Exhibition co-produced by four European institutions: Centre Pompidou-Metz, Les Champs Libres in Rennes, Brittany, Le Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains in Tourcoing, northern France, and the ZKM | Media Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany.
31 May 2013 to 6 January 2014 at Centre Pompidou-Metz
31 May to 1st September 2013 at the Champs Libres, Rennes
7 June to 21 July 2013 at the Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains, Tourcoing
15 June to 1st September 2013 at the ZKM | Media Museum, Karlsruhe (Germany)
This is not, in a classic sense, an exhibition, where works are hung on walls, but far more a visual and acoustic anthology; a sensory experience, a jungle full of projected images and a virtual stroll through a major multicultural movement that emerged during the Second World War in New York, and which spread throughout the world from 1955 onwards. The poet Allen Ginsberg, tutelary figure and catalyst of the Beat Generation, will serve us as a cartographer and a guide. He will introduce us to his friends – who he often photographed at different times – and, above all, their works; throwing light on the unique personalities of each of them.
Known and unknown films, public readings, recordings, unreleased reportings, texts, fine arts, interviews, photographs and documents of all kinds... This compilation, shown here for the first time, offers an international, labyrinthine and multimedia perspective transcending the constraints of linear and didactic museum presentation.
Here, visitors are invited – without further delay – to step into the hallucinatory universe of the poets of the Beat Generation and to relive, themselves, this collective and subjective adventure. Also entirely new is the simultaneous opening of four versions of the same exhibition in four European institutions of differing backgrounds: at Centre Pompidou-Metz, at the Studio National des Arts Contemporains, Le Fresnoy (Tourcoing), at Les Champs Libres (Rennes) and at the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe (Germany), showing exemplary synergy and partnership.
Thanks to Allen Ginsberg, we can follow step by step, the literary, cultural, political, existential and spiritual controversies in which the Beat Generation were involved. It is through him that we become acquainted with or reinterpret a series of masterpieces of modern literature by Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, Peter Orlovsky and, naturally, Allen Ginsberg. We see them or hear them, we discover their manuscripts, their drawings, their way of life, but also their commitment to the freedom of expression and liberation from bourgeois morality; their struggle against ethnocentricity; homophobia and racist paranoia; for ecology. One may consider the pioneering role they played as writers and cosmopolitans at the center of a major international movement, which, in the 1960s, rebelled against the Vietnam War, Wall Street, the Pentagon, the atom bomb, the nuclear industry, and generally against all forms of cultural and political imperialism.
Incidentally, in his famous manifesto/poem, Howl, Ginsberg once again took up the biblical monster Moloch, which continued to demand more and more human victims and which Karl Marx had already denounced as a symbol of the prevailing and aggressive capitalism. It is no mere chance that Ginsberg, Burroughs and their mutual friend Jean Genet took part in the demonstrations in Chicago, in 1968, nor that a number of their young close friends used the opportunity to present a real, pink-colored and screeching pig as a candidate for the American presidential elections. The spirit of Dada was, indeed, present, as any distinction between political and artistic action had dissolved.
The films presented here, the interviews, the reportings, the photographs, the texts especially emphasize the relationship of derivation that the poets of the Beat generation maintained with their predecessors and contemporaries, in particular, the Asiatic and European: they have a close affinity with William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Antonin Artaud. Throughout the course of their numerous, long and productive stays in Paris, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Gysin and Corso got acquainted with Henri Michaux, Ghérasim Luca, Jean Genet, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Tristan Tzara, Bernard Hiedsieck, Félix Guattari and many others. In Café Sélect, in Montparnasse, Ginsberg began his major cathartic poem Kaddish and wrote Sur la Tombe d’Apollinaire and Europe! Europe! In Paris Burroughs completed and published Le Festin Nu, Nova Express, and Corso, his poem Bomb.
With the Beat Generation emerged the enormous worldwide movement of the counter culture for which the indignant stand today, and from which coming visionaries and utopians, their turn, will draw their inspiration.
Jean-Jacques Lebel, April 2013
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