Correspondencekarl daniel törnkvistis the gotheNBurg BieNNial aN iNstitutioN? ..................................................60
tadeusz sawa-Borysławskia celeBratioN at aNgels square .............................................................................70
CommentsJeša denegri speaks with paweł Łubowskieurope iN a New diMeNsioN ........................................................................................74
RecommendationsJerzy olekwhat photography is like – it is Not there for eVeryoNe to see .......................................................................................................76
Nordic idea of artMateusz Maria Bieczyński
It is with immense pleasure that we present you a new issue of CoCA.in – Review of Contemporary Art Centres and Museums. We are very pleased to see the support granted to us as well as the growing number of our readers. We are proud to inform you that being a relatively newly created magazine we have already managed to form a group of staunch friends.In response to suggestions and comments reaching us from various curators and employees of museum institutions we have been doing our best to transform our ideas into the contents of this magazine and the strategy applies to its every issue. In the previous one, we endeavored to take a closer look at the South Pacific region. This time we have decided to focus on just one particular country and that is Sweden.It has become our tradition to invite a chosen institution which exhibits contemporary art to cooperate with us and thus to become a featured guest of the issue. This time it has been Moderna Museet in Malmö. Dynamic management of the museum located in a rapidly developing region with an increasing economic and cultural significance seems to be a perfect reflection of the changing character of Swedish society. This presentation consists of an elaborate article presenting specific
character of this institution’s activity as well as of an interview with John Peter Nilsson, its main director and an employee of Moderna Museet in Stockholm at the same time. His figure provides a symbolic connection between these two institutions and thus makes him the most adequate person to discuss art in Sweden.In the section of our magazine devoted to Swedish art institutions, activity of certain art centers and museums of contemporary art have been presented. They include Tensta Konsthall, Konsthall C, Marabouparken, Bonniers Konsthall or Botkyrka Konsthall, to take the examples. This information block has been preceded by an introductory piece of text by Tim Warrwick being a review of Stockholm art scene. The issue obviously would not be complete without a reference to this year’s edition of the Göteborg Biennial, an event of a growing international significance. This has been presented by Karl Daniel Törnkvist in a wider context of a posed question whether “the Biennial is an institution”.This issue of CoCA.in has been prepared in association with a professional curatorial studies program known as CuratorLab. It is subsidized with the funds received from Konstfack, the University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm.
Mateusz Maria Bieczyński
ModerNa Museet of MalMö– a coMpact MuseuM with a MissioN
on the history sideAlthough it was 26 December 2009 when Moderna Museet was officially opened, the history of its origins can be traced back to “another institution”. In the 1980s in the same building, Fredrik Roos, an art collector and a businessman, opened a private museum. It remained open until 2006 when, as a result of the founder’s bankruptcy, the Museum ceased to function. Immediately after the closure, the authorities began efforts toward keeping it open. Eventually, the Museum was reactivated in the form of “a branch” of Moderna Museet in Malmö, based on its renowned trademark and tried-and-tested business template. This gave the Museum a whole new direction with some serious branding involved. This scheme, however, has turned out to be a little risky considering the cultural and geographical gravity of the region, with the Skone area closely linked to Copenhagen (if only for their past’s sake), it resisted any imposed influence trying to distance itself from Stockholm altogether.This reserved attitude waned after John Peter Nilsson took the position of Museum Director. He considered “Malmö’s Moderna an entirely different museum in an entirely different city”.1 Naturally, it doesn’t mean the connection between Malmö’s museum and its equivalent in Stockholm has been severed, it was simply transformed into a different level. The former is still obliged to display the staple collection from the Stockholm headquarters. Apart from that, they are free to implement an independent program of their own.
objectivesIt is part of a national cultural policy to display art from the Stockholm collection of Moderna Museet in the Malmö branch. Since the collection is ever-expanding, showing its content to the public lies in the country’s best interest. It was much supported by the state to create an additional space away from Stockholm, where the said collection could be displayed, in order to enable a larger part of society to appreciate the national treasures.Malmö’s museum is generally free to construct its own program. It is allowed to arrange art objects leased from Stockholm in any manner and context the curators wish. The reason for this freedom is that it is, after all, a state-funded institution, even though its financial structure is a rather complex one. It consists of 3 different bodies that provide for its upkeep: civic, regional and state funds are all involved. Luckily this doesn’t mean that political leverage is applied in order to influence the way the Museum is being run.
1 Excerpt from the interview by Mateusz Bieczyński with John Peter Nilsson, the director of Moderna in Malmö, where the conversation took place on 14 September 2013.
Local context is always a point of departure for the planning of the future schedule. Malmö is a vibrant, developing city subjected to dynamic growth. Its image has changed profoundly over the last few years. It has transformed from a depressing industrial town with a high rate of unemployment into an up-and-coming creative place attracting international executive and managerial staff. In many ways, the Skone area, of which Malmö is the unspoken capital, can be more attractive than Stockholm. Additionally, there might be another factor shaping Malmö’s unusual profile: its demography. Over 50% of its citizens are under forty, with a fair amount of them being born abroad. This is a new type of city and, according to the director of Moderna in Malmö, the Museum must be able to respond to those circumstances.Malmö’s Moderna has 60 thousand artefacts from its mother institution at its disposal. At least once a year they are put on show there. Their arrangements have an experimental character in terms of the context that art is being presented in. As John Peter Nilsson points out, “this collection is not a trophy thing. Its content is a starting point for important issues and approaches”.The present exhibition, curated by Iris Müller-Westermann and titled Russian Avant-Garde – Visions
of a Future, confirms that this little motto is, in fact, very true. It helps us to realize that the Russian Avant Garde wasn’t a completely isolated phenomenon and, during its glory days, similar trends could be observed in many places across Europe. Which is why the curator confronted such works as Tatlin Tower (a monument commemorating the 3rd International), Black Square on Black by Malevich and Rodczenko’s photo-montages with those by Ferdinand Leger, Giacomo Balla or the Dadaist John Heartfield from Berlin. This gets a very clear message across: the Russian Avant Garde wasn’t just one man’s overnight invention, a single stroke of genius, but a result of many issues and ideas being tackled simultaneously by various circles of artists and intellectuals all over Europe. The extent of this freedom to bring up new contexts and situations really makes an impact when we see those Russian masterpieces confronted with paintings by the Swedish painter Hilma af Klint whose exhibition is running next door. Her works introduce certain confusion into the chronology of the abstract art we thought we knew. It is often thought that precursors of abstract art were Russians, with Malevich and Kandinsky paving the way for the others but Black Square on Black was painted between 1913 and 1915 and Kandinsky’s earliest experiments took place in
1911, whereas the earliest works painted by Klint (that we know of) are dated back to 1906. This sheds a whole new and exciting light on the history of modern art. Suddenly we are re-evaluating those milestones we considered to be set in stone.
organizational structureThere are two visible differences between Malmö’s and Stockholm’s Moderna. The latter employs over 120 staff whereas the former – only 14. This is because some maintenance jobs are covered by the Stockholm staff; technicians come to Malmö when something needs to be done. The small number of staff associates more closely with a family business rather than a corporation. For example, in Stockholm the education department employs 15 people, the same department in Malmö – only two.
Museum - a family day outA vital point of Malmö’s agenda is to make art more attractive to ordinary people, citizens of Malmö and those who live outside it, too. Their strategy is to meet people’s expectations and help them participate in what’s happening in the Museum by presenting art in an interesting and approachable manner. John Peter Nilsson emphasises that they wish to encourage people from the region to visit Malmö and their museum. “We would like to have some activities and ideas in our program directed
specifically at children, so they can join in, too”.This is not just an empty promise as there are some serious arrangements being implemented. On their website one can easily find a sub-page tagged “family” where a family-friendly program is advertised: family Sunday, a guided tour for people with babies or holiday activities. The youngest family members and their parents are included in this museum experience so the tradition can be upheld. In fact, Moderna in Stockholm was the first museum to hold children’s workshops in the 60s, which is probably why Malmö’s Moderna is having similar workshops for kids run in parallel with the guided tours around temporary exhibitions for their parents. There are special times assigned to families with toddlers in prams, so that parents can drop their kids off to the drawing and colouring workshops and see the exhibition undisturbed. In this way, the Museum caters for both age groups at the same time.
The priority for those who plan the future shows is to stay away from the authoritarian way of presenting challenging art, Nilsson assures. He says: “it’s not right to put the blame on artists for producing challenging, hard to decode, works of art, neither is it right for the museums to say that the public is ill-prepared for the reception of such art. An art museum is expected to become a mediator between the two. Its role is to educate the audience
and turn potentially difficult art into something people can appreciate. I trust the audience’s perception, but one needs to give it a considerable amount of attention. It just may surprise you. Take Stockholm for that matter, people there love Duchamp, while many artists lie wide awake at night trying to figure him out”.Including national minorities into the museum circuit is not an easy task, particularly when it comes to contemporary art. Such attempts are still being carried out in the hope it would create an interesting platform for intercultural exchange and, ultimately, would help foreigners to settle in their new circumstances. The members of the education department are looking into ways of helping with such educational programs and find their inspiration on the football pitch. The idea behind that unusual project is the simplicity of communicational means featured in most sports games. It’s much easier to induce the system of shared values among different nationalities when playing sport. Professional consultations are being carried out to establish how those sport-related mechanisms could be transported into the art and culture environment.There is another interesting project aimed at the youngest audience that is worth mentioning. It’s the special bus that goes around the suburban towns and villages and collects children to transport them to and from the Museum. This would take the responsibility off school staff and give the children an opportunity to participate in the latest cultural events they could otherwise miss.
local artist’s expectations vs. the museum’s aspirationsArt museums are subjected to a certain amount of pressure from the local communities with particular expectations toward the artistic program. There is a demand for a wide range of latest trends, as well as the presentation of the artists from the region. Every exhibiting institution must first establish a profile and make a clear statement regarding its program and guidelines, making sure there is a right balance of local versus international art. This rule applies to Malmö, however, its interests have become somewhat curbed by their obligation toward Stockholm and presentation of their collection.There are a large number of recommendations from Malmö regarding their local artists with the intention of introducing their work into Stockholm’s collection, however, when it comes to choosing which artist to showcase, Malmö’s museum doesn’t feel obliged to narrow their choice to those names only. “We may pick any name we want from all over the world. We have access to thousands of high-class works of art, so if we choose to show a local artist there must be a good reason behind it. The important
thing is to try and avoid making comparisons to other celebrated works from the pantheon of world-famous masterpieces like those of Picasso or Duchamp, the sole quality of work must prevail and that applies to local artists as well” says Nilsson.It seems that any reservations toward presentations of Stockholm art have vanished and – owing to this smartly balanced policy – the people of Malmö and neighbouring areas have gained easy access to top-class international art.At the same time, Moderna in Malmö remains open to any experimental shows including the presentations of young artists, and so there is a series of exhibitions of the newcomers or even undergraduates planned for 2015. It’s not the commercial success that matters, it’s the opportunity given to the young people at the start of their careers as well as injecting some brave new ideas into the bloodstream of an old institution, it’s taking risks in the name of art. There is a risk factor coming from the fact that Malmö’s Moderna has less exposure than Stockholm’s, but by the same token there is more liberty to take up such challenges.
friends and sponsorsThe Museum’s activity is significantly maintained by the societies of friends and sponsors. Both groups actively participate in the financial support of Malmö’s Moderna Museet, particularly in making purchases toward extending Stockholm’s collection. There is a society of friends of Moderna counting around 11 thousand members. Each of them pays a yearly membership fee that gives a great deal of benefits, including free admissions. The other group consists of something around 100 people and contributes to the new acquisitions for the expanding collection. In addition, donations in art are made by friends in the US. Thanks to their tax system reliefs, donations to cultural institutions are free from any surcharges.Moderna in Malmö has got one strategic sponsor, the energy corporation E-on, which bestows around one million krona per year; in return they are allowed to use museum space for organizing corporate events plus they are authorized to place their logo on the Museum’s advertising materials.
fredrik roos art GrantA recently developed attraction from Malmö’s Moderna is an art competition called Fredrik Roos Art Grant. It’s an appreciative nod toward the original founder of the modern art museum. His family has decided to celebrate his memory by funding a prize for young artists from the Nordic countries. The winner selection procedure changes slightly from year to year. This year it is based on a 3-step process. In the first stage, 2 students are
selected from the final year of every art academy in Sweden, later the jury, consisting of a few members of the Museum staff and a couple of renowned authorities, nominate those who get into the semi-finals. Later, on 24 March – Fredrik Roos’ birthday anniversary – a winner is picked from a narrow group of 3 to 5 artists in the concluding stage, which is the exhibition of finalists taking place in the Museum
with Fredrik’s family featuring as a jury panel. Up till this day the winners who have received the grant are: Oskar Mörnerud and Paul Fägerskiöld.
architecture and the space issueAn important factor signifying the spirit of every cultural institution, next to its essential program, is no doubt its architecture.
Tham & Videgard Architekter, who are the team behind the project of Moderna Museet in Malmö, faced a double challenge when coming to the drawing board. Firstly – the revitalization of the old powerhouse building from the beginning of the 20th century and readapting it, in order to fit the new standards applying to the modern exhibiting interiors, and secondly – designing a new extension that would largely define the visual identity of the whole institution. In this way, the red cube attached to the historical part of Malmö’s Moderna became its trademark. Its form and colour are a distant echo of the old part with its geometry and unique character. The old powerhouse was designed by John Smedberg and was built with fired bricks in 1906, its plan was based on an elongated rectangle. Its distinctive, historicizing façade was subdivided into 8 identical segments. The cube added recently is, in fact, a balancing factor for the original post-industrial part – something we may now call a strong determinant and a fixed starting point for the new design – and instantly became the trademark of the entire complex.The cube is shielded by a double façade consisting of the external cover made of perforated steel and the internal layer which is tightly closed off. The lower floor is glazed and visibly stands out from the upper part of the building. The name of the place is clearly visible against the dark inner layer, steel letters resembling Robert Rauschenberg’s signature spell out: Moderna Museet Malmö.
The new part comprises an entrance hall, cafe, ticket desk and one of the show rooms. The cafe is definitely the most distinctive place among the others. Everything, even the furniture, is orange, in a similar shade to the exterior. Due to the glazing of the lower floor, the natural light can easily penetrate inside. The pattern of the wall openings is determined by the perforations of the façade, casting irregular glimmers all around. Both the old and the new parts are interconnected by two stairwells. The show room’s set-up is clear and easy to read. The amassed space allotted for the exhibitions comes to over 800 sq. meters.
tickets or free admissions? what’s the future of swedish museums?Sweden, much like the rest of the Scandinavian countries was a model example of a welfare state and one of the symptoms of its prosocial policy was free access to its cultural resources, including museums. When the right-wing party took over, the situation changed. Some of the first benefits to be wiped out were subsidies for museums, together with free admissions.However, this subject has recently been under discussion and there is a good chance things will change back to how they were, as soon as the political tables turn once again. In this way, museums have become a political issue in Sweden.The present situation, however, forces museums to seek some extra income and ways to produce
realistic strategies on how to increase the number of visitors. This could be a bad or a good thing. Whichever way you look at it, coming up with an exhibition that has an intellectual and artistic value and still attracts a larger audience is the universal challenge of a contemporary museum anywhere in the world. Commercialisation of a museum may produce – apart from some unambiguously bad consequences – a genuinely good influence, and stimulate museums’ activities, provided their management maintains the sense of mission that lies at the very core of any such organization. Many state-funded museums are often accused of a lack of flexibility and a structural calcification. It’s necessary to break away from this kind of reputation, particularly if the said institution needs to make money to cover its basic expenses. Some attempts to reconcile those two approaches are being discussed as we speak, for example, there are plans to introduce one day in a week when admission is free of charge. It’s just one way to balance the potentially harmful (“audience limiting”) influence of commercialisation with a good (“audience increasing”) factor associated with a welfare state, which was the case a few years back.Such a balance is something we would very much wish for, from a personal and a museum goer’s point of view.
we are sitting in Moderna Museet in stockholm, in the building which was opened on 12 february 1998. can we focus on what was here before? what was the origin of this institution?
