adding something like a temporary »anti-archive« to the archives in the Palais de Rumine. The exhibition is not structured chronologically and thus obliges us to read the work in new directions. In addition to openings and visual axes through the rooms, which create cross-references between the works, the levels of visual and sound input also offer scope for a further dense network of connections between the pieces. As a result, the boundaries between the works blur and the so-called retrospective does not offer a review of her oeuvre with a gaze based on hindsight, but instead sets up a constant sense of motion in opposition to this fixing, in the process allowing certain elements of continuity to emerge but counteracting any notions concerning the linearity of history or of artistic creation. Instead a labyrinth of points of reference is conjured up, on the one hand making clear that Renée Green’s approach is additive and extends over lengthy timeframes, encompassing a number of works, and on the other hand calling on visitors to the exhibition to play an active part in weaving their own mesh of meanings. That is also essential in as much as the rich wealth of the material on offer, with various visual, textual and sound levels, makes it virtually impossible to glean a complete overview in a single visit to the exhibition. In addition to the various major works from different periods (in addition to the aforementioned works, inter alia »Commemorative Toile«, »Some Chance Operations«, »Wavelinks«) displayed here, a further 33 videos produced between 1933 and 2005 can be consulted at a viewing table, along with an extensive sound archive.
Renée Green responds to the passivity of a collecting style that concentrates on completeness and reflects the desire to produce a canon of knowledge, easily identifiable in the original encyclopaedic conception of the Palais de Rumine, with an active de-fixation of attributions of meaning. She does this by bringing together diverse elements for reflection, many of which change as a function of the circumstances and contexts, thus acquiring new meanings – both in her individual works and in the exhibition as a whole.