France’s colonial past
France’s colonial past is a subject that haunts artists across national borders. In Venice in 2021, for example, one of the most visited pavilions, belonging to the United States, was occupied by Simone Leigh who created an entire installation relating to the colonial exhibition of the Porte de Vincennes in 1931, when indigenous people were put in pens and displayed like animals (See here the report about the last Venice Biennale).
Hymn to colonial trade
In Paris last June, the British artist Tacita Dean gave an official reaction to the frescoes that adorn the ceilings of the rotunda at the Pinault Collection, which are a hymn to the colonial trade, by creating an installation that masterfully recounted her own relationship with the world (See here the report about Tacita Dean at Collection Pinault).
Now in Bordeaux the Canadian artist who lives in Paris, Kapwani Kiwanga (born in 1978), has just conceived a monumental installation for the CAPC, Bordeaux’s museum of contemporary art, which speaks to the site’s past. In the 19th century it was in fact a warehouse for colonial commodities. Here, Kapwani has reacted in a very subtle way. Incidentally the title of the work is “retenue”. In French we often say “retenue d’eau”, which means a reservoir, but the title can also be interpreted as something you remember or retain, or a word said with “retenue” or restraint, which is not completely expressed.
“My idea was to infuse the space, to give it a physical experience. It was about making a gesture that was at the same time light yet impactful. I always work by looking to the past to understand the present.” Kapwani did not wish to respond over video.
High international profile
The visual artist is now, one of the most high-profile talents on the international contemporary scene. After having participated in the last Venice Biennale, having been exhibited at the Haus des Kunst in Munich, at the New Museum in New York, at the Moca in Toronto, at the Luma in Arles and before occupying the Canadian pavilion at the next Venice Biennale again, Kapwani Kiwanga is making an impressive stopover in Bordeaux. Her South African gallery, Goodman, also lists her impressive schedule outside of Bordeaux: until 7 January 2024 she will be exhibiting at the Kunstmuseum in Wolfsburg. Until 23 July she is being displayed at the Moca in Toronto. Until 1 October you can see one of her creations at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna. From 6 September she will be taking part in the 35th Sao Paulo Biennale and she will also appear from 6 October in Canada, in Saskatoon, at the Remai museum.
One of the most beautiful museum
The nave of the CAPC museum is one of the most beautiful places dedicated to contemporary art in France. “For the 50 years the CAPC has been here, we have been reconnecting through grand gestures,” comments the site’s new director Sandra Patron, alluding to its glory days back in the 1990s when artists such as Daniel Buren and Christian Boltanski or more recently Danh Vo (See here the report about Danh Vo) applied their XXL visions to this extraordinary space.
Kapwani has therefore been entirely nourished by the local history: the old Entrepôts Lainés (which is now the CAPC) and their proximity to the Garonne, a river which was then used to transport the merchandise.
Across 2000m2, fringed with arches, she has arranged lines of ropes hanging from the ceiling. In total it makes up 53km of rope, which she has carefully dyed indigo blue. This hue was, back in the 19th century, imported from the Antilles. She has designed variations of lengths of rope to create a drawing in the space. In two places these great blue lines form a fountain that drips water from the Garonne.
The imagination is given full reign in this contemplative space… We can see in this cathedral oversized heads of hair, resembling an African hairstyle or a succession of columns composed of blue pipes creating a great organ. The result is absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. Kapwani defends herself from any artistic influence by saying that her training was in anthropology, but visiting her gigantic installation also brings to mind those colourful structures composed of countless plastic threads, Jesús Rafael Soto’s Penetrables. A truly sensual experience.
Until 7 January 2024 https://www.capc-bordeaux.fr/
And Soon: an interview of Theaster Gates who just created a big installation at Luma Foundation in Arles
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