The whole story begins more or less in the same place, where we’re sitting now. In the 50s, the modern (means: after the XIXth century) art collection was located in the National Museum. But in Stockholm there was a strong community – a group of very active people involved in contemporary arts – which was supporting an already older conception to create a new, permanent institution devoted only to the newest art, with its own modern collection.The central role in this struggle was played by Pontus Hultén and a group of his friends. They were already travelling around Europe in the late 40s, looking for films for the Stockholm University film archive. One of the most important destinations at that time was, of course, Paris, with one very influential place – Galerie Denis René – named after the owner, the French art gallery expert, specializing in kinetic and optical art and presenting important, international artists like American film maker Ray Johnson, the Swiss painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely or the French sculptor, painter and film maker Niki de Saint Phalle. The gallery was very up-to-date. The links and friendships made by Hultén in this circle were very crucial for his own curatorial activities in the 50s.Nerveless during these travels they gained access to the travelling exhibition of Picasso’s monumental painting Guernica. While working at the National Museum of Sweden, Hultén installed the show in a former Swedish naval facility in Stockholm. It’s still mysterious how someone let them exhibit such a painting in a place which was not prepared to host any kind of art and was completely unsecured. One thing is sure – that was the beginning of the idea to establish a temporary museum in this building. That’s how the naval gymnasium was converted to the Moderna Museet in 1958 with Hultén as its founding director. Because of him the whole saga about the museum started to happen.The other key figure in this story is Pontus’ friend, the engineer Billy Kluver, who moved to New York and worked first for Bell Laboratories. He was collaborating with Jean Tinguely in 1960 on his sculpture Homage to New York prepared for the Sculpture Garden of MOMA. In this way Kluver very quickly joined the circle of the most influential artists at that time, including Andy Warhol, and made a special friendship with Robert Rauschenberg. He worked on the famous Warhol’s balloons and, together with Rauschenberg, he became a part
“BackstaGe” ModerNa – people MakiNG a MuseuM interview with John peter Nilsson, director of Moderna Museet in MalmöMateusz Maria Bieczyński
of E.A.T.1, which focused on the idea of how the technology and art should merge together. Billy Kluver stayed in contact with Hultén.
so there was a famous question: “how did NY steal the idea of modernity from paris”? this story shows how, after “stockholm borrowed it from NY”. interesting cultural shifts with a very personalized clue…
Of course, but still Pontus Hultén stayed the central figure for that process. Partly thanks to Kluver he organized a series of very important shows in Stockholm. In 1962 he opened the 4
1 E.A.T. – Experiments in Arts and Technology, was a non-profit service organization. The main idea was the Technical Services Program to provide artists with technical information and assistance by matching them with engineers and scientists who could collaborate with them.
Americans exhibition with the pop artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Jones, as well as Alfred Leslie and Richard Stankiewicz. After that, Hultén curated solo shows of Cleas Oldenburg, Andy Warhol and Edward Kienholz. In return, Hultén was invited to prepare an exhibition in MOMA called Machine, which focused on the machine in art, photography, and industrial design. A very important event that should be mentioned, of course, is the She exhibition of Niki de Saint Phalle. Very naturally this exchange established a strong link between Stockholm and New York. The museum under Hultén became the face of contemporary American art.
thanks to personal connections, Moderna in stockholm became a well established exhibition place in a very short time. But is it possible to define pontus hultén’s conception of Moderna Museet in a more detailed way?
Yes, I think it is. Pontus Hultén was working together with Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which we can describe as a sister institution. In addition, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art was extremely open for collaboration and exchange with Stockholm. The second mentioned institution became an official partner in 1959. We can just generally say that, for Pontus Hultén, close cooperation with other art circles was very important.But, on the other hand, he was a very anarchic person in his vision. He wanted to keep the museum open and resisted being a “white-cube museum’s director”. He believed that art could be an engine for social and political change. Thinking that the arts should be liberated from the conventional exhibition context, Hultén installed in the museum’s space the famous movable walls. Pontus Hultén wanted to create something like a culture house (Kulturhuset), which was indeed created in Stockholm, but in 1974.The story of Pontus Hultén and Moderna was not so easy. At one point he became unfriendly with the city of Stockholm. So he decided: “I quit”. In the early 70s the French Ministry of Culture had commissioned a new building for the Musee National d’Art Moderne in Paris. In 1973 Hultén was hired as its director. After 5 years of work he reopened the museum in the Pompidou Centre. He led the institution until 1981. In that period he realized his conception of the open institution – carrying out what he couldn’t do in Stockholm.Not only did Pontus Hultén linked Moderna with other institutions in New York and Paris, but he also procured a lot of donations – especially from the Binniers family – which allowed a new contemporary art collection to be set up. Of course, the collection has some other gaps but these two directions – French and American – are very well represented and create something special in here.
was the project of Moderna supported by the swedish state?
Yes, it was a Museum of our “wishes” that Pontus Hultén established in 1963. When it celebrated its 5th anniversary, the director went to the government and asked: “can you give us 5 million krona as a birthday gift”? He also presented a list of artists “to buy”. And he got what he wanted. With this money he bought a lot of American pop artists, thanks to Leo Castelli, at a very good, cheap price. That means the gallery owner gave a huge discount for the museum. Moderna took advantage and bought quite remarkable pieces.Then, when we celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2008, our former director Lars Nittve also went to the government and asked: “maybe we can get 50 million?”. At that point we wanted to buy only
female artists to fill in the gap in our collection. We didn’t get the whole sum – only 5 million krona were donated. But then Lars got the fund raised from private sources – almost 50 million Swedish krona. For that we bought about 24 pieces – from Cindy Sherman to Popova.
who was personally responsible for the selection of the artworks for the collection?
Building of the collection was a collaborative task for all of the curators working here. Basically, everyone could write his own wishes and then the final selection was carried out by a small group led by Lars, Iris Müller-Westermann, Cecilia Widenheim and Ann-Sofi Noring, among others.
But there is also a very specific part of the Moderna’s collection, which has to be mentioned separately, namely a huge representation of Marcel duchamp’s works. could you please shed some more light on this?
Sure. A very important part of “Hultén’s gang” was Ulf Linde – a musician, writer and critic. He was a very interesting figure, combining the work in the institution with the position of independent critic, which was something special at that time.Ulf Linde was obsessed with Duchamp. He was trying to solve the riddle of his creation. His problem was aerodromophobia – he was scared of flying. He never went to the USA. But he pointed out: “If I can not go to see Duchamp, so perhaps Duchamp can come to see me”. He started to make replicas of his works and Duchamp was very flattered and decided to visit Stockholm – he came many times in the 60s. During those stays the artists signed most
of the finished replicas, giving them his approval. So we can see this as an extension of the general “ready-made” idea. We can see these works as original “Duchamps” even if they were produced by Ulf Linde. Of course, his actions and interpretation of Duchamp didn’t stay unnoticed and shortly afterwards, at the beginning of the 80s, they were strongly and heavily criticized.
it seems that the whole story of the Museum is directly connected to the ideas of the people following each other. their attempts shaped the institution and left a very visible mark. in that sense Moderna has to be seen as a result of their struggles and not as a coincidental effect.
Nothing is so one-sided, even if the impact of people was a crucial part of the story. In the 80s, the Museum tended to change its course. Unfortunately, something terrible happened. There was a big robbery. On May 11, 1987, thieves broke in with a sledgehammer and in 10 minutes made off with the works of Matisse and Picasso. That was a scandal. Lots of mistakes and weaknesses were pointed out in the Museum’s organization as well as in the building itself. This accident provoked a renewed discussion about the new museum.The controversy over this debate was the proposal to restrict the working field only to art from the
XXth century. At that time I was a deputy chairman for the Swedish art association. With other members we were pretty angry and regularly organized different panels and discussions. It was a chaotic moment with an electric feeling. Many people came and expressed their disappointment. In the end, the restriction of the Museum’s focus was removed.Shortly afterwards, the competition for the new building was announced. The committee selected 5 architects to compete. The winner was the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. His project differs a little bit from the realized building. In the beginning, the Museum should have had 5 floors. It was reduced to 4 because the city government thought that the skyline of the island would be ruined. So the building came out as a compromise..
true. we can say a lot about Moderna in stockholm, but definitely not that it has a spectacular seat. it seems that with the new building, a new strategy also came into play. what was the new direction of the Museum after getting a new building?
Leaving aside the utilitarian questions – the new building had a lot of functional defects – there is a big change to notice. After Hultén left Moderna, it became a place dominated by Ulf Linde – a very elitist place. The first director after the reopening
was an Englishman from Oxford, David Elliot. He very much supported the left wing social-democrats, in Sweden. Of course, such kind of change couldn’t stay unnoticed and Elliot was criticized as well.I think that he didn’t deserve that. Surely not, when we focus on the 3 pretty good and important exhibitions: Wounds: between democracy and redemption in contemporary art (1998); After the Wall: art and culture in post-Communist Europe (1999); Organizing Freedom: Nordic art in the 90s (2000).The problem is that Elliot was not a character that fitted the Stockholm art line. He made some unprofessional statements, criticizing important Stockholm families with longstanding ties to the Museum and other private places. Anyway, at the same time, the former director Lars Nittve moved to Malmö and became a founding director of the Centre of Contemporary Arts there…
and that was the beginning of Moderna Museet in Malmö, right?
Yes and no. To come to Moderna in Malmö we need to have one more step. The Centre of Contemporary Art in Malmö was an initiative of Fredrik Roos, an art collector and financier. He had very good early works of such artists as Julian Schnabel, Keith Harring and Jeff Koons. He came to Stockholm with an idea to build a place for his collection near the existing museum. He faced a negative answer from the city as well as from the board of the museum. No
one wanted to speak with him or even deposit his collection. The reason for that was the provenance of his money – young, yuppie and vulgar. At that time such stories were still quite common.After that Roos came back to Malmö, where he had some old friends in the city. They allowed him to buy the whole quarter for 1 Swedish krona under the condition that he would build and establish a new Konsthalle. He did it. Rooseum started in 1988.The big crisis of 1989 hit the business of Fredrik Roos. His attention also turned to his health problems as he knew he was seriously ill. Both things affected his collection, which was a security for his loans. He repaid his debts with borrowed money. After he became bankrupt all of his artworks were sold at auctions in Sotheby’s and Christie’s in London, except 20 of them, which he had already donated to the Museum. Shortly afterwards, Roos died. That was 1991. The family decided to keep the Museum running with Lars Nittve as a director. He made some incredible shows there and put the institution on the map. It gave him a kick in his career as well. Thanks to that Lars was then hired as a director of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek (near Copenhagen) as well as being involved in establishing Tate Modern as a founding director.In 2001, Lars left London and took the position of director in Stockholm’s Moderna. His arrival coincided with the closing of the Museum. The whole building was full of mould. The humidity came into the walls from the rocks under the building.
With his first decision Nittve moved the institution into the city centre – to a building near T-Centralen. Two rooms prepared for exhibition purposes were used to present the Museum’s collection. Soon after, he invented a one-week show program based on solo shows. That was his idea – which worked well – to keep the Museum alive. The reopening of the main building was after two years. All the time Lars tried to adapt his experiences from Tate to Moderna. He understood the museum as a medium and a place of competition with other mediums. He wanted to make a “trademark” of the name, or better still, to turn it into label, which ennobles every possible content. Lots of people started to feel that art is not a commodity – we’re not selling products.
so the commercial idea of lars Nittve was strongly criticized?
Lars really wanted to balance the blockbuster exhibitions with problematic ones. He kept the position until the end and left when his term finished, after 9 years of being a director. But it’s a fact that the following director, Daniel Birnbaum, who started in 2009, has chosen another format of leading the institution in which the Museum should follow the artists more.Daniel presented a new idea – and I was very strongly involved in it – to change the whole collection and fill it only with photography. It was a kind of risky decision, because at the same time Fotografiska (a private kunsthalle for photography) was created in Stockholm, not so far away from Moderna. But I agreed with him that photography is a medium like painting or sculpture, and it doesn’t matter if – in the common opinion – it is recognized. Of course, this direction procured a lot of criticism from the photographic world.The whole curatorial team started to work in another way. We had a brainstorming session, searching for new contexts and points of view, which could allow the history of this medium to be shown from a fresh perspective. Starting with the first exhibition, which I curated, we decided to present our photo collection in chapters. We began with the latest works of today and went back to Cindy Sherman, when the photo became an arena for speaking about identity. The rest of the curators made other periodical parts. Then we did a show from 1840 until today – the whole collection was in the play and the house was filled with pieces. Now it’s going to be shown in Milan.So Daniel Birnbaum turned everything upside down once again.
all these activities are still directed on the presentation of the Museum’s collection, right?
Presentation of the collection is indeed a very important element of the program here. But it’s rarely about the presentation of works itself. Rather the idea is to make the presentation in the context – to choose a topic, which can throw a new light on the question relevant to some periods or movements.The difference between Stockholm and Malmö is that the second has no separate collection. But one of our ambitions in Malmö is to present the collection from Stockholm. Our activity in that field is similar in its conception. We are reinterpreting or, better, rethinking history.The most ironic part of our activity is a dilemma which appears in that field. We face a very specific group of visitors, very disappointed that they can not meet their friends regularly. Under “friends” they understand the famous works from the former, permanent exhibition. Confronting with such a – quite radical I think – position and expectation we have to see very clearly what we are choosing and where we are going exactly. Despite the differences between Malmö and here, I think as the leaders of the museums I have in common with Daniel Birnbaum an openness for permanently asking, again and again, the same question: “what is the museum?”. And we have a very strong dialogue with him about the institutional shape of Moderna.
here comes a very important question about decision making between “Modernas” in stockholm and Malmö.
Starting with my taking of the position of the director in Malmö, I think the link became possible, because I have my position here in Stockholm as well. I just know everybody here in this museum. They want me to be here and I want it as well. This is important to have the link to people working here.
so are you the link...?
Perhaps we can say so. But we have curators in Malmö and we have a dialogue. We have meetings for planning every month, where the people from both museums sit together and discuss the direction of future actions. Of course, we have some external and separate questions but we’re trying to make the important decisions together.
it means that there is no hierarchy in the relation Malmö – stockholm?Of course, Stockholm is more important on the map than Malmö. This is what I was fighting with. My big struggle is to reach a higher level, to improve the skills in Malmö. After the reopening of the centre there, Lars Nittve made a great move. He organized
financial support for the institution from 3 different sources at once. We are funded in equal parts (1/3) by the city, state and the region. We are a state organization, so we stay on the official lists, but in practice we have 3 different employers and so we can really see what the people want here.A very important thing is also our link to the Louisiana Museum in Denmark. We all agreed here that the Museum in Malmö is not a copy of the Stockholm one.
is it possible to define the place of Malmö’s Moderna on the art map of sweden?
To put it briefly, we can’t be compared with Tate, but rather with Liverpool. But the location gives us a freedom to be more experimental – like Pompidou. It looks like something in between the mentioned institutions.
does it mean that Moderna in Malmö is more ready for unorthodox experiments and playing with convention than stockholm is?
Definitely, Moderna in Stockholm has another representative function for the whole country, and it’s bigger, that’s why it can’t make all possible decisions and has to keep a very specific protocol. When you see how the machine is functioning you have to press the button and the whole machinery
goes. In Malmö we are smaller and more flexible, but sometimes also slower. Because of the different audience we’re also dealing with other problems. Malmö has people of 142 nationalities, so we have to include the question of social integration into our program. I think that one of the very attractive possibilities is to work on the universal social values. I’m very inspired by the way football schools are connecting people (kids) from different cultural backgrounds under one common thought of equality and tolerance, as well as the question of how this concept can be useful for arts; or rather how arts can follow these struggles.
in these questions, is the effort to incorporate very crucial ethical questions into the artistic discourse and institutional practices contained?
that’s a serious challenge for future work. i keep my fingers crossed for great achievements. thank you for the conversation.
