Wander, Labyrinthine Variations, 2011

Wander, Labyrinthine Variations

Centre Pompidou-Metz
Metz, France



Wander, Labyrinthine Variations follows Masterpieces? as the second major thematic exhibition at the Centre Pompidou-Metz. Wander, Labyrinthine Variations is an international group exhibition, which takes its cue from the model of the labyrinth, tackling the notions of straying, loss and wandering as well as their various representations in contemporary art.

Mystical, archaic forms, labyrinths and mazes are examined here as metaphors. They form complex figures that associate the image of non-linear progression through bends, curves, repentance and returns… whether architectural, mental, economic or structural in nature. The show itself is organised thematically according to a sinusoidal principle that follows the detours and polysemy of the subject itself, offering a loss of reference both figuratively as well as formally. It veers from an architectural maze to thoughtful meandering, from global political-economic chaos to disorientated contemporary urbanism, from bodily spatial confinement to maieutics, from exploded narration in cinema or literature to geometric abstraction as an eye-catcher.

The exhibition is presented in eight themed parts, which develop the subject from an angle that is both conceptual and sensory.

Painting, architecture, penetrable works, sculptures, films, maps and archaeological artefacts offer as many different perspectives on, and immersions in, these curious and surprising worlds.

Beyond its historical references, Wander, Labyrinthine Variations sets out to represent certain contemporary aesthetic, political and intellectual trends of our era. It addresses the history of forms and ideas by challenging a strictly linear model or progressive vision. Instead, it multiplies possibilities, draws the visitor into zones of confusion, multiple choices and lays obstacles to our apprehending of what is real, with all that this implies in terms of adventurous speculation and uncertainty.

Unfolded on 2,000 square metres across two of the gallery spaces at Centre Pompidou-Metz, the exhibition shows different generations of French and international artists, alongside major works from the Centre Pompidou, Musée national d'art moderne in Paris and important international collections. There will also be specific commissions by Matt Mullican, Public Space With a Roof and re-enacted pieces by Gianni Colombo, Gianni Pettena and Julio Le Parc.

Wander, Labyrinthine Variations is also a game in the form of an enigma - Labyrint* in a Valise (*h) - elaborated by the independent curator, Jean de Loisy.


Hélène Guenin
Head of Programming Department at the Centre Pompidou-Metz

Hélène Guenin was appointed Head of programming at the Centre Pompidou-Metz in November 2008. Alongside Laurent Le Bon, she supervises exhibition projects and parallel programming in the Wendel Auditorium and the Studio.

Prior to this, from 2002 to 2008, she worked with Béatrice Josse at the Fonds régional d'art contemporain in Lorraine.


Guillaume Désanges
Curator, Art Critic, Director of Work Method

Guillaume Désanges has curated numerous exhibitions in France and internationally. He is the director of Work Method, an independent production entity. Between 2001 and 2007, he coordinated artistic activity at Les Laboratoires in Aubervilliers. In 2007-2008 he was head of programming at La Tôlerie Arts Centre in Clermont-Ferrand. Since 2009, and until 2011, he has been guest curator at Le Plateau-Frac Ile de France arts centre in Paris for a series of exhibitions entitled Érudition Concrète.

The exhibition
I - The labyrinth as architecture

The labyrinth originates in architecture. Greek mythology popularised the concept with the Minotaur, a creature that is half-man, half-bull, imprisoned in a construction so complex that no one can find their way out. Invented by Daedalus, the original labyrinth was thus based on paradox: how can a rational, methodical structure produce confusion, disorientation and wandering? Modern-day architects and artists have considered these questions anew, and imagined principles based on broken lines, twists and turns, tangles and bulges. This part of the exhibition looks at practices which are both programmatic and decorative, and which break with the readability of straight lines.

