‘Radical Sources’ reimagines the history to reaffirm its significance in the present day
The historical context of the site within which an art exhibition is put to display extends the multitude of meanings around the artworks. To find a place deeply steeped in history is an uncommon phenomenon, it is equivalently rare to have a series of artists who would justly speak to the contested past of a place. The art curators – Kristina Grigorjeva and Camille Regli – of the collective exhibition Radical Sources at Krone Couronne in Bienne defy such occurrences to present an array of works by Claire Fontaine, Dorota Gawęda & Eglė Kulbokaitė, Laurent Güdel, Jeanne Jacob, Hunter Longe, Lou Masduraud, Sadie Plant, Augustin Rebetez, Jan van Oordt and a text by Antoine Rubin. The Jura region, sharing the borders with France, has been home to “libertarian spirits” and “anarchist watchmakers”. The exhibition note looks at the works of French philosophers Catherine Malabou, Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Rancière to reinforce the “political role of art”.
Radical Sources revisits the history of anarchism in the Jura region to distil the socio-political issues, only to reflect on the alternative realities of the present-day societal structure. With this exhibition, the curators are hopeful to draw attention towards complementary ways of thinking that stem from such anti-authoritarian movements as a reminder of the history that took place there, and that was later globally distributed through journals, pamphlets and the rising of telecommunications. The on-purpose use of the double meaning of the word ‘source’ as the ‘reference’ and the ‘water source’ gives the audience a chance to contemplate the multitude of histories. Indeed, the river Suze starts in the Arc of Jura, passing through St-Imier, and finishes its course in the lake of Bienne. The curator-duo found it meaningful to connect the image of a stream in constant movement, bringing with it the echoes of a politically engaged spirit, and to reconfigure their resonance in the world we are facing today.
In an interview with STIR, the curators Grigorjeva and Regli talk about the diversity of the artists whose work stands within the rich history of the Jura region, “We started the exhibition with a curiosity for the history of the Jura region (situated in the western part of Switzerland, bordering France and decentralised from the rest of the country). It is known for its watchmaking industry and somehow for its alternative modes of living, curing/healing, working and organising themselves, etc – also noting that the first International Anti-authoritarian Congress took place in St-Imier 150 years ago, in 1872.” The aim of the curators was not to propose another historical exhibition, but rather to take these sources as inspirations and open up to artistic positions working in the field of contemporary art today.
The artists in the immersive exhibition were chosen based on the topics they deal with in their practice and their relevance to socio-political questions, for instance with the works of Claire Fontaine, Dorota Gaweda & Egle Kulbokaite, Hunter Longe or Lou Masduraud. But also considering the politically-engaged culture of the region, we wanted to include artists that are based locally, like Jeanne Jacob, Augustin Rebetez, Laurent Güdel, Sadie Plant or Jan van Oordt who were the ones bringing the topics to us in the first place. For the curators, it was important to be able to tackle the themes both from a global and regional standpoint.
Grigorjeva and Regli inform, “We invited some artists based and active in the region of Jura, like Jan van Oordt who moved to St-Imier from Basel a few years ago to live in a cooperative and dedicated his entire being to what some might still consider an ‘alternative way of living’, however to him it is ‘just normal’. His work could be seen as a natural readymade; canvas covered with felt from the floor of an abandoned nursery, which was used as a means of protection against different sorts of weeds. Yet the weed took over, growing through the protective fabric – giving cues to some repressed cultures wanting to find their way in, no matter what. Or like Laurent Güdel, who moved away from his hometown in Jura against the backdrop of the region’s history of independence, and currently works with archival documents and recordings. In the exhibition, we present his film action direct, discourse indirect based on the archives of anarchist trade-union activists in Geneva from 1938, and an audio piece based on recordings from the voting day that led the City of Moutier in Jura to become independent from the Canton Bern in 2021.”
Besides, aforementioned, the curators invited British scholar Sadie Plant who has been discovering the area ever since she moved to Biel/Bienne from the UK 15 years ago, and has been bringing art students to St-Imier to breathe this air that she says must be filled with magic. Hunter Longe also speaks about some sorts of magic in the region and got in touch with the local water diviner to find the source. On the occult, the Kratt creatures by artist duo Dorota Gawada & Egle Kulbokaite hang on the walls, bringing up the topics of serfdom and land ownership. They mirror an LED piece that features a quote by Silvia Federici from her seminal book Caliban and the Witch.
In the post-truth era when history is manipulated and renewed, it is imperative to, “unlearn the lessons that history has taught us, Radical Sources tries to reflect upon other possible systems of thought, political, social and economic structures as well as different ways of being together and functioning as a society,” say Grigorjeva and Regli.
The art exhibition Radical Sources at Krone Couronne, Bienne, was on view until October 8, 2022.