Stockholm is a city of art. Such a statement means little or nothing to someone who has never visited the capital of Sweden, however, a mere subway trip is enough to fully appreciate it. Stockholm’s underground train system is 110 km long when totalling all the lines – and often referred to as the longest exhibition space for modern arts. It displays various artistic projects created by different artists from different periods of time, starting with the 1950s and finishing with the ultra-modern art of the present day. 90 out of 100 stations are adorned with sculptures, murals, drawings and reliefs executed by over 150 artists.Regardless of whether you like this type of art or not, whether you think it’s tacky, aesthetically high or low-brow, contesting or educational, the truth is that Stockholm’s subway presents a beckoning image of a city that lives and breathes art, where art is part of an everyday experience. This extensive underground project has its reflection above the ground, since the capital city of Sweden is one of the most museum-populated cities in the world with around one hundred of them. A major part of this number is devoted exclusively to modern and contemporary art.The following review is a mere attempt to encompass this artistic diversity and doesn’t aspire to become a complete almanac, simply because such a task would not be possible in this place. centre If there is such a thing as the centre of the Stockholm art stage, it would probably be – situated in the middle of the city – Moderna Museet. This highly prestigious institution, with an established reputation within the international art market, is a true benchmark for other similar places and for their artistic endeavours. This is probably because Moderna is very active and involved in exchanges with other high-status exhibiting centres. Its international connections, the curriculum, together with its extensive budget and general esteem allow Moderna to be described as the most prominent institution dealing with contemporary art in Sweden. This brief review sounds more like an advertisement than a result of thorough research into this institution. There is a more in-depth description together with a historical backdrop in the interview with John Peter Nilssen, the head of Moderna Museet in Malmö. For more detailed info on the history, program and future line-up, please see the extensive literature on the subject1.
1 C. Widenheim, M. af Petersens, T. Hahr (ed.): Moderna Museet. The book, Stockholm 2008 as well as A. Tellgren (ed.): The History Book. On Moderna Museet 1958-2008, Moderna Museet / Steidl Verlag 2008.
MappiNG the stockholM art sceNe – exteNded iNtroductioNMateusz Maria Bieczyński
konsthalle – kunsthalle the swedish way – defining locality Since WWII ended, Swedes have been greatly influenced by the idea of a welfare state. One of the most striking examples of this concept was communal living, where communities, tight-knit collectives or settlements, were supposed to exist based on the self-sustenance principle, at least when it came to meeting basic needs. There was one very popular idea involving residential areas able to function as independent entities, inclusive of such facilities as museums or, at least, cultural centres. The Million Program (Miljonprogrammet) was intended to supply those independent residential areas, inspired by the concept of the suburban district Vällingby. The project of such a district was drafted in the early 1950s as a new town. Following its inauguration in 1954, it soon became world famous as a unique, well-planned city district served by the Stockholm Metro and a symbol of the Swedish middle-way welfare state. The chief postulate of this program was to shape some “fair democratic communities”. There were some means necessary to bring those projects to life, like high-standard public services (schools, clinics, churches, congregation halls, libraries and, last but not least, the art centres). The integration of various social groups was the main objective for such planning. A typical family of 2 adults and 2 children was supposed
to inhabit a standard three-bedroom apartment (Swedish: normaltrea) of 75 square meters. There were also residential, multi-family blocks with no more than 3 storeys. In Miljonprogrammet, social engineering met a strong belief in social self-regulation. Those who came up with this program must have been convinced that within those pre-established boundaries, residents would lead truly happy and fulfilled lives, free from any social frictions. The Swedish word Lagom – meaning “appropriate” or “in balance” represents a wonderful description of what this concept was supposed to become. This social happiness was an overly ambitious plan that couldn’t really come true, as it didn’t take into account, for example, the high tide of immigration. Despite the lofty aspirations, complete escape from social tensions turned out to be less than realistic. However utopian the concept, an equilibrium and integration endured in many forms, like locally grown programs of kunsthalle, with their leaders having an appreciation for the important role those places play – venting any potential anxieties within the local community. Tensta Konsthall, Marabouparken, Konsthall C and Botkyrka Konsthall are just a few fine examples of such institutions. They can be considered as a result of planning the independent, self-sustained communities mentioned above, but at the same time they
succeed in impressing with the panache of artistic programs, supplying evidence that there is little point in stereotyping centre and suburbs when it comes to valuable artistic input. Haizea Barcenilla speaks about it in her article included in a larger selection, titled The Matter of Context: Stockholm Konsthalles. Marti Man also makes references to the idea of suburban museums, using the example of Konsthall C in the aspect of self-institutionalism. Meanwhile, Botkyrka Konsthall was discussed thoroughly by its director Joanna Sandell and the program manager Anneli Backmann in an interview given exclusively to CoCAin…
turning museums into a private issueAt the origins of every public museum there is usually a private collection. It normally follows one scenario where a private cabinet of curiosities gradually turns into a collection open for public viewing. The privately-owned art galleries are nothing new, but there are few cities in the world that can beat Stockholm in terms of their number. You only need to mention such places as Magasin 3, Bonniers Konsthall, Sven Harrys Konstmuseum or Artipelago. Each of them boasts a unique program and an unusual site.
Bonniers Konsthall and Sven Harrys are located in the centre and were both custom-designed especially to house art collections. The former occupies a vast space on the ground floor of a glass building with a triangular plan. The team behind the project was Johan Celsing Architects. Bonniers Konsthall opened its doors in 2006 and, from the start, it aimed at showcasing young talents at the beginning of their careers and occasionally allotting considerable sums of money toward commissions from renowned artists.The latter was founded by a construction entrepreneur, Sven Harry Karlsson. It was opened for the public in 2011 in a location that wasn’t miles away from Bonniers Konsthall in Vasa Park. It was designed by Anna Höglund and Wingårdhs Arkitektkontor. The museum is run by a foundation that has a significant role in the social life of Sweden by, for instance, awarding grants for remarkable achievements in arts. Magasin 3 found its headquarters inside an old wharf warehouse, thus the name. It was established in 1987, making it the oldest institution of the above selection. When it comes to selecting its line-up, it follows, let’s call it, a well-balanced
path, focusing on internationally recognized artists in their mid-careers. It tends to build a portfolio of purchases based on those names, which later turns into an exhibition. A major part of their collection, consisting of 600 works was commissioned and purchased by the museum with its own funds. They partake in both individual and theme exhibitions alike.Artipelago – a contemporary art centre with undoubtedly the most unusual of sites among other private art museums. It blends into the landscape of an archipelago just outside Stockholm in a rather interesting manner. The founder of this complex is Björn Jakobson, the very same man behind the baby carrier brand Babybjörn. The building was designed by Johan Nyren, who has managed to arrange over 9000 square meters of construction in a way that complements the natural setting of the Swedish seascape. Artipelago is a fusion of an exhibition space and a corporate event facility. Its space is available for hire, which turns it into a peculiar hybrid of an institution, subsequently exposing the centre to severe criticism for the lack of a coherent curriculum as well as its leaning toward commercialism.
Each of those organizations must tackle different problems, some trying to keep in line with their budgets, while others are making efforts to balance profit and non-profit activity.
other playersThe Stockholm art scene covers more than just museums and art centres. There are other state or privately-funded establishments with an interesting, often quite specific, focus and profile. This article has little room to elaborate on those places, however, it seems inappropriate to disregard them entirely. First of all, there is Index, which definitely deserves a mention. It’s an exhibition space run by the Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation. Index is generally the place for independent projects and it stages 4 shows each year alongside lectures, slideshows and performances. It doesn’t represent individual artists, but it co-operates with them, promoting their work in a non-hierarchical manner. It is subsidized by the Swedish National Council for Cultural Affairs, the Culture Administration of Stockholm and Stockholm County Council.IASPIS, the International Artists Studio Program in
Stockholm was established in 1996 originally under the name of the Swedish Visual Arts Funds, an international program commissioned to support international exchange for professionals in the field of visual art, design, craft and architecture. The activity of IASPIS aims to encourage artists based in Sweden to develop their careers by establishing international contacts between artists and institutions or professionals, such as curators, critics and others active in this field.It is impossible not to mention Färgfabriken in this place, an institution showcasing art from 1995 and presenting itself as a politically and religiously independent foundation. Färgfabriken is financed by the National Arts Council, the Culture Administration of Stockholm and the Stockholm County Council, and it also combines exhibiting contemporary art with an educational function like organizing lectures, presentations, workshops, seminars and discussions. Färgfabriken has clear objectives, which are: active participation in a dialogue on contemporary art and culture, and, in doing so, providing a platform for interactions between art, architecture and social science. Another important spot on the cultural map of Stockholm is Fotografiska – the private museum of photography founded by Jan and Per Broman, two brothers, in 2010. Since its opening it has shown some big names of the international photography world; with Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe,
Helen Levitt, Eleanor Coppola, Anton Corbijn, Edward Burtynsky, Sarah Moon, Anders Petersen, Liu Bolin, Lennart Nilsson, Albert Watson, Gus Van Sant, Sandy Skoglund, Nick Brandt and David LaChapelle among others. Fotografiska opens tens of exhibitions per year, whereas its location is quite an impressive spot in itself. It’s an Art Nouveau building, a part of a post-industrial wharf from 1906. This typically commercial venture doesn’t have a program or manifesto of its own to dictate a particular direction, however, it doesn’t mean it only aims at presenting famous names. Their tried-and-tested set-up has 3 to 4 exhibitions at the same time: one celebrity artist to attract the audience and to guarantee sufficient revenue, one mid-career photographer that may or may not be recognized by the average viewer, and one or two newcomers. This way they ensure the viability of showcasing relatively unknown artists otherwise difficult to market due to their lack of recognition, simply by turning them into support for a bigger name. Private sponsorship plays a big part in their financial liquidity. There is a plethora of institutions that deserve to be mentioned, like private collections, galleries, art rooms (both independent and commercial), art associations, and auction houses dealing in contemporary art. All of them and what they represent are clear evidence that art in Stockholm is truly alive and well.
closing focusThe multitude of art-related institutions turns Stockholm and, subsequently, Sweden into an exciting case study. The diversity of artistic ideas and institutional variety encourages some thorough research. This work here consists of a selection of observations on a range of issues concerning their objectives, purposes and organisational structure.I had to miss out a number of private galleries and viewing rooms, as well as private art collections and auction houses. The survey I’m presenting here seems more than sufficient to give a general overview of what Stockholm has to offer when it comes to art and culture. Stockholm will surround you with art in all shapes and forms if that’s what you’re looking for. It would take days to see all of those places, or even weeks if one intended to participate in all the live events, like festivals, seminars and discussions.
One of the characteristics of the Stockholm art scene is that, if you want to see the work of some of the most current international artists, walking around the city centre and visiting Moderna Museet won’t be enough: you will have to take the subway and head for the suburbs, where some public-private spaces are setting the bar high.
There is an important number of these relevant public-private institutions in the city, which are managed by private associations or foundations, but depend greatly on public funding. Unlike other centres, such as Magasin 3, a completely private organisation closely linked to a collection, the public-private institutions that will be addressed here are kunsthalles: exhibition spaces which invite already existing projects or produce their own, without a collection to depart from or to answer to. Another interesting particularity of the following cases is their capacity to join internationally relevant art with contextual preoccupations. Their link to their context is perceived as a conceptually inspiring departure point, without reducing their activities to collective social interaction or local production. That is the reason why some of the most challenging artistic proposals can sometimes be seen far away from the beautiful, correct and homogeneous city centre.
konsthall c: history becomes context.Konsthall C is a very specific art institution since it is itself a work of art. It was created as such in 2004 by Per Hasselberg, in collaboration with the local town council of the district of Hökarängen, where it is located. Hasselberg had moved to the area in 2003, attracted by its history.
In fact, Hökarängen was one of the first planned modern suburbs of the capital, south of the city centre. It was constructed between 1946 and 1954, mostly outlined by the architect David Helldén, and based on utopian ideas of democratic living. Located in an area surrounded by forest, it stays connected to the city centre by the subway, but it is still a quite independent unit of habitation. All basic main services were introduced around the subway station, in a commercial zone presided by the first walking street in Sweden, dating from 1949. This organisation afterwards became a model for most other suburbs. Thus, on the one hand, it provided green grounds around the neighbourhood; on another level, it isolated different possible areas of conflict, and it located workers in their district, without the necessity of travelling to the city centre for basic needs. The quantity of inhabitants was regarded as an important point, so that it would be small enough to offer a human scale that allowed
the Matter of coNtextstockholm kunsthallesHaizea Barcenilla
communication and common living, and still provide enough housing possibilities for the newcomers.
These modern utopian ideas of democratic living inspired Hasselberg, triggering examples of how society can be directed through its spatial and social organisation. He understood the current Swedish way of living in the collective communities as a result of political planning, which is very representative esspecialy in the suburbian areas. Therefore, when he discovered that the cultural centre, one of the main points of the original planning, had not been constructed, he decided to create one as a piece of conceptual art, as a re-enactment and revision of those values from the present day. It would be a place directly linked to the context, in a broad sense where it would not only show its spaces and history, but also reflect on ideas of social and urban planning, utopia, democracy, living together and history-telling through contemporary art. He presented the idea to the local town council, which embraced it as part of the urban regeneration project and is nowadays the owner of the work. The location chosen for the centre was significant as well: the laundry house, erected in 1949, a common service for the use and encounters of the neighbourhood’s inhabitants.
Because of this contextualisation and the importance of the historical narratives, Konsthall C’s
building hosts the contemporary art kunsthalle, as well as a permanent exhibition about the architect David Helldén, a local historical archive, and a space called Centrifug, an exhibition space open for anyone to book and use for shows. The different layers of documentation and exhibition give the space a special taste, with very diverse audiences. The architecture of the building also provides for a flashback effect that makes the historical planning of the neighbourhood very present.
Regarding the kunsthalle, one of its most interesting particularities is the variation of curators who have worked since its conception, and the different personality each of them has given to the institution. It was in Per Hasselberg’s mind that, despite being his work of art, its content had to be flexible, variable and plural. The only requirement for all curators is to have in mind the original ideas of utopian living, ideology, democracy building, urban planning and social organisation that were at the core of the project. Then, depending on each curator, the focusing angle has shifted from more exhibitionary proposals to rather dialogic events, and has put a stronger stress on some conceptual points or others.
Thus, the contextual framework of Hökarängen is present in the physicality of the space, and can be addressed in more abstract senses through the
activation of art practices. It can be touched upon in a panel talking about public art and institutional planning, for example. Or its broader context can be reflected through the work of artists such as Lene Berg: her exhibition The man in the background, curated by Kim Einarsson, brought about the strong fight for world power hidden behind words like “democracy”, “socialism” or “freedom” in the same years when Hökarängen was being built under these exact terms. Currently, under the curatorship of Karolin Tampere, the program is getting closer to rather immaterial, locally situated practices, as for the centrifug radio populär, a radio project by Mobile Radio (Sarah Washington and Knut Aufermann) with Hökarängen as its standpoint, just launched in June 2013. A shift that reinvents Konsthall C, once again, without losing its ground in historical Hökarängen.
acting the city: MarabouparkenAnother historical building with a strong utopian background hosts the second institution at stake: Marabouparken. The building and its surrounding park were built in the 1940s and used through the 1950s. They belonged to the Marabou chocolate company, which used the house as its main laboratory, while the park was constructed for its workers, to offer them a social and communal environment for their free time. This links directly
to the phenomenon of socialist industry owners who, from the early 20th century, tried to enhance the quality of life of their workers through services, thus creating a happier working environment and a stronger attachment to the company. Marabouparken is situated in the architectonic remains of that mentality, and the reflection about this past is also present in their programming.
Most of the projects in Marabouparken are exhibitions in a white-cube space. Nevertheless, at the core of their program is the Marabouparken Lab, an experimental initiative that establishes a long-term local collaborative project with an artist and which, unlike the exhibitions, can last for very long periods. Those projects move between the fields of art, education and public space, and try to engage the context in which they are located.