II - Space / Time

The labyrinth is the archetypal space that generates time. Inside the labyrinth, times feels warped in a succession of detours that bring us back to our starting point. In mathematics, spirals, loops and Möbius strips are the physical embodiment of this paradoxical progress through space and time. Each of the works and projects in this section identify with this highly specific dynamic immobility or involution, examples of which are also found in the natural world, in seashells and nebulae, from mystical wanderings to the revolving planets.

III - The mental labyrinth

The structure of the human mind is often likened to a labyrinth. In physical terms, the brain can be seen as an inextricable network of neurons and synapses while, metaphorically, "thinking is like entering a maze" (Cornelius Castoriadis). In philosophy, wandering and digression are necessary stages in the quest for truth.
The mental labyrinth encompasses knowledge, as well as dreams and memory. It embodies the depths of consciousness, from loss to revelation, through which we attain the "light through darkness" which Henri Michaux describes. Various ways of formalising thought are assembled here, in the work of artists who map these complex areas of the mind
and invent new orders of ideas and reality

IV - Metropolis

Described by the poet Emile Verhaeren as "tentacular," the modern city has much in common with the labyrinth. Viewed from a distance, it resembles a comprehensible network but once in its midst, this network reveals itself to be an inextricable web of chaos. Thus it elicits new behaviours – inadvertent or deliberate drifting, marginality and dispersion – and becomes a new space for individual adventure. Paul Citroen's Metropolis, which inspired Fritz Lang's film, embodies the overwhelming, the dizzyingly dense in much the same way as the Babylon of antiquity, the symbol of power and authority. These mythical cities inspire a new kind of artist-surveyor/cartographer. They portray the complexity of the modern city, or approach it as a playground and laboratory, part poetry, part social deviance.


V - Kinetic dislocation

This part of the exhibition considers experiences of loss in its physical and optical dimensions. From the 1950s, kinetic artists began to conduct plastic research into movement, whether achieved mechanically by the observer's movement, or resulting from the material's own inner vibration. These necessarily interactive works elicit feelings of illusion and disorientation, halfway between giddiness and wonder. They use extremely simple mechanisms to produce momentous disorientation of perception. They are shown with films that associate the kinetic experience with psychological confusion.

VI - Captive

The fundamental paradox of the labyrinth lies in its twofold purpose: to imprison and simultaneously protect the Minotaur. An insidious, open, constantly shifting prison, the labyrinth allows a certain degree of freedom while controlling from afar. The inability to fully comprehend where a space begins and ends, the loss of bearings and the absence of any map produce a feeling of confused claustrophobia, no matter how many perspectives the labyrinth seemingly opens. Like a spider's web, this complex architecture is a trap that encircles, closes in on and ultimately suffocates. The labyrinth thus elicits ambivalent responses, part protection and part conditioning, as well as magnificent and also desperate attempts to escape.


VII - Initiation / Enlightenment

As a sinuous path strewn with obstacles and trials, the labyrinth has, from the very inception of the myth, been associated with the initiatory quest, both spiritual and physical. This concentric, spiralling progression has a moral, even heroic, dimension, whether processional route or symbol of wisdom, church labyrinth or Tibetan mandala. One emerges from the labyrinth as another; it is a pretext for a journey to self-knowledge. Finding one's way through the labyrinth is like finding a path through life, with its choices, hesitations and periods of wandering as we move towards self-fulfilment. In contemporary art, this moral dimension is sometimes portrayed metaphorically, within the ordinary and the banal.

VIII - Art as labyrinth

Avant-garde and modern artists challenged the idea, inherited from the Renaissance, of representing the world from a single perspective, or vanishing point. The explosion of points of view on the surface of the canvas, and the increasing abstraction of form, were accompanied in experimental cinema by a corresponding blurring of meaning and deconstruction of the linear storyline. The empty space created between meaning and form is the very place of vertigo. Thus a work of art becomes a conceptual, sensual labyrinth where we can lose ourselves. It is a complex, auto-referential structure, the experience of which defies all reason, yet which brings us to a new form of understanding.


    12 September 2011 - 5 March 2012

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