It's a beautiful October Sunday. The weather is glorious, ideal for a stroll along the lake. All the boats seem to be out on the water, their owners no doubt keen to take advantage of the clement conditions for what could be the last excursion of the year. Amongst the light-coloured sails, some strange splashes of colour catch the eye on the Quai Gustave-Ador: a number of sailing boats seem to have decided to break away from the traditional whiteness and move together on the waves in an astonishing lake ballet. Continuing the walk, one arrives on the Molard side, where a strange crowd has formed in front of a curious plant installation. People are busily removing the plants and putting them in pots, chatting away happily. Any curious onlookers who approached were offered the chance to join in, or to pick up one of the freshly-potted plants. And why not?
It turns out that it's a work of art - surprisingly, they're not only to be found in museums! - exhibited as part of a contemporary art Biennial devoted to urban nature. So art can be alive? And anyone can take part in bringing it to life? It's a change from what is usually seen, these aseptic white rooms exhibiting works that are not always understood. Here it's immediate, collaborative, joyful…
One will leave with a souvenir, a rather common local plant that one has certainly already come across hundreds of times without seeing it. The one being taken home has already changed of status, it's now "our" plant, and we're committed - more or less consciously - to looking after it so that it feels at home with us. It'll bring a bit of greenery into the flat, and who knows, maybe the next time one goes for a walk, one will be able to spot its fellow plants. It's amazing what perspectives art can open up sometimes…
The (re)connecting.earth (02) - Beyond Water Biennial, held in Geneva in September, came to a close with an event that summarized several of the challenges related to culture, science, urban nature, and reconnecting with the natural world that the Biennial aimed to address. For the last time, visitors to the exhibition were able to discover the work Seeds of Change - A Garden of Ballast Flora: Geneva by the artist Maria Thereza Alves during a botanical workshop. After a talk by Bernard Vienat, curator of the exhibition, explaining the work and the artist's approach, the plants making up the installation were presented by a specialist who spoke about some of their properties. The audience then got down to the business of dismantling the work, with the plants being placed in individual pots and offered to the participants. With their hands in the soil and smiles on their faces, the spectators seemed delighted to have a more active role to play. The plants that found new homes will continue to keep Maria Thereza Alves' work alive, as a reminder of this moment of sharing and togetherness.
Far from being anecdotal, this event symbolises the project of the art-werk association through the organisation of a Biennial of Art and Urban Nature. By presenting a free open-air exhibition, art is made more accessible - in every sense of the word. In this way, the Biennial gave the works a chance to meet their usual public, who came to see them, but not only: passers-by in the public space, even those unfamiliar with contemporary art, also had the opportunity to come face to face with it.
The stands set up for 'micro-mediation' revealed just how keen people were on this kind of initiative. Many questions were asked about the works, and the explanations given by the mediation team were always enthusiastically received. These moments of exchange really brought the works to life, allowing them to be presented in all their depth and complexity. The quality of the discussions generated revealed the extent to which the Biennial encouraged contact with nature, but also between people. The multi-generational dimension of the project, enabling the "Aînées du climat" to engage in dialogue with the young children taking part in the educational workshops, also created a space for dialogue of a rare quality.
The free tours offered to the public attracted spectators from a wide range of backgrounds, who were all keen to discuss the place of nature in the city and the role of art. A visit with a visually impaired person provided an opportunity to question the limits of 'traditional' methods of mediation, by adapting the content - in particular by incorporating more descriptions - and the very form of the visit - by encouraging people to touch or feel the works in order to discover them with senses other than sight. This proved to be a particularly interesting exercise, as people taking the same tour were inspired by this other way of experiencing the works, and were thus able to move slightly away from their usual habits. This inclusivity, through the adaptation of the mediation to people with disabilities, proved to be an enriching experience for all the visitors present.
On a different note, visits were organised with classes of non-French-speaking pupils from the École de culture générale. As these young people - aged between 15 and 17 - are not all familiar with the concepts of urban nature or contemporary art, these visits were adapted to offer them a variety of ways of thinking about these issues. The pupils were thus able to discover the artistic side of the Biennial, but also one of its more scientific facets, as during their visit to the Association pour la Sauvegarde du Léman, they were able to talk to a specialist about the issue of micro-plastics in water. This art-science discussion, using the works of art as a starting point, proved to be a very rich experience, with the pieces presented in the exhibition helping to overcome the language barrier by embodying another, more universal form of language.
The setting of the Geneva harbour also played a crucial role in this Beyond Water edition of the (re)connecting.earth Biennial. The sound sculpture of melting glaciers by Diana Lelonek & Denim Sram, installed in the plane trees of the Bains des Pâquis in the middle of the lake, found a singular echo in this space surrounded by the water coming from these same glaciers; the work on bioplastics by Anne-Laure Franchette & Manon Briod, presented at the Pointe à la Bise, had an astonishing resonance in this nature reserve of Pro Natura Genève…
The opposite was also true, with certain works contributing through their presence to enhancing the value of the places hosting them in a different way. This is the case, for example, for the sound installation created by Alexandre Joly, which accompanied the journey of the Mouettes genevoises on the lake. This also applies to the boats with sails painted by Raul Walch, which added color to the landscape of the harbor with every departure, or even to the sculpture of Carmen Perrin at the Maison de la Pêche, which provided a different perspective on this institution.
This dynamic of exchange, combined with the desire of the event's artistic director to make the most of works that already exist in the Geneva landscape, helped to embed the exhibition in the local cultural and associative fabric. By presenting art in a network of elements, rather than in an isolated bubble, this global project featuring artists from Switzerland and elsewhere was anchored in a qualitative way in the local context of Geneva, helping to enhance its many faces. This was further enhanced by the curation, which gave pride of place to soft mobility and wandering around the urban environment.
A real incentive to "dreamily observe" - an oxymoron that can be found in some of the works presented - this proposal to change the way we look at things will have permeated the entire Biennial, as it seems to be one of the keys to a sensitive (re)connection with the nature that surrounds us.