The longest project yet has been Park Lek, initiated by Kerstin Bergendal for the 2010 exhibition Park Live, the introductory exhibition to the location (the project occupied different temporary spaces while the Marabou building was being set up). For this exhibition, Kerstin Bergendal started a dialogical process with neighbours from the area about the functions that parks and green spaces could have for common living. This question was formed, on the
“Thinking through Painting”, Pannrummet, 2011. Photo: Behzad Khosravi
one hand, from the utopian premises of the Marabou park, and, on the other hand, from an institution dating back to the 50s, called Park Lek, that established the necessity of creating playgrounds for children as a place for common meeting and social recreation. Bergendal’s project resulted in a number of ideas, coming from local users of the spaces, that would help urban planning offices to rethink their policies and priorities. The project became so successful in terms of participation, and influenced the urban planning in such a way, that the local municipality agreed with Marabouparken to extend the lab until 2014, inviting Kerstin Bergendal to continue with the project in other neighbouring areas under re-urbanisation processes.
Since then, urban transformation and living together have had a prominent presence in the exhibition space too. That was the case of Hembyg(g)d, a show where the process led by Bergendal took a spatial form and was accompanied by works by other artists also dealing with communal and neighbourhood living, such as Katerina Seda’s, Pawel Althamer’s or Catti Brandelius’; or the show by Ferhat Özgür, which had Ankara and its current urban and social changes at its core.
Nevertheless, Marabouparken also explores other conceptual lines, always offering the possibility of
viewing the work of very interesting international and Swedish artists. In the show ABCDEFGHI it approached the importance of speech and language in some contemporary practices, showing works by Meriç Algün Ringborg, Magnus Bärtås, Kay Rosen and Mladen Stilinović. The presence of language was also fundamental for the newest Marabouparken Lab with the young German artist Anna Witt, who wrote a manifesto collaboratively with neighbours from Sundbyberg where Marabouparken is located. It collected local and more universal claims, and it was enacted through a parade, in which the participants, carrying big cardboard letters, formed the different sentences that shape the manifesto.
Marabouparken is a well grounded and respected institution in Sweden, and it assures a strong program, with local roots and international reflection, set in a beautiful, utopian garden.
common knowledge: tensta konsthallTensta Konsthall is the oldest of the three institutions presented here, and probably the one with the most variable program throughout its history. Created in 1998 by Gregor Wroblewski, who was director until 2003, it showed the work of international artists, such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Susan Hiller, Tracey Moffat or Shirin Neshat. As has been presented in other articles, it underwent
different curatorial experiments in terms of the use of the white cube, as well as regarding the relation to its context. In 2011, Maria Lind has been appointed as the curator, and a new phase with a new identity started.
Tensta Konsthall is located in the Tensta neighbourhood, north of the city centre. With Stockholm being a very segregated city, Tensta is what has been called a multicultural suburb, although it would be more accurate to make reference to the influence of immigration: 86% of the inhabitants are immigrants or the children of immigrants. Factors such as the lack of higher education and mastery of the Swedish language of many inhabitants lead to difficulty in finding jobs, and make Tensta one of the neighbourhoods with the highest unemployment and lowest income in the city. The placement has had a different impact on the programming of the institution since its creation. In its newest phase it is trying to draw an experimental line where the characteristics and
interests of the context are approached together with preoccupations specific for contemporary art.
This complex relationship is built through different strategies. One of the major intentions of the actual program is to include Tensta into the image of Stockholm, an image led by a beautified, organised and Swedish-looking city centre. Thus, since some of the most demanding contemporary practices are presented in a charged program in Tensta, through exhibitions, conferences, panels, screenings and discussions, the public for contemporary art is often moved from the city centre towards a place they would rarely visit otherwise. Some of the specific projects also follow this line, as for example, Hinrich Sachs’ Kami, Khokha, Bert and Ernie exhibition, based on research into Sesame Street characters and representation politics. Previous to the exhibition, which featured a number of life-size puppets from different broadcasts around the world, a Stockholm character was developed in a several-month-long collaboration process with a school in Rinkeby, next to Tensta. This character was then presented at the exhibition as the Stockholm character. It represented the whole of Stockholm and not just the specific neighbourhood, trying to enhance a sense of belonging and a more expanded idea of the city, both geographically and culturally.
This specific project by Hinrich Sachs also appealed to the context in diverse, complex ways. One of them is related to the fact that Sesame Street has not been broadcast in Sweden since the beginning of the 80s, which means that many of the Swedish viewers feel a certain distance to the childhood experience of the puppets. Many of the residents in Tensta and Rinkeby, on the contrary, are familiar with the show through its broadcast in Arabic via satellite TV. This particularity provides a certain context-responsiveness of the exhibition, which, although not being specifically conceived for the context, provokes a recognition specific to many inhabitants of the area, giving value to their experience and knowledge.
From October 2013 on, Tensta Konsthall is also embarking on an ambitious and plentiful project called Tensta Museum. Through exhibitions, presentations, research projects and workshops, the aim is to think about the idea of cultural heritage; to reflect on what tends to be valued as heritage and therefore conserved and made into a constituent of history. The museum, with its collection, is of course one of these heritage entities, and becomes a useful term to think about how cultural value is produced, maintained and constructed in different contexts.
Finally, Tensta Konsthall also programs many activities with different associations of the neighbourhood, creating a place for encounters, discussions and actions. Examples would be a fashion club with female students in collaboration with the fashion design school in the city, or a monthly meeting around tea and coffee with different associations of women, both from the neighbourhood and other locations of the city, again establishing both physical and cultural links between districts.
Tensta Konsthall, Konsthall C and Marabouparken all need a ride on the subway and the specific intention of going there; as a reward, they offer high quality programming, and very different, though in all cases contextually-responsive ways of looking at specific locations, histories, peoples and ideologies. All three challenge the idea that combining context-aware practices and internationally relevant art is impossible, to show that, in fact, the contrary is the case: they are able to speak to the global from the local, and to empower the local when relating it to the global.
MB: in the beginning, i would like to ask about the origins of Botkyrka konsthall. how did it come into being? a kunsthalle in a suburban area of stockholm?
JS: I became director here in 2006. My background is working with artists’ initiatives and process-oriented art, and before coming to Botkyrka Konsthall I saw municipal kunsthalles as mostly orienting themselves towards local communities, showing only local artists, or in their most ambitious scale, collaborating with other kunsthalles or city art museums. So coming from a background of freelance project budgets I became inspired by the thought of working more effectively with the financial stability of public funding, because even if the funding is small, it is consistent. So we decided to think very positively about the small scale institution. One should also not forget that youth and art students in a rural area or smaller city, or suburban environment, should be given the opportunity to see the most interesting and relevant art from the beginning. And places like Botkyrka, being in the suburbs of greater Stockholm, are extremely diverse and match the focus of the practices, visions and strategies of contemporary art perfectly.
MB: and this idea is connected to the question of the audience… do you think that the audience of this kunsthalle is difficult?
JS: This location is, of course, quite specific. We are located in a shopping centre, but the municipality of Botkyrka is, of course, much more diverse and embraces some of the most diverse and most exciting communities of Stockholm. In the beginning, when I created a publishing house together with the artist Pia Sandström, we formed a one-year residency for her within the institution. This collaboration inspired me to think about also establishing a residency in connection to Botkyrka Konsthall.We started with a collaboration with the city planning department of Botkyrka, the Botkyrkabyggen housing company and the Multicultural Centre, a research centre relating to migration and cultural diversity. By focusing on public art commissions we were able to expand the practice of the one percent rule (when one percent of the cost of building goes into commissioning art when a new public building is built or renovated – editor’s comment) and also commission works in relation to the department of park and street development. Through this practice we could also show our resident artists our appreciation for their engagement during their stays by giving them public art commissions. Our first public art commission
BotkYrka iN focusan interview with Joanna sandell and anneli BackmanMateusz Maria Bieczyński
by one of our international residents, Sasha Huber, has just been announced. So, little by little, we are mending things and working in a strategic direction in a quite organic way. I started alone here in Botkyrka and now there are 4 curators, 2 educators and one coordinator.So, eventually, the municipality saw that the Konsthall is a catalyst in ways that were never expected by the city government. The city planning department has more money, power and is stronger in a political sense than a department of culture and leisure. Urbanism is also changing the old commodities. I think that the timing was right to start this type of a more dynamic kunsthalle. At the time of our opening, many artists wanted new models for production and support, but also wanted to show a very definite engagement in relation to topics of a political and social nature. This changing role of the artist – with a new interest in social practice – coincided with the creation of Botkyrka Konsthall. Few of us these days want to only be restricted to the white cube practice, although it of course still serves its purpose.
MB: what’s very specific for the art scene in sweden is the presence of the kunsthalles,
located in the living areas (kommuns) and directed directly at the local society and its special needs. so that there is no big gap between a central and large institution such as Moderna Museet and the little private galleries. there are many – in the geographical sense suburban – institutions, which are working with and for their closest environment. that’s a very fascinating observation for someone from abroad.
JS: If you’re looking at the history of social democracy in Sweden, you can see that architecture played a very specific role in the making of a new society. Public meeting places and therefore also the making of public institutions, such as libraries and kunsthalles, were in focus, something that is surely not the case today in a society driven by a market economy . So the question is what role the kunsthalles can play in this new landscape? And how can we support the artist community in the most exciting and efficient way? Just over the course of a few years over 40 residency programs were started here in Sweden. So you can observe a change in the way of thinking about the arts. But it also raises questions regarding how to make these new art forms and
artistic processes accessible to the public. Could there be a greater collaboration between production residencies and national exhibition venues? Few national institutions are producing new works, it is simply too costly. We are much smaller than most of the national institutions, but we choose to invest in productions rather than safe exhibitions produced by somebody else. So now, when the municipality of Botkyrka has decided to build a new kunsthalle, the concerns are mainly around questions like: how can we build an institution that can cater to many different art forms and production modes and invest most of its funding into artistic programming rather than the physical building?
so do you prefer to have more small locations at once? to act more as artistic partisans?
Of course – yes and no. We do need one central space – where the organization of exhibitions and exhibiting expensive works needs to take into consideration issues such as security and optimal climate conditions. Despite that, it will be good to have other spaces – located closer to where people live – such as workshop spaces and the centre of it all – a great kitchen.We are collaborating with the Royal Academy of Art as well as the Royal Institute of Technology. The universities are surely identifying the benefits of working within the very globalized situation
created in the margins of European cities, the suburbs... We have here 161 nationalities in just a small neighbourhood like Fittja in Botkyrka. That is definitely one of the reasons we have become attractive to the international artist community and national institutions such as the universities.
let’s move back to the character of the public visiting the konsthall. You mentioned these 161 nationalities, but i must say that, from a foreigner’s perspective, the city seems to be very homogeneous, not as the other european capitals, like Berlin or paris. how come then?
Anneli: Of course, when you are in the city centre, you have the experience of a quite homogeneous society, predominantly white middle class. But that changes when you visit the suburbs. The Miljonprogrammet housing areas on the outskirts of Stockholm were planned with good intentions but became places with a bad reputation, places people usually do not choose as their home if they have a choice. In this way they also became transit places for refugees and migrants. This is, however, something that is already changing, people today are much more content to live in places like Fittja.
JS: You know, the idea behind the Miljonprogrammet areas was very utopian and not all aspects of the modernist vision were a failure. One aspect was to
give workers an opportunity to live close to nature. Another one was to separate people and cars, that there would be no streets in direct relation to the living quarters. Something that actually works very well even up till today. But, at the same time, the houses were of course very conformist in both an aesthetic sense and in terms of how people want to live their lives. The planning somehow seems to direct how you move between the subway, the centre and your apartment block. Areas like Fittja were doomed by the critics even before the houses were inaugurated.
But, at the same time, there is a story about relocating 22 thousand iraqis into one place – the biggest group of shiites in one place in europe. it’s amazing if you compare it with the emigration policy in other countries. there is this tendency not to put these ethnic groups in one place, because they will never be part of society…
JS: We spoke yesterday about this together with the curator Kaja Pawelek from CCA in Warsaw, some of the people here do not stay longer than five years in Fittja. And, previously in Sweden, many immigrants were not given work permits and the opportunity to make a living on their own in this country. Even though this has changed, there is still stigmatization of foreigners in Sweden. Segregation is a complex topic, and although many immigrants choose to live close to their family, perhaps in neighbourhoods like Fittja, there has to be structural support for them to be able to create their own dreams in Sweden, they have to be allowed to study, work and engage with society just like those that have been in the country longer than the newcomers.
Anneli: The standard of living is quite extreme for refugees coming to Sweden. Many are permanently in the process of waiting, stuck somewhere in the bureaucratic process.
JS: That’s an interesting area. We are trying to address this topic in our programming. For example, we are creating an asylum residency together with a number of other Nordic residencies. This is a residency for artists that are working under dangerous conditions, perhaps in regards to freedom of expression. To have an active role in terms of issues of social and political urgency, something that people often feel that mainstream channels, such as media or politics, are no longer catering to, is also a possible and interesting position of a kunsthalle.
and what relation do you have with other kunsthalles?
JS: Mainly it’s through the residency program that we form our collaborations. The whole idea of a residency is mobility, right? This creates several levels, local, national and international collaborative platforms.Maria Lind, director of Tensta Konsthall has also formed several networks for smaller or mid-size contemporary art institutions in Sweden and Europe. We use these networks to strengthen each other publicly and to share and discuss topics such as the ones discussed in this interview, economically sustainable models for artists and art institutions, the role of kunsthalles in a globalized society, as well as the changing role of the artist.
do you have formal meetings?
JS: Yes, we do. In formal meetings we discuss things in regards to our public hearings that
take place about four times yearly, with invited speakers both from the world of politics, cultural administration and the arts community. Maria Lind is extremely good at this – organizing public events and activating a greater public in regards to urgent matters of the art community.
Regarding our European networks we have a nice dialogue with CoCA in Toruń. We get great short lists of interesting artists and this is, of course, a perfect way to have local support when doing research on an international level.
paraphrasing Mark fisher we can say that the art world is like communism – it is also the idea of a collective, sharing information: “all artists of the world – let’s unite”. of course, it’s something totally different in the political sense, but very similar on the level of organizing things, networking, being against capitalism – searching for alternatives and so on...
Anneli: You have a social aspect regarding the background of all artistic activities – you have to get into contact with thousands of people from outside, not connected to art directly, to conduct a project. You need agreements with several other institutions, there are many people involved. That means you need to work in the social realm. You have to think logically and strategically regarding how to connect to people and their abilities.
JS: I’ve recommended to the municipality that they could make use of the knowledge from our international exchange program, Residence Botkyrka. As an example, we had an exhibition of an Egyptian artist just shortly before the revolution in Cairo. So there was a possibility for our politicians to gather knowledge on exactly what was going on in Egypt even before the media were reporting on it. Artists and other intellectuals are, of course, often in direct contact with current events in society and are also connecting to much deeper underlying aspects of conflicts and political matters in their works. So,
in that sense, the arts can offer knowledge of events and tendencies that are yet to enter the the public discourse. That is, of course, something amazing to offer to your society, a direct connection to the changes taking place every day in society.
can you give another example of that strategy from your past or recent practice?
JS: One would be the project of our kitchen that is connected to a local chef in the area of Fittja, his name is Ayhan Aydin and he is a meal ecologist. Ayhan Aydin has a top education and is extremely innovative. He also has a great international network and we happened to meet through our long-term resident artists’ collective OPENrestaurant. Both Aydin and OPENrestaurant are researching the relationship between space, communities, eating and the development of art practices. And surely collaborations between art and other forms of culture is what really opens up perspectives regarding a shared dialogue. Cross-disciplinary practices have always been a focus of the residency program at Botkyrka Konsthall, and we are continuously creating knowledge within this field. Next year we will participate in the International Architecture Biennale in Venice with the main focus being to examine the relationship between modernist architecture and aspects of pleasure, such as food and music, things that always have and always will bring people together.
Anneli: The many dimensions of all activities undertaken during Fittja Open can be seen as a good example of linking people to arts. The possibility to interact and participate in, for example, cooking, building, making music, etc. gives people an opportunity to join artistic processes and be co-creators of art works as well as to connect to their local environment.
