Version française
Version française


A Terrible Beauty Is Born

The title of the next Biennale de Lyon, A Terrible Beauty Is Born, is a verse from the poem Easter 1916 written by W.B. Yeats in September of that year about the general uprising by which the Irish claimed emancipation from the British. At first sight, the poem could be read as celebrating the martyrs who gave their life for the cause of independence. Yet upon further scrutiny, it becomes clear that the attitude of the speaker is one of perplexity and doubt. The poem shifts uneasily between affirmation, question and negation. It is, fundamentally, at war with itself.


As such, the title is more a methodological tool than a theme per se. It enables the project to explore the force of paradox and contradiction, tension and ambivalence, and to address the state of urgency in the world and in the arts today. Articulated through a series of parcours or narratives, the exhibition intends to address the density of the present as well as the power of the imaginary, the visionary and the hallucinatory.


As writer Carlos Gamerro states in his essay for the catalogue, “Yeats stood in the First World, and in the Third, in the centre and the periphery, he looked at the present from the past, and vice versa, and at the future from both. He stood high up in the mountain, looking down upon the Earth in flames; and also at the bottom of society, with the fools and the mad, as in his Crazy Jane poems. Living, he looked on death, but also tried to look at life from death, addressing the passer-by who stopped at his tomb: “Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman, pass by!” (“Under Ben Bulben”). Again and again he strove in vain to achieve God's perspective on human efforts and failures, a gaze under which all contradictions are resolved and all suffering is explained, and as many times he stepped down off this illusory perch in despair or disgust, only to try to climb again.”


The 11th Biennale de Lyon will comprise around 60 artists in the 150.000 square feet across four venues: La Sucrière, the Fondation Bullukian, the Musée d’Art Contemporain de Lyon, and the T.A.S.E factory. Its catalogue will be published by Les Presses du Réel.


Read the poem Easter,1916 by W.B. Yeats



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