Le Grand Balcon draws loosely on Jean Genet’s Le Balcon, in which the play’s high porch is a space of contestation between revolution and counter-revolution, reality and illusion. A recurring motif
in Genet’s writing, his balcony is a place where representation itself can be perversely troubled.
For Genet (and for many other writers, including Shakespeare) the balcony is also a topos of amorous flirtation: a privileged but ambiguous space that brings lovers closer while keeping them apart. It is a desiring apparatus and a theatrical space that articulates the complex relationship between inside and outside, up and down. The balcony is also subject to a particular regime of visibility, a space where a person can dramatically stage herself, with power and vulnerability on display.
In Genet’s play, the Grand Balcony is the brothel that presents a fiercely ironical microcosm of the power elite besieged by revolutionary forces at the gates. In turn, the exhibition Le Grand Balcon enacts Genet’s concern with meta-theatricality and role-playing by unfolding incidents alongside “objects” that often refuse to reveal themselves as truths. As an exhibition, Le Grand Balcon aims to open up a mental space to rethink some of our most pressing matters and their interconnectedness—our culture of waste and excess, the accelerating dematerialisation of the economy and the global evolution towards a clash of prophesying communities.
The works selected for Le Grand Balcon betray a preference for “images” of deep historical resonance that materially and sensorially bind us to the here and now. Thus the exhibition enjoins us to re- consider a joyous utilitarianism and an aesthetics of sensual materialism that mobilize both the brain’s and the body’s capacities to their fullest, against the indifference of (mere) knowledge. Can we develop a hedonistic politics? An ethical hedonism?
Along with Genet, Le Grand Balcon enlists the infamous Marquis de Sade, who adds a mortal’s right to pleasure to the canon of human rights. His advocacy of pleasure uncovers the paradoxes of the bourgeois principle of formal equality by exposing the fact that fantasy categorically resists universalization. Fantasy is the absolutely individual way in which someone structures her/his “impossible” relation to things.
Our exhibition aims for something quite radical: to develop an unruly and recalcitrant space that gives form to an aesthetics of resistance to the violence of quantification and categorization, and to the violence of naming and controlling. Calling for a materialist and sensualist approach, Le Grand Balcon invites us to rethink both the (im)possibility of an emancipation through pleasure—and its urgency. Asserting a hedonist politics far from the easy rewards of consumption, in an environment of potentially economic or political instrumentalization, the exhibition opposes a via negativa of alienation, skepticism, discomfort, and loss.
In the tradition of Genet and de Sade, Le Grand Balcon is simultaneously playful and fatalistic in its presentation of rooms, corridors and balconies. Deflecting every attempt to fit in or create an overarching narrative, to be introduced into a system of classification or to be pinned down, the exhibition becomes a place of fallacy, where things can go astray.
—Philippe Pirotte, Curator, Le Grand Balcon