JS: The thing which is making a difference is the size of the local community – it is not as big as inner-city Stockholm, so we can acquire a true and intimate network of people and do something together with them. Together we can ask the question: how do we want to change this place in the upcoming 30 years? And what we can offer the community is our relationship to those who are making the real changes in this area, the policy makers that are creating the strategic documents for Botkyrka and the city planners that are drawing up the plans for the physical changes of the area.
Anneli: At the same time these actions don’t have to be seen only as experiments. They will be more permanent actions. Things that will stay. It’s a kind
“Symbiolab”, Fittja Open 2012. Photo: Malou Bergman
of investment, a cognitive capital of the new society shaped from the international patchwork.
what is the real shape of the residency program?
JS: Residence Botkyrka is a context specific residency. We want to work on projects that are relevant in the local community. It could be anything from giving an artist the opportunity to develop an artist’s book with topics relevant to a community like Fittja, to supporting curatorial research for an artist experienced within the field of social practice. A lot of the projects are about being connected to the local community and developing tools of cross-disciplinary and inter-cultural practices. One aspect is, of course, to bring artistic practice into the programming of our institution and our exhibition space, but it is also to keep the city planning department involved within the residency so that they can do a better job in planning for a sustainable future in a very diverse community. The residency in Fittja can be seen as a kind of window into many different lives lived.“I would also like to have a residency in our museum” – one of the curators of Moderna Museet in Stockholm once said. And even though they have not created a residency for themselves yet we continue to collaborate. For example, our resident artist Jaana Kokko premiered her art film The Forest is Young and Full of Life at Moderna Museet in 2012.
Generally, you have short term residencies? from one up to three months?
Anneli: It varies. Some of the artists have been back for up to three times during a year, and some of them stay up to 2 months at one time. It is great if there are opportunities for the artist to come for a research visit before a longer stay, in order to prepare for the work. Artists that come back several times can really involve Fittja in their project and develop better connections to the community. JS: For some artists the stay within the residency here becomes a very intense experience. Sometimes they come with a very clear vision of what they want to do, and afterwards they realize that the primary concept has to be changed. This usually happens after the first confrontation with the local setting – the presumed concept is then usually changed after the results of their detailed research on location. It almost always changes. If you’re coming from San Francisco, where you worked with the policy of labour and then you want to do the same here, where labour policies are totally different, then you have to rethink your project from the very beginning. It’s good to come and stay for a week and then to reshape the concept once again.As a contrast, if you’re coming to IASPIS, Sweden’s main national residency program, it might be much
Fittja Open 2012. Photo: Kultivator
more difficult to tap into the local society. Here we have a very intimate connection to the city. So the networking residency is not our first priority, but of course we want to offer this too.
do you have more international artists here or does the core consist of Nordic artists?
The national diversity of the artists in residence depends on the funding, this is the reality for most residencies worldwide, and continues to be a subject of frustration. Our kunsthalle works with funding from the local government and the Nordic Council of Ministers, so some of our programs are only open for Nordic artists, but through our local funding we can invite artists from the whole world, and we do. We also have quite a nice budget – 500 000 Swedish krona yearly – for the residency. We do more with this money. It also helps to create Fittja Open. We have this possibility.We want to move with that in the future too in order to use EU sources and to focus more on the region.
do you maintain contact with the artists from the past residencies?
JS: Yes, we very often try to build a long-term relationship with the artists.
Anneli: As we spend a lot of time with the resident-artists, we also get to know their work in depth and tend to come up with ideas for future collaborations. Residence-artists also tend to come back several times, to present the progress of their works and to develop their projects that may be site-specific to Fittja, or to publish a publication.
JS: Sustaining a good relationship with a former resident artist is a great investment for both partners, the artist and institution alike. Through keeping in touch you can continue to support each other and as the relationship develops the element of trust opens up to new possibilities, such as production of new works. In the fall of 2013 we are exhibiting Małgorzata Markiewicz, a former Residence Botkyrka resident, and she will present a number of new works, several of them produced here in Botkyrka. Next spring we have invited Agnieszka Kurant, and I am looking forward to developing some new projects together with her.
so, as they say: “the show must go on”. thank you for the meeting.
JS: Thank you!
Open Restaurant at Residence Botkyrka. Photo: Simon Berg
The ‘white cube’ model of exhibition spaces emerged with the Vienna Secession at the turn of the century. This act, at the time relatively radical, set the course for what is now arguably the dominant paradigm for the encounter with the artwork (at least in the context of the gallery). This model has been subject to an endless, and probably justified, stream of critique and response from artists, theorists and curators. Stockholm, a city of a relatively small size and peripheral location, has a strong history of taking up this position and experimenting with the public presentation of art. Here I will pick up on just a few of these moments historically and look at what is happening now.Moderna Museet, located on one of the central islands – Skeppsholmen, opened in 1958 and run throughout the 1960s by the visionary director Pontus Hultén, was home to a number of now canonical exhibitions pushing the limits of the public display of art. Exhibitions such as She – A Cathedral by Niki De Saint Phalle and The Model for a Qualitative Society by Palle Nielsen suggested a different role for the visitor than the quiet reverence called for by the white cube. As the museum has matured this spirit has been replaced with a more serene and safe approach to exhibition making. Now, alongside the exemplary hang of the collection making a relatively straight walk through the history of modernity, you are likely to encounter exhibitions such as the recent Hilma af Klint retrospective, which whilst impeccably installed remained sadly flat, effectively neutering the weirdness and complication that animate the works, instead insisting on situating her
oN displaYBenjamin Fallon
The public during the art show at INDEX. Photo: Santiago Mostyn Mattin
as a pioneer and attempting to place her in a canon she seemed largely resistant to in life. At the same time as this exhibition, tucked away in the Hultén research library, was a display of documents relating to Paul Theks epic installation Pyramid/A Work in Progress produced over the harsh winter months of 1971–72 on site, serving as a reminder of their previous incarnation.A more recent moment bears a mention between 2006 and 2007. Tensta Konsthall, a gallery in one of the suburbs built as a part of the Miljonprogrammet, converted their space into a Leopard Cube so that anything installed within the space had to compete with the jarring response to a disaffection with the paradigm of the white cube. Whilst an amusing diversion, very little information is available on what was actually shown and how it sought to challenge the dominance of the white cube. Tensta Konsthall since 2011 has been under the direction of Maria Lind, previously a curator for Moderna Museet, initiating the seminal project What If: Art on the Verge of Architecture and Design alongside the artist Liam Gillick. Lind has been an essential voice in curatorial discourse and this is carried through in the activities of Tensta. Recent projects are pushing at the immanent questions of what a museum might mean in a location like Tensta taking a specific location as a starting point to ask more global questions on the role of the institution. It is also one of the institutions that take seriously their websites as a potential site for art work (although a question remain over its success) through a project, developed by Laurel Ptak, that sees regular new commissions by artists sitting within the Metahaven designed site.The institution Index, situated in a discreet space just 5 minutes from central station, has been developing the most forward thinking program interrogating the problematics and new forms of display. Index – the Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation has been operating in its current form since 1998, emerging from a specific focus on photography through the management by Fotograficentrum. In March of 2012 Diana Baldon was appointed as director, moving from Vienna and a job with the Generali Foundation. Her first exhibition being a solo presentation of the French collective Claire Fontaine. I would like to focus however on her next project and the first which I encountered: The Audience is the Mother of Self Invention. The gallery itself is an odd, almost perfect white cube that seems to call for a classic modernist approach to exhibition making. Baldon however confounded this with a project that could be thought of a temporal group exhibition. In contradistinction to the standard spatial display of objects this project deployed works with a performative core over a
series of Saturday afternoons and evenings with documentation and detritus left in the space for the following week. Engaging with the thinking of the radical left composer Cornelius Cardew on the process of scoring and the relation of performer and audience in the production of meaning. The program started with Draft Score for an Exhibition by Pierre Bal-Blanc followed by a performance by the Basque artist Mattin. In the work of Mattin centrally in the gallery space stood a camera and a strong spotlight trained directly on the artist standing against a wall, with the audience standing round the perimeter of the gallery. Over an hour the apparatus performed a slow and deliberate rotation as Mattin made occasional comments and provocations about the situation and how we as the audience were responding. The work produced an intense discomfort both physically and emotionally as one became increasingly self-aware. The following week featured an equally strong and affecting work by Nina Beier – Tragedy – featuring a dog playing dead in the centre of the gallery on an oversized rug, a smart response to concerns of display, spectatorship and complicity. Other highlights included the stand-up performance of Olav Westphalen and the final weeks performance of Cardews scores by Stockholms Great Learning Orchestra accompanied by a visual display by the artist Carl Palm. Beyond the artistic and intellectual encounters developed through the program it enabled a sociality that is lacking in Stockholms art scene, especially noticeable when moving from Scotland that makes up for its conservative art world with an intense social network. Providing a chance for the local art community to get together and enjoy a drink together at a reasonable price.At the time of writing Index are preparing to open the exhibition Counter Production (Part 2) curated by Diana Baldon and Ilse Lafer touring from Vienna. Again taking a novel approach to this standard form, none of the original art works from Vienna will be making the trip to Stockholm but rather a cinematic sequel produced in collaboration with the curators and the cinematographer Attila Boa. I have no doubt Index will continue to develop one of the most challenging and relevant programs approaching how we encounter art.
“a Map BetweeN BraNdiNG aNd critique” aBout the coNditioN of desiGN iN stockholMiaN art iNstitutioNsRosa Lleo
In the eyes of a foreigner, one of the most peculiar aspects of Swedish society is the specific model of modernity and subject production that was created by the welfare state. Instituted around the 1930s, Swedish modernism happened when its European predecessor was heading to an end and it can be situated closer to the so-called Cold-War Modern period in the United States. The American model had domesticity as its most powerful weapon. As Beatriz Colomina points out, the architect of the post-war period sits happy, hedonist, and relaxed at home.1 Consumption could be understood as a model of education, within which a certain type of display culture needed to be produced, a controlled and circumscribed spectacle of the commodity, and a new form of desiring subject, whose responses and unconscious investments became an integrated part of the system of production and consumption. Under Social Democracy, the home was seen as the perfect place where a concrete politicising of architecture took place2. And, of course, design has been one of the main instruments to make it happen.
At present, when some of that welfare structure is coming to an end, design and architecture institutions are also at a moment of transition. Despite its key role in society, the interest of this discipline has always been in building a strong industry and practice, and the fact that there is not a History of Design degree or a design museum in Stockholm says everything about the dichotomy between a marketable and a more theoretical approach. The single initiatives can mostly be found in research departments of academia and other educational practices. But whereas architecture seems to be more reflecting and self-conscious – with several outstanding theory programs and history courses – it seems that design is still lacking critical voices.
Located at the former offices of Ericsson Telephone Company, Konstfack has impressive facilities and equipment. It is the largest institution in town for design and crafts education. It has more than 900 students working in the fields of design, art and architecture with interesting Master’s Degree programmes that work as experimental workshops. Courses such as Storytelling (for Graphic Design & Illustration) or Textile in the Expanded Field (that looks at textile in spatial philosophic and sociological contexts in relation to the body and to clothing) can serve as examples of an open and cross-disciplinary
1 Beatriz Colomina, Domesticity at War, the MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2007.2 Helena Mattsson and Sven-Olov Wallenstein (eds.), Swedish Modernism. Architecture, consumption and the welfare state, Black Dog Publishing, London, 2010, p. 9.
Strum Group (Piero Derossi, Giorgio Ceretti, Carlo Giammarco, Riccardo Rosso, Maurizio Vogliazzo), “The Struggle for Housing”, 1972, photostory
cover. Image: courtesy of Strum Group.
approach. An outstanding fact is that Konstfack’s professors and teachers are recruited internationally, with interesting practitioners as tutors for most of the courses.
Although IASPIS, the Swedish Visual Arts Fund, is mainly centred on the visual arts, it includes applied arts residencies and events on its agenda. It has been intermittently looking at architecture and design practices since the project Craft in Dialogue started in 2003. DESIGN ACT, curated by Magnus Ericsson and Ramia Mazé, was a series of events and an online platform from an international network of contributors, from designers to academics, that served to trace contemporary and historical tendencies towards design as a ‘critical practice’ and to gather and exchange knowledge and experience among practitioners.
Svensk Form, the Swedish Society of Craft and Design, undertakes very different initiatives. It is a non-profit membership association mandated by the Swedish government to promote Swedish design locally and abroad. Dating from 1845, its focus is to work with industry rather than with specific critical and theoretical practices. Still instilled with a sense
of “good design”, it has been an important agent in marketing and promoting Swedish design abroad. Currently it hosts events such as pecha kuchas and National Prizes, and FORM, magazine for Nordic Architecture and Design is their voice, playing a very important role on exporting “Nordic” products to an international market. The Design Week is also another event strongly linked to the promotion of national companies, making it coincide with the Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair and creating a hub for international business.
critical architecture and researchStarting with academia, the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) has got several Master’s and Doctorate courses in architecture and Mejan Arc at the Royal Institute of Art also works with a cross-disciplinary approach, focusing on societal changes connected to an architectural and urban discourse. Also, a niche of remarkably interesting initiatives comes from a specific group of researchers and historians who work as editors of SITE magazine. The magazine contains essays about visual arts and architecture with a highly theoretical approach. Following SITE’s philosophy, Chief Editor Sven-Olov Wallenstein and other colleagues have just
Architecture Museum. Photo: Åke E:son Lindman
developed a new research programme at Södertörn University called “Space, Power and Ideology” that looks at architecture from an open approach towards critique and theory. They look at historical and current practices of what now has been called “activist architecture” or “critical design”.
It is also important to underline a series of initiatives led by small art institutions – both private and
public – that work consciously with their own local community in the form of architecture platforms to explore their local specific case studies. Those initiatives precisely follow what Professor Irit Rogoff presented at one of them, at Tensta Konsthall, on the notion of infrastructure and in how the majority of the more activist-oriented work within the art field has taken the form of re-occupying the infrastructure: using the pre-existing spaces and technologies, budgets and support staffs, and recognized audiences in order to do something quite different.
Tensta Konsthall is a small public institution located in one of the “million programme” areas: a large-scale programme of housing between 1965 and 1974 that was intended to build one million new apartments. Its director, Maria Lind, works closely with the local community and has developed the Tensta Museum project that looks critically at the notion of heritage, and collaborates along with members of the local community, international artists and researchers, the KTH Stockholm Architecture and Architects Association.
Another public institution, Färgfabriken, holds the New Urban Topologies program. The aim of this
“Radical design” at Arkitekturmuseet, “Environments and Counter Environments; Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”, MoMA 1972. Photo: Matti Östling
“Radical design” at Arkitekturmuseet, “Environments and Counter Environments; Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”, MoMA 1972.
Photo: Matti Östling
initiative is to create an open and free platform for the exchange of experience between different cities and different stakeholders, like governments and decision-makers, artists, architects, NGOs, activists, citizens, colleges and universities. The objective is to create informal meetings and a democratic platform for urban development.
And, finally, under the heading Marabouparken Lab the private art space Marabouparken creates a local collaborative laboratory that links different people in order to create an interesting dialogue about design and the civil society. The project Park Play, initiated by the artist Kerstin Bergedal revolved around conversations with residents and other stakeholders regarding various proposals for specific improvements in the area.
But although many outstanding initiatives have been pointed out, a lack of cultural infrastructure dedicated to design is a fact. Arts, and design especially, is looked upon as mere consumerism and entertainment. The final case-study on this article is considered to be the elephant in the room: the National Museum. It holds a collection of design but it is closed for renovation until no earlier than 2017. The museum hosts a collection of decorative arts, design and industrial design from the 14th century to today. It consists of about 30 000 international
objects of which one third is composed of ceramics, followed in magnitude by textiles, glass, precious and base metals, furniture and books. The applied arts collection was located in the same museum as the national collection of art. Design and material culture were presented in a series of cabinets with a very narrow segment of what constitutes the region’s practice.
Creating a specific design museum has been under discussion for a while without any solution up to date. For the time being, the former Arkitekturmuseet has recently become The Swedish Centre for Architecture and Design. The Arkitekturmuseet collection will still hold drawings, sketches and items associated to the history of Swedish building, Swedish architects, and foreign architects working in Sweden, mainly from the 20th century. But as a Centre, its exhibitions lack a specific line of research, from Jean-Paul Gaultier’s fashion to socially-engaged practices. It is quite symptomatic that its neighbour, the Moderna Museet, is currently hosting the Pop Art Design exhibition.
“Radical design” at Arkitekturmuseet, “Environments and Counter Environments; Italy: The New Domestic Landscape”, MoMA 1972. Photo: Matti Östling
the doGMa of New Media art iN stockholM Tanya Søndergaard Toft
Some voices claim that new media art will be the main focus of art historians in the mid-21st century. While this might seem evident to some and doubtful to others, nonetheless, new media art forms and the changes in artistic and curatorial discourse influenced by digital technologies are changing the landscape of the art world today, and have been for a long while.
Art institutions play a not-insignificant role in the development of new media art culture. The MoMA’s expansion with a Department of ‘Media’ in 2006 (which changed its name in 2009 to ‘Department of Media and Performance’), with artworks defined as “time-based” that fall outside the traditional realms of photography, film, and video, together with the acquisition of video games to the collection at the Museum’s Department of Architecture and Design, might reveal the direction of where the relationship between new media art and the modern art institution is heading.
Stockholm’s institutional art scene was once at the forefront of the new media art paradigm. This was at a time when the phrase “new media” actually made sense, acknowledging the development of then-new technologies that could bring visual messages to the masses.
“New media” as an artistic genre emerged in the 1960s and manifested with the 1966 exhibition 9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City, organized by Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage and Swedish Billy Klüver, who was associated with Bell Labs (Bell Telephone Laboratories). This was the starting point of E.A.T. – Experiments in Art and Technology, which became a forerunner of the rapidly evolving relationship between artists and technology1. The collaborations between artists and engineers at E.A.T. somehow bridged the heritage from Dada, Fluxus and 1960s happenings up to the 1990s media-art explorations, to the art and science movement of the 2000s and all the way up to contemporary practices with digital art forms. New media art is long a grounded – and exhausted – term, but nonetheless, in a general picture and despite the recent institutional attention, it still appears to be a somewhat discursive outsider or experimental wild child to the institutional art world.
New media attention in stockholm todayThis spring in Stockholm, Visions of the Now / Visioner av Nuet, Stockholm Festival for Art and Technology, was held at Fylkingen. Curated by the 1 Björn Norborg and Jonatan habib Engqvist, The Nordic pioneers of New Media Art, Ars Hypermedia, 2009.
artist Anna Lundh, the Festival brought together artists, musicians, theorists and scientists to perform real-time research “on the now” and to explore contemporary interplays between art and technology. The 2013 Festival re-enacted the Festival of 1966, Visions of the Present / Visioner av Nuet Festival for Art and Technology. This was organized by Fylkingen, a society for experimental music and art founded in Stockholm in 1933, and the director Knut Viggen. It was held at Tekniska Museet in Stockholm and was inspired by an interest in the field of technology and its impact on the arts. The program included lectures by, among others, Iannis Xennakis, Yona Friedman, and performances and works by Alvin Lucier, Karl-Birger Blomdahl, Ralph Lundsten and a number of other significant artists at the time2. While reminding of a momentum that was, the 2013 Festival seemed to be calling for renewed attention.
The institutional interest in new media art in Stockholm is certainly there. The responses to new media art culture, executed in various initiatives, from exhibitions to seminars and symposiums to experimental new media commissions, reveal
an incitement to keep up with the new forms of artistic practice.
Among recent and noteworthy initiatives is Bonniers Konsthall’s presentation of Art Hack Day in April this year, which followed a series of art hack days initiated by Olof Mathé in New York, Boston and San Francisco. This happening and hackathon at Bonniers brought together sixty artists and hackers to produce a flash exhibition of close to 40 projects on the theme “Larger than Life”. Additionally, Bonniers Konsthall’s 2012 exhibition dedicated to sound art, More Than Sound, which presented sound art objects and installations together with a lecture and performance program, challenged an area of new media art culture, activating the experimental field between music, art and technology.In 2011, Magasin 3 presented two art apps for mobile phones, Call and response by the artist Erik Aalto, an interactive video adaptation of the art work The object is performance, and Men That Fall by the artist duo Performance Pictures. These mobile app works were part of Performancexhibition curated by Richard Julin in 2011. Earlier this year, Magasin 3 commissioned We Think Alone (2013) by the artist Miranda July for the exhibition On the Tip of My Tongue. This artwork, which consists of a themed
Lecture performance by Anna Lundh, artist and initiator of Visions of the Now, “The Tale of the Big Computer”, including the historical framework and origins of Visions of the Now. Friday the 24th, 2013. Photo: Kim Fagerstam
compendium of intimate moments of ten “friends” (celebrities and thinkers) of the artists, which the audience can sign up for and receive over a time frame of ten weeks, points away from the site of the exhibition itself and responds to a new exhibition structure brought about by net art, computer-based art and the influence of digital technologies on art discourse in a broader sense.
Moderna Museet and the new media heydays Historically, back in the 1960s, Moderna Museet played an important role in the field of new media art. Not just in Stockholm, but also on the international art scene. The 1961 exhibition Moving Art/Rörelse i konsten, which was produced under the museum’s direction of Pontus Hultén and curated by Billy Klüver, not least proved the museum’s openness to experimentation with art and technology and participation in the establishment of a new media art culture in Stockholm. The exhibition invited a number of artists dealing with different forms of kinetic art, including Robert Rauschenberg, Jean Tinguely, Niki de Saint-Phalle and Per Olof Ultvedt for experimental collaboration3.
3 Björn Norborg and Jonatan Habib Engqvist, op. cit.
Another notable show at Moderna Museet, Utopia and Visions of 1971, was an exhibition including the E.A.T. project Utopia: Telex Q&A consisting of public terminals set up for telex communication between New York, Tokyo, Bombay and Stockholm. The audience could transmit questions and answers about the year 1981, ten years in the future, via a Telex machine, as an intercultural people-to-people medium.
The new media art scene of the 1960s in Stockholm also flourished outside of the institutional lead. Elektronmusikstudion (EMS), formerly known as Electroacoustic Music in Sweden, was initiated in 1964 by the Swedish composer Karl Birger Blomdahl, and today constitutes the Swedish national centre for electronic music and sound art. Also Fylkingen, one of the main forces behind EMS and initiator of the aforementioned Visions of the Present Festival, facilitated experimentation with computers throughout the 1960s that also contributed to Stockholm’s heydays of new media art.
the 1990s and fast forwardStockholm’s art scene responded strongly to the widespread World Wide Web in the 1990s with a
Courtesy of Moderna Museet, Stockholm
number of studios, projects and new organizations. This time, however, it was not the institutions but independently driven projects that took the lead.
One of the most influential initiatives for helping and facilitating artistic production in new media art was CRAC, Creative Room for Art and Computing. CRAC opened in 1997 as a non-commercial media lab with computers and software available for artists, at a time when computers and software were difficult to afford. CRAC not only provided equipment but also helped artists with production, and it was a place where discussions, courses, seminars and a few exhibitions were held. Another important non-institutional initiative of the 1990s was the net-born broadcast project initiated in 1998 named Splintermind, with Björn Norberg as chief curator. Splintermind was a project facilitating the development of digital TV and Web TV with a focus on advanced real-time streaming. Artists were invited to create one-month streaming content to museums, among others Moderna Museet, Kiasma, Eyebeam, and Furtherfield, transmitted through the nonTVTVstation channel. Splintermind also ran an artist-in-residence programme. In addition, Mejan Labs, a gallery for experiments in art, which
was initiated in 2006 by Peter Hagdahl and Björn Norberg at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, was important in bringing new media art to the audience in Stockholm. CRAC unfortunately closed down in 2010, Splintermind in 2005, and the Mejan Labs gallery closed in 2010. Perhaps the lack of initiative by the major institutions gave way for more independent and experimental initiatives with new media art in the 1990s and the 2000s?
Fast-forwarding to today’s art scene in Stockholm. When asking Björn Norberg, project manager at Bonniers Konsthall, who has been involved with almost every initiative in Stockholm involving new media art since the 1990s (curator of nonTVTVstation and Mejan Labs, initiative taker to new media festivals Pixelvärk and Node.Stockholm, to mention a few endeavours), about the current condition of new media culture in Stockholm’s art scene today, he answers:“For the moment, I am waiting for the next generation of initiatives, artists and curators to take over. There is at the moment not really an organization devoted to new media art. The Art Hack Day we organized at Bonniers Konsthall
Courtesy of Moderna Museet, Stockholm
however showed that the interest among artists and audience is as large as ever. The feedback was really overwhelming.” He continues: “What happens then is that the new media field, that often has been struggling to stay independent, is suddenly becoming integrated in a larger art context. This is of course good in one way but problematic in another.”
the dogma of Modernism Was Bonniers Konsthall’s More Than Sound exhibition an indirect response to the artistic discourse established in Stockholm by EMS, Fylkingen and Audiorama – three successful initiatives within the field of sound art? Would Bonniers have made that exhibition if these non-institutional initiatives had not established a scene and an audience? Perhaps.
It seems to be in the niche that experimental art forms are developing on their own terms. By its nature, new media art blurs the conceptual and physical boundaries of the art institution; transgresses space, time and challenges the audience experience; it negotiates and emancipates the physical and social space of art, confronts the myth of the individual genius, and challenges the notion of originality and the system of valorization. As institutions increasingly include new media art in their collections and present new media art-themed exhibitions, they gradually integrate new media art into the established system of the art world. Can modern art institutions however be dedicated to the history of Modernism out of which they were born, all while moving forward and embracing
Courtesy of Moderna Museet, Stockholm
experimental new media practices that challenge that very dogma of Modernism? And, can new media art maintain its rule-free independence if they are too comfortably integrated in the established art world? In Stockholm’s art scene of the 1960s, this seemed to be the case.
When looking at more recent new media art initiatives at Moderna Museet, there is the Art and New Media: Public Lecture Series in 2003 and the VERGE: An international symposium for New Media Art in 2006, coordinated by Jonatan Habib Engqvist and Peter Hagdahl. The Symposium linked up to an exhibition of experimental sculptural media and photography by the artist Sabrina Raaf – not on view at Moderna Museet however, but at Mejan Labs. At Moderna, a screening of a documentary about Billy Klüver and E.A.T. took place, reminding of a position left behind.
If the main focus of art historians in the 21st century could ever be new media art, it needs a position in
the general art discussion concerning not only the niche but also the mass art audience. Perhaps more openness to the niche by the institution is needed, where the institution is not afraid of obliterating some of its discursive boundaries as an art institution and inviting new media on its own terms. More institutional initiatives like Bonnier’s Art Hack Day seem key if Stockholm should regain its heyday of pioneering new media art.
Thanks to Björn Norberg for his generous insight and contribution to this article.
Panel discussion after the lectures section “Values” (of Technology, Values, Image, Music, Language and Environment). Saturday the 25th, 2013. Photo: Kim Fagerstam
Stockholm. Once I was in a punk club and there were two guards at the door asking for ID cards. Göteborg. Once I was in an illegal techno club and it was forbidden to smoke inside. This self-organization, following the patterns of the system, is something that defines a common background for the cultural and artistic fields in Sweden. Clean and organized. We can find examples of independent structures acting with what we could call “institutional behaviour”, artists and other practitioners mirroring the social behaviour of institutions as a way to be part of society. When the rule is to adapt the individual to the societal structures, it makes sense that the institution is not just the final destination for everything, but the process itself. The actual idea of Sweden was defined during a long period of the 20th century. The new urbanism from the 1940s offered the perfect platform to investigate the frame for a definition of democracy: an urban, modern and friendly democracy, with individuals respecting their neighbours, understanding their rights, paying taxes and making use of the common laundries. With Olof Palme, the mythology of the welfare state and social democracy got its martyred figure and, at the same time, a glorious past and identity. Sweden was, after Palme’s assassination, the place for advanced democracy, equality, modernity, a sort of sad happiness and culture. Yes, culture. And art. Art had already been understood as a tool to civilize inhabitants of Sweden. The National Public Art Council was founded in 1937, installing sculptures everywhere, and not just monumental ones: all the neighbourhoods needed some small sculptures, something to take care of, something like “your own public piece of art”. Art has had an educational function, showing people how to behave with the beauty of the public space, how to respect the object, defining at the same time a genealogy of known artists and giving to everyday life a patina of quality. The 21st century has seen places like Yeans in Göteborg, running from 2002 to 2006, presenting events and exhibitions in a white cube at home. Places like Konsthall C, an art centre and artwork in a laundry. Places-nonplaces like Konsthall323, an art centre in a car. Yeans was part of the apartment where Lars Nilsson and Eva Linder spent their lives. As an exhibition space Yeans had a program with, among others, Martha Rosler, Loulou Cherinet, Karl Holmqvist and Jeremy Deller, presenting several exhibitions like, for example, the video archive curated by Maria Lind. The room was white, with a big window to the street. The openings usually had a talk with artists or some special presentations. Some wine as well, if I remember well. During the years it
self-iNstitutioNalisM some links between the institutional, social relevance of art and the swedish ModelMartí Manen
was opened, the program was magnificent and probably the most international in Göteborg, a city with an art museum and a small constellation of art centres. “We didn’t have that much contact with the institutions in Göteborg. We collaborated with other artist-run spaces though”. Nilsson and Linder could talk with artists from everywhere in the world and invite them to Sweden to present an exhibition, a video, an installation. Everything was clear, direct, no misunderstandings; and quite cheap to produce, frankly. Nilsson says that “the term institution has to do with power I think, and starting an artist-run space with friends is a good way to have a voice in the art world, where you can feel very small and shy as a recent graduate. A similar nice thing is to come together as an artist group. You feel stronger and freer when you are not just by yourself. And, of course, you learn a lot by collaborating with other artists”.Yeans was covering a need from the art scene in Göteborg, it became a place for dialogue and also an example that it was possible to be more than a small city always in the shadow of Stockholm. Yeans had a function, it was covering a gap, and it was organized by a bunch of artists with Nilsson and Linder taking the lead. Not aggressive, but pro-active.
Talking about self-institutionalism in Sweden, it’s necessary to mention a place like Konsthall C in
Stockholm, one of the locations loaded with The History and The Philosophy of the Swedish Model. It was 2004 when the artist Per Hasselberg opened Konsthall C as an artwork, following the institutional way to deal with the local context, the social role of arts in the economy and the utopian desire for stability. A local laundry, a common space that was losing its importance as a meeting place, became the perfect spot to link history, site-specificity and art, under the form of an art institution. Hasselberg wanted to create a space in dialogue with the local community, in permanent communication with history, using democratic tools. One of the rooms followed the “first come first served” principle: Konsthall C had a list and all the artists could write their names down to exhibit in this room. No specificity was required, just to follow the rules of the list. The exhibition space was for everyone who actively searched for it. Another room held an archive with photographs from Hökarängen, the neighbourhood – Konsthall C‘s neighbourhood – south Stockholm that became the first test during the 40s for advanced urban planning. Advanced, social, in contact with nature, protected, with identity, self-guarded, a community of educated democratic citizens. Hasselberg defined his artwork as an institution creating a debate on the limits of artistic practice. In one interview from 2006, a few months before
“Sense and Sense”, Emily Roysdon, 2010. Photo: Behzad Khosravi Noori
Courtesy of Konsthall323
Per Hasselberg was going to pass the artwork to another person that would become director of the institution, he said: “I’m still convinced that every artist is an institution”. The artist, as an individual, defines itself as an institution in this process of self-institutionalization that asks for a certain type of attitude, a way of negotiating and a sort of language. Becoming an institution gives the artist a voice. “It’s very hard for artists or for anyone in a short time to get to be known”. Curator Mia Zeck, who was working at Konsthall C during those years pointed out the self-institutionalism in Konsthall C: “What I can see is that you have an idea, and you use the structures in society that are already there, and then you step inside the structure and you start negotiating and making a way through to raise certain questions, often critical questions, to initiate a dialogue within the structure, more than standing outside”. For Zeck, the definition of the platform as an institution was an answer to the way established institutions were working, covering – again – a function: “To use the model of the structure of an institution is, of course, an answer to something which goes on in Sweden right now: the big institutions don’t offer things that you would like to see in the art world or in the art scene, they have become very big and very inflexible, very bureaucratic. This is an answer in a way to something lost. You are kind of bored with the mainstream commercial and public inviting exhibitions”.Konsthall C, a small art institution in south Stockholm, became one of the popular names within global art: An interesting reference, a spot to follow from a distance. For some years, the curator Kim Einarsson took care of the art centre, playing around with what is expected from an art centre. Konsthall C was closing its doors more and more days of the week, the schedule followed the artists’ needs and not the other way around, the activity was more indoors but the information still worked fine on the international level. Konsthall C was, in political terms, more radical. The self-called institution wanted to be a space for critical debate, covering the role of the old academia. But some visitors, not that many, still wanted to visit exhibitions. Regarding this, Einarsson said: “It is very seldom that you come in here and you actually get an exhibition in that sense. It takes a lot of mediation from our part. There is always a discussion how many visitors you have and so on, I think we have enough visitors in the way that the projects here need quite a lot of explanations and you need time to talk to the visitors properly; we couldn’t have too big audience, it wouldn’t be possible. But the whole idea to name the place a kunsthalle (...) was kind of a play with the whole
idea of the kunsthalle in the municipality or in the neighbourhood in the Swedish model”.
Institutionalization and site-specificity had been good partners in crime within the definition of structural and artistic needs. But, suddenly, a car became an art centre: Konsthall323. Frida Krohn and Ylva Trapp had a Mazda 323. The process of institutionalization started with the name: from Mazda 323 to Konsthall323. The same thing, a new identity. “When we started Konsthall323 we had no big, white, empty room waiting to be filled by us. We had an old light-blue Mazda 323. So we decided to use the car as our art centre, and we realised that we had a number of new advantages for an art-space; flexibility, intimacy, the ability to transport equipment and a great architecture for photos. But, above all, we created the possibility for us to take charge, to define what was important in our context, we made ourselves the directors. This might be the most important definition for us; that we make all the decisions”. The position of power, the director, helps during negotiations for funding, but it also means a way of working for Krohn and Trapp: The car is in movement, everything at Konsthall323 is fast. “One of our mottos is to be fast. Sometimes it’s impossible to combine it with applications for funding or exhibitions when you are asked to plan things years ahead. Also our relations with other institutions is sometimes a bit complicated”.The social and local functions become movement with Konsthall323. The directors travel with the institution and it is activated when it is “performed”. Konsthall323 offers really close contact with its visitors, sitting on the back seat, but also a sort of antagonist way of understanding the institutional behaviour. Frida Krohn and Ylva Trapp say: “We see ourselves partly in opposition. But only antagonism in a friendly way, with free coffee in cute thermoses. Cute is the new punk. We do collaborations with some institutions, but also think quite a bit about doing things in opposition to other institutions”. Antagonism, a word that had been co-opted by the Swedish System and converted to constructive criticism from inside, will perhaps emerge. But everything in its own time, as the processes of self-institutionalization will continue in a context where the institutions are for you and to you, in a system where transparency is – still – a must and where confidence with societal tools and regular politics is much higher than in the rest of Europe.
The Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art started in 2001, when the Cultural Committee of Göteborg Municipality brought it into being. The Biennial has returned since that time. The cultural-political intention was and is to “promote Göteborg as a city of culture and to place Göteborg firmly on the map in an international context”, and to exhibit international contemporary art “of a high quality and become an inspiration for galleries and other participants in the local art scene as well as show the city of Göteborg, to the rest of the world, as a city of creativity”. Moreover, the Biennial has “a pedagogic mission in terms of conveying contemporary art to the residents of Göteborg and especially to the children and youth of the city”.1
The hosting responsibility and the artistic-organizational/curatorial structures of the Biennial have looked different over the years. The Biennial was, in its first three editions, hosted by a department, 2001 and 20032, and an institution, 20053, both belonging to the municipality. In 20074, however, Röda Sten – Center for Contemporary Art and Culture, an association outside the municipal frame, took over the hosting, and has done so since then on behalf of the Cultural Committee. Taking the above-mentioned into consideration, we could say that on a local level, the Göteborg Biennial is indeed an institution: a city initiated art event that has recurred biannually for more than a decade. But, moving away from banality, we must say something about the biennial format. Are not contemporary art biennials always-already biennials, if I may paraphrase a well-known Marxist? As Anne Szefer Karlsen and Arne Skaug Olsen put it: “Inherent in the formatting there is an expectation of recognition no matter where in the world: The biennial has become the art circuit’s proof that we too are part of the globalised world. Just like the nation states needed their museums to signal 1 The Biennial Foundation: http://www.biennialfoundation.org/biennials/goteborg-international-biennial-for-contemporary-art/2 The department was Enheten för Fri Konst och Kultur (Department for Fine Art and Culture). The premier biennial was Experience – Dissolution. The term curator was not used; instead, an artistic council consisting of Ewa Brodin, Britt Ignell and Lasse Lindqvist, did the curatorial work. The second edition, Against all Evens, was curated by the artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff. 3 The third edition, more ! than this – Negotiating Realities, was hosted by the municipal contemporary art institution Göteborgs Konsthall and curated by Sara Arrhenius. 4 The fourth edition, Rethinking Dissent, curated by Joa Ljungberg and Edi Muka, 2007; fifth edition, What a wonderful world, curated by Celia Prado and Johan Pousette, 2009; sixth edition, Pandemonium: Art in a Time of Creativity Fever, was curated by Sarat Maharaj and a curatorial team, Dorothee Albrecht, Stina Edblom and Gertrud Sandqvist, 2011. This year’s edition, which is the seventh, Play! Recapturing the radical imagination, has the artistic directors Stina Edblom and Edi Muka, the curators Katerina Gregos, Claire Tancons, Joanna Warsza and the duo Andjeas Ejiksson and Ragnar Kjartansson.
is the GöteBorG BieNNial aN iNstitutioN?Karl Daniel Törnkvist
Göteborg Biennial, logo, 2013
Maja Hammeren, “Eleven Years Later Göteborg”, 2012. Courtesy of the artist
cultural independence, the biennial today is used to indicate global agency”.5 The event has to learn how to speak and behave “Biennialian”. Thus, does the institutional character lie in the event living up to the ruling concept? The biennial format is, of course, not a fixed one – it is a field of struggle. It is in the process of institutionalization, with many interests, powers and hierarchies of many fields taking part in the forming, of expectations, of habits of thought, of symbolical power: what names guarantee quality, and so on. Nevertheless, it seems there are some “basic requirements”: periodicity, internationality, young artists, a “spectacular, entertaining and media-oriented” character, a “more or less deliberate relationship to the political, social and urban context in which [the biennials] are held”.6 A grammar. Before elaborating further on that, let us look at the word event, which often is used both in the biennial discourse and when talking about Göteborg, which is “one of the leading events cities in Europe”, according to the city governed business company 5 See, for instance, the online version of the introduction to Localised, which was published on the occasion of the biennial conference in Bergen 2009, http://ctrlz.no/texts/localised-introduction/6 Henry Meyric Hughes, The International Biennale, as a Place of Encounter, 2006. From AICA Press’ homepage: http://www.aica-int.org/spip.php?article638
Göteborg & CO, whose “mission is to market and take part in developing Göteborg as a tourist, meeting and event destination”.7 In the ideological and economical powers that be, the aggressive neo-liberal competition system, the competitors are struggling to stick out in the swarm of ads and brands. Usually this struggle is materialized as an event. In the neo-liberal experience economy, there is an event order, where the competitors work with signed events in order not to sink into the Lethe of our stimuli-overloaded everyday consumerist lives. The event order is, at its worst, a disciplinary technology modifying the way we look at and experience things – modifying our ability to experience meaning, making it into something that only comes with the event, and then ends with it. It’s the Two-Minute Love (or Dream or Hope) in a cynical status quo. Things are, under the dominance of the event order, only allowed to matter for the duration of the event. Is this not a risk for the biennial format? That it stiffens as an event order if it adopts “the logic of multinational companies which disseminate their commodities worldwide, always adding a touch of local flavour to the product, to improve the prospects of marketing it within a local context”8?
7 Quotes from Göteborg & CO’s homepage: corporate.goteborg.com8 Zoran Eric, Globalisation and Art Exhibitions, 2006. From AICA Press’ homepage: http://www.aica-int.org/spip.php?article638
Carolee Schneemann, “Infinity Kisses”, 1981–1988. Courtesy of the artist
Indeed, in general there usually is a tension between biennial organisers, “which are as likely as not geared to international art world expectations, and those of the public funders or sponsors, who may expect an event to contribute to growth in tourism and view it as an extension of their existing social and cultural provision”.9 Göteborg is an event city in love with big events. It’s not an unconditional love; the events must live up to something. So how does Biennialian speak as a “linguistic rebellion”? One that
“struggles against the linguistic repression practised by the Establishment: it recognizes the extent to which, in any historical period, a language expresses the given (and primarily the given) form of reality, and thus blocks the imagination and the reason of man, adjusts him to the given universe of discourse and behaviour…”10
In April 2012 the Swedish liberal party Folkpartiet, which is part of the Swedish right-wing government, claimed that Stockholm should have an art biennial. Many fellow Göteborgians were upset about this. Why? Is it not a good thing to have more and
9 Henry Meyric Hughes, op. cit.10 Herbert Marcuse, “Beyond One-Dimensional Man” in Towards a Critical Theory of Society (Herbert Marcuse – Collected Papers, Vol. 2), Routledge, 2001, p. 118.
more biennials? The problem is that in Sweden, if something is not happening in Stockholm it is not happening at all. This includes the art field. Stockholm is where the biggest Swedish media focus their attention. This does not, however, mean that the Göteborg Biennial is ignored – it gets reviews in these media; what goes deeper is that other cities than Stockholm are structurally ignored to begin with. They are not, in terms of Sweden’s ideological geography, of the same importance. A Stockholm biennial would be predictable, since Stockholm is already the art centre of Sweden, with its strong institutions and many successful galleries. Bluntly put, I believe that there is a risk with a “marriage” between the biennial format and an already strong art city; this “marriage” would probably only encourage and sustain the institutional powers that are already involved in the fields of cultural politics, economy and art. There is nothing inherently critical and eye opening about the biennial format – it can just as well be a question of traditional structures, “institutionalism”, relocating, in the form of a bigger and more flexible exhibition apparatus that responds better to the experience economy. This does not necessarily mean that the curatorial strategies and artworks in this kind of biennial would be pointless trash; I am just pointing at a potential that would disappear. Because isn’t the biennial format the most vivid when it and the hosting city grow
Markus Öhrn, “Magic Bullet”, 2009. Courtesy of the artist
Jorge Galindo & Santiago Sierra, “Los Encargados”, 2012. Courtesy of the artists & Galeria Helga de Alvear, Madrid
to become an “organic” intellectual instead of a traditional one, to use Gramscian terms?
a BrutallY Brief historY, two “phases”I don’t have the space to go in detail through the more than a decade long series of Göteborg Biennials, that’s why I would like to divide the Göteborg Biennial into two “phases”: 2001–2005 and 2007–20… This distinction is not only due to the change of hosting organization that happened in 2007. No, what strikes me when going through the written material is that the first “phase” ends with curator Sara Arrhenius discussing the Biennial as a format in her curatorial text. This is the only time it has happened (yet), which is why it’s worth a moment of reflection. The biennial as form, as language, as grammar, here becomes visible – only to “disappear” again with the subsequent biennials. Was it the normalization of a biennial paradigm or discourse, the “naturalization” of the biennial format as an exhibition apparatus? We will return to this question.In a general sense, Arrhenius claims that the biennial (in general) has “developed into a powerful driving force in the art system as such”.11 This could be described as “part of a general globalisation, in which art is one mobile, adaptable commodity among others in an ever-accelerating system of value exchange”, but Arrhenius does not find this claim satisfactory, and thus continues: “Without playing the innocent about the cultural-political role of these exhibitions, it is important not to forget that biennials as a phenomenon go together with a comprehensive rewriting of the topography of the art world, one that has actually expanded the art world, even if this continues to take place on certain conditions and within a system that has evident limitations. A significantly more productive question is: How do we develop and reformulate the grammar that has become that of the biennial?” With only 12 invited artists and in relation to the biennial format, she discusses her own curatorial practice with More ! than this in the following way:“I wanted to take a step to one side of the customary logic of the biennial system, to try to make an exhibition that was not worth going to for its size or the number of artists showing, but hopefully for totally different reasons. For me … it has also been important to break away from the prevalent image of the biennial as a survey of a large group of artists with each one contributing
11 Sara Arrhenius, “More ! than this. Negotiating Realities”, in the catalogue published on the occasion of the third edition of Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, 2005.
their own work. It was essential that the invited artists would, if possible, carry out new projects or exhibit several works. I wanted to leave room for contradictions and complexity within each artist’s participation.”Apparently, Arrhenius’ edition of the Biennial was criticized for “just” being an international group exhibition. Was it too small? Did it fail to speak Biennialian? The quotes above, however, show a curator trying to negotiate the reality of the biennial format – as language and grammar. In this sense, it is an important shift between the “phases”. There still is “Biennialian” negotiating, but it has relocated. Today the negotiating is already within the given language: as themes, curatorial strategies, and so forth. Arrhenius for instance insisted that More ! than this was not a thematic biennial. Neither were the two previous ones, really. This changed subsequently, as politically fervid, urging themes became the dominant feature (ranging from political anxiety, “post-political” frustration, and crisis as a creative force to radical imagination).
the iMaGiNatioNIn this year’s edition of the Göteborg Biennial, the invited curators – Katerina Gregos, Clair Tancons, Joanna Warsza and the duo Andjeas Ejiksson and Ragnar Kjartansson – all do their own curatorial, sub-thematic take on the overall theme: Play! Recapturing the radical imagination. The artistic directors, Stina Edblom and Edi Muka, write that following “the radical restructuring of the world imposed by the neo-liberal agenda, imagination has become the battlefield”.12 What is the frame for what we conceive as possible and not? In Sweden, as many other European countries, the neo-liberal ideology is deeper embedded in the steering documents of educational and cultural institutions, interpellating the citizens as entrepreneurs. How does the Biennialian language struggle against this at the current Göteborg Biennial? Firstly, we have the “spectacular” Biennialian aspect. Katarina Gregos’ exhibition, The Politics of Play at Röda Sten Konsthall, contains many interesting works, but is screamingly overloaded. It’s an overcrowded group exhibition where many works end up being bad neighbours. The video-piece The Pegasus Dance, 2007, by Fernando Sanchez Castillo, hangs in the main hall with its police water-cannon vehicles in a choreographed ballet, and it is a piece that in the given dimensions requires space. Its soundtrack, a cute, coquet, romantic waltz, doesn’t unfortunately go well with other works: it brings a
12 Stina Edblom and Edi Muka, “Play! Recapturing the radical imagination”, theme text in the folder published on occasion of Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, 2013.
Liv Strömquist, “End Extreme Wealth”, 2013. Courtesy of the artist
cynical irony upon them, reducing their potential for laughter at the powers that be, and not letting this laughter become exhausted, which would open for other interpretations than the immediate. The waltz does, however, in some weird sense, work with Qiu Zhijie’s Indian ink maps, turning the cartographic works into ballet choreography; I start thinking about authoritarian power and propagandistic beautification processes, the reality of brutal violence softened with a cute waltz. Overall though, Gregos seems to use the works exhibited as mere illustrations to theory.Joanna Warsza’s crime story narrative-curatorial strategy, Art Crime: Legally on the Edge, in the Göteborg harbour area (Lilla Bommen) is exciting. Here the Biennialian language is trying to communicate with the space through a crime story narrative, both through a novel written specifically for the exhibition by real crime story author Åke Edwardson, and through the puzzle placement of the art. It’s quite hard finding one’s way to the art in the area, but maybe this is a way of extending one’s presence.In her review of the Göteborg Biennial, art critic Sinziana Ravini dismisses the one “event” – or “break” – I think was the most institutionally refreshing. A “psychic attack” by Psychic Warfare (a collective of anonymous individuals) which took
place at Göteborgs Konsthall during the press view of AnarKrew – An Anti-Archives by curator Claire Tancons, in front of journalists, art critics and various people from the art world, one day before the official opening of the Biennial. It was an attack where the collective barricaded two entrances to two of the galleries used in the exhibition, and it followed upon a lecture given by a silver-sprayed, androgynous lecturer – a Ziggy Stardust-looking decadent god – who had ceremonially been brought into the main hall, lying gracefully on a sedan chair, which was carried by four people. A smoke machine had made the space foggy, and no one noticed that the entrances were being blocked. The lecturer was not aware of the lecture’s content beforehand.
In the letter that Juli [the lecturer] read, we stated our intent to destroy the artworks behind the blockade and the reasons why. The rooms were chosen only by their location … and not on the content of the artworks inside. We said that the destruction of the artworks was a way to ”impair the biennial event logic” that according to the slogan of this year’s biennial, Play! Recapturing the Radical Imagination, could only do just that – recuperate and profit on every political potential on behalf of and under the auspices of the “Event City of Gothenburg”. The reading was accompanied
Fernando Sanchez Castillos, “Pegasus Dance”, 2008. Courtesy of the artist
by the noise of objects breaking and electrical saws coming from inside the occupied rooms. The reading and the noise was the means by which some of the spectators were led to believe that we were actually destroying the art works. When the reading ended and Juli walked out, a short applause was heard before confusion and anger arose in the audience. The psychic occupation ended soon afterwards when the emergency exit door, that we’d chained down, was kicked in by the Konsthall staff.13
Ravini writes the event off as “activists trying to be institutional critics” ending up in “master-slave dialectics for art’s sake”. But these comments are simply reading too much into what really happened – they belong to the dominant institutional language, which I find don’t grasp the psychic attack in a satisfactory way, because is not this institutional feedback-language only a tiresome escape to given ends? Other comments I heard about the attack were that it was “lightweight”, “intellectually inferior”, and that “that was done in the 60s”. Whether these comments are thought false to a true situation or thought true to a false situation, I will have to leave for this time. What I appreciated about the attack was that it pointed towards something crucial. The importance of not making sense in the way we usually want to make sense of things, even if it hurts our ego. Is this not what disrupts the institutionalizing processes involved and opens gaps for rebellious linguistics?Unfortunately, I could not attend Andjeas Ejiksson’s and Ragnar Kjartansson’s Weight at Stora Teatern, which was only open during the opening weekend.Finally, when looking away from the big names, there is a thing called GIBCA14 Extended, where a big amount of smaller local galleries, art spaces and artists are doing a hell of a lot during the duration of the Biennial. I haven’t read a single review where this is mentioned.
14 With the latest edition, Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art started using the abbreviation GIBCA.
Paratsou Forouhar, “Red is My Name, green is My Name – karree”, 2008. Courtesy of the artist
Füsun Türetken. Courtesy of the artist
a celeBratioN at aNGels squareTadeusz Sawa-Borysławski
Just like the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris was called a refinery (an art machine), the MACBA center for art in Barcelona can be called a palace (an art palace).Comparison of those two institutions comes naturally. The Centre Pompidou (architects: Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers; designed in 1972, opened in 1977) became a kind of model for cities with similar urban and social conditions. The Centre was built in a quarter with a poor reputation (Beabourg) and was supposed to raise its rank, also by drawing to the neighbourhood the Parisian bohème moving from place to place anyway. The old quarter of Barcelona – El Raval (part of the Old Town) – was called a Chinese district. That place, occupied more than 50% by immigrants, has been (and still is) inhabited by a variety of subcultures: artistic, religious or immigrant. The similarity is obvious. Here as well, from the viewpoint of the city authorities, the need – and later the concept – for improving the quarter’s rank because of its former reputation became apparent. The decision to change and to style anew its image, thus expanding the tourist centre, was made.Museu d’Art Contemporàni de Barcelona – MACBA (this is the institution’s name in Catalan) was built on Plaça dels Àngels in 1995. Before that, in 1987, a foundation that initiated the construction was created. The City Council left the project to a well-known American company: Richard Meier & Partners Architects. Much earlier – at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s – a collection of contemporary art was started in Barcelona thanks to the activity of a group of artists and critics. The whole successful process – from the beginning of the collection to the opening of the building – was very long, lasting 35 years.
The wall of MACBA (on the left) in the context of the revitalized, old buildings around the square. Photo: Agata Sawa-Borysławska
The museum became one of the four fronts of the hitherto not very spectacular Angels Square. It almost completely fills it. Among narrow streets and tall tenement houses arose a white, Modernist object from another world – a building of a formally distinctive shape, a screen perforated by windows, penetrated by glass sheets, cut by simple, geometric forms of smaller scale. Being 120 metres long and 35 metres wide, it takes up a great deal of space in the horizontal projection. On the one hand, it seems that it is a shape, an example, an image of another phase of Modernism, some kind of succession, a step in the development of a style. On the other – in a way – it is a palace of Modernism, which itself would contradict the Modernist ideas. The aspect of the development of form in those several dozen years of continuity of the style is hard to describe, as well as complicated.Richard Meier is considered by critics and contemporary architecture researchers as rather a post-modern architect. He was one of the key members of the New York Five group which included Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey and John Hejduk – architects who, on American soil, gave shape to the themes later often repeated all over the world, and who have created many new formal models of post-modern architecture.Post-modernism liberated a certain new potential in the circles of architects looking for new ways, both ideological and formal. It opened a box of attractively wrapped gifts, a box of styles and the possibility to mix them almost without any restrictions. In its essence, it was founded on the opposition to the philosophy and ideas of Modernism. The Modernism of the 1920s and 1930s became one of many directions absorbed and transformed in the forms later identified as characteristics of the new style. Meier – as one can notice while taking a closer look at his projects – willingly used formal characteristics of Modernist architecture. It is also understandable for another reason. At the beginning of his career, he worked for companies and architects who had a significant influence on his later artistic choices: SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merills) design office or Marcel Breuer’s (one of the most important Bauhaus artists) atelier. During a trip around Europe, he met Le Corbusier, whose works – according to common belief – became an important inspiration for him. Well, maybe not all of them, but certainly those representing one of the characteristic trends in Le Corbusier’s oeuvre.Fondness for white, geometric forms, and large glass surfaces are the hallmarks of Meier’s works. These features are exemplified by the MACBA building. Meier manipulates in this case the shape and surface, forms in the light. The wall is still dominant – the wall of the museum and the wall of
Angels Square, which integrates the composition. It’s a giant screen of the square, but it doesn’t separate. It’s a stipulated boundary, a background for an everyday celebration. From the inside, people can take a look at the urban space, which (thanks to the museum) has become a stage for performances, ambitious artistic creations and simple daily fun. From the outside, thanks to numerous perforations, they can see parts of the interior – the formal variety and spatial complexity of it.One can notice here a certain similarity to the Centre Pompidou, where the transparent pipes attached outside the building – with the escalators inside – let the visitors observe what is happening on the square. In Barcelona, ramps leading to other floors provide similar vistas. The basic connection in a macro scale is a decision to associate and confront a modern building housing a contemporary art exhibition with a district that needs restoration. The other connection is a local, urban context, and the functional scheme of the building: the distinctive, monumental form of the front, placing the exhibition spaces in the background, behind the theatrically designed (as platforms) internal communication paths. These are the most important characteristics of the resemblance between the two aforementioned institutions.The evaluation of that building can’t be unambiguous nor literal. It’s hard to classify Meier’s museum as a post-modern object, because that kind of design appeared very shortly after the original style, the sources being inspirations of the 1920s and 1930s. Usage of proven, obvious forms does not allow the naming of that building as an authorial one. Especially when compared to the achievements of Antonio Gaudí or Ricardo Bofill. Perhaps it has some of the features distinctive for the architecture of the turn of the 1960s and 1970s – visible in the way he shapes the details – but Meier’s favourite white coated wall, and the ribbed pattern of geometrical divisions are far from the avant-garde explorations of those years: raw concrete, wood, “the truth of the material”. In a way it’s a fanciful version of Modernism, maybe even some kind of Modernist mannerism. However, Meier used to humbly admit that he sees himself more as a craftsman than an architect. He is interested in questions of intertwining forms, their clarity, of the light and white as the means of honing the perception, of the scale that matches both humans and the city, and finally the questions of the precision in the execution of details.Regardless of those considerations and opinions, the effects – social and spatial – have been successfully achieved.
Multi-plane permeating of the reinforced concrete and glass façade. Photo: Tadeusz Sawa-Borysławski
europe iN a New diMeNsioNJeša Denegri speaks with Paweł Łubowski
The art historian, critic and theoretician Ješa (Jerko) Denegri is one of the greatest art experts in south-eastern Europe. He was born in Split in 1936. From 1965 to 1989, he was a curator in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade and is currently a professor of modern art history in the University of Belgrade.
paweł Łubowski: For many years, you directed the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgrade. How has Balkan art influenced European art?
Ješa denegri: If we understand “Balkan art” as the art of former Yugoslavia, it was part of European art. That’s how we perceived it. It is difficult to say whether it influenced European art – it is easier to assert that it was saturated by and combined with it. Many artists from the former Yugoslav republics, and now independent countries, studied in Paris, many in central Europe, many in Poland, in Krakow for example. As such, there was a certain exchange of ideas and experiences, a permeation, in which there were influences from both sides. I can say only that Yugoslav art is an integral part of European art – it both influenced and was influenced by it. This took place depending on the environment of the activities and specifics of the artistic generations. This is a particularly complex issue, which is not easy to explain in such a short interview.
paweł Łubowski: Yugoslavia and Poland were the only countries in the socialist camp with a certain freedom (like Czechoslovakia until 1968). You spent time in Poland. What were the noticeable differences between Poland and Yugoslavia in this aspect?
Ješa denegri: I have visited Poland three times. I was a guest of Director Stanisławski in the Museum of Art in Łódź. For some time I studied Polish Constructivism there. The second time, I was a member of the jury at the International Drawing Competition in Wrocław. The third time was for a symposium in Warsaw. For us in Yugoslavia, Polish art, and in general the cultural and political situation in Poland, was very interesting. We knew that there was a certain difference concerning political and artistic freedom between Yugoslavia and Poland, but we had great respect for Polish art, not only in terms of historical constructivism and avant-garde, but also of contemporary art. We perceived the Polish artistic scene as a certain oasis for artists to freely express their ideas. Piotr Piotrowski’s book Sztuka w cieniu Jałty (Art in the shadow of Yalta), was very interesting for me. The author analyses and compares the situation of art in Poland with the situation of art in other countries
Maja Beganović, “Who is on the way is already there”, intervention in public space, 2006/07. Photo: Archives of M. Beganović
Ješa Denegri. Photo: Archives of CoCA in Toruń
in the eastern block: in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria etc., as well as in former Yugoslavia. It is possible to see that the atmospheres in Yugoslavia and Poland were similar in many ways. The level of freedom in art was greater than in other countries in the eastern block. There were obviously some differences resulting from the local conditions, which we, during a short stay, were not able to sufficiently see and understand. However, for specialists and artists in Yugoslavia, the Polish artistic scene and Polish artists, both historical and contemporary, were extremely interesting and valued. Like many others in Yugoslavia, I carefully followed events in Polish art. I had many colleagues among the museum curators and directors, and during my stays I also met many Polish artists. In some projects in Serbia and in Belgrade, such as Aprilski susreti, the Student Cultural Centre team included: Natalia LL, Andrzej Lachowicz, Janusz Haka, Zdzisław Sosnowski and many others. As theatre buffs, we also followed the great figures of Kantor and Grotowski, for example.
paweł Łubowski: You were one of the first people who promoted the Fluxus group, among others. How were they received in Belgrade during those times?
Ješa denegri: Yugoslavia and Belgrade possessed a well-developed artistic scene in those days, with various events taking place, including the activities of Fluxus. These events integrated groups of like-minded people, who followed them with great attention. However, the more radical, avant-garde manifestations were not seen by a large audience. They took place mainly within the youth and student cultural scenes, and those scenes possessed their own selected, initiated public, who knew and understood the processes taking place inside them.
paweł Łubowski: How do you assess contemporary art in Poland? Has it undergone a similar evolution to the one in Serbia?
Ješa denegri: I do not consider myself to be particularly conversant and knowledgeable in what is happening in Poland. I lack insights and contacts of that type, but what I know today about Polish art confirms the view that it is completely entwined with worldwide artistic events. It is one of the main artistic stages in the world. Events in Poland, and in Serbia, and in other countries formed from the artistic scene of the former Yugoslavia, are compatible, are part of a multicultural and global artistic scene. Artists, curators and art historians mutually understand each other, communicate in the same language of art and follow the events of the artistic world.
paweł Łubowski: Has the war in the Balkans influenced art there, and in what way?
Ješa denegri: War has had a significant impact. Above all, there was a disintegration of the once united area of Yugoslavia. For a few years during the fiercest fighting, practically all contact in the artistic scene was broken. Artists and specific groups in Serbia and other areas were involved in anti-war activities. There was a silent solidarity between artistic circles. Possessing greater awareness, the progressive environment did not stand by the political elite who initiated such harmful processes. With time, contact was renewed between artists and art historians – the organizers of artistic life in particular environments formed in the area of former Yugoslavia. It’s therefore possible to say that, to a large extent, the antagonisms were defeated and cured. This process is still in progress. In those days, however, the events were very painful for us all, because we all still functioned as an internal united Yugoslav artistic area and its disintegration was a tragic event. Artists generally maintained their moral and political dignity, they did not take the side of any extreme political group. Together with time, all the unfortunate events were healed. Today, it is as though they accompanied the birth of a certain new area inside the former republics of Yugoslavia. Everything has its place in the new artistic context in Europe, in numerous exhibitions of eastern European and Balkan art, the art of the new Europe, a Europe in which artists from all of these environments are equal. Finally, a certain normal communication between artists and other participants of artistic life is returning.
Sanja Zdrnja, “Tears”, photograph, 2005.
what photoGraphY is like – it is Not there for eVerYoNe to seeJerzy Olek
Does photography require words? Yes and no. On the one hand, it is believed to be self-sufficient, to use a poetic phrase: “photography says more than a thousand words”. On the other hand, no photographic image fulfils the criteria of providing complete information as it gives no straightforward answers to the six basic questions – who?, what?, when?, where?, how?, and why? Every photograph is incomplete by nature in terms of giving information, and it needs a verbal prosthesis. Tadeusz Różewicz, a distinguished poet, said something that seems to contradict this: “Photography requires no words. It is momentary existence itself”. This is true. Impermanent and hardly lasting. Unless a culture turns a chosen picture into a timeless image. The mechanism is not new; it is widely used by all media. Anything can be promoted as long as it is consistently and insistently repeated. As a result, images which are not necessarily the best have entered the public consciousness. Factors such as coincidence, historical context or the choice made by authorities can permanently accord a special status to a given photograph. The demand for similar recognition of the equal value of other images often meets with an honest reaction: “all places are already taken”. The established hierarchy and the publicity that upholds it are guarded by the market, including commercial as well as public art galleries. The latter are shaped by curators, doting on their own likings, their tastes and connections. You can be either “one of us” or a mere supplicant whose efforts remain fruitless. There is no point discussing tastes, especially when these are impervious in terms of substance.
Observation of what is happening at selected art galleries and viewing the exhibitions they stage tend to give no clues as to their programmes. This is because they hardly ever have a programme. What they display is frequently determined by the rigid point of view of the people who run them. All that many galleries have to offer is a range of aesthetic gadgets to suit all tastes and budgets. This is a play-safe attitude designed to avoid risk and please so-called artistic circles, reviewer friends and gallery goers who keep coming as long as any conflict is averted.
Powerful in the 1960s and 70s, the movement of independent art galleries and other places that provided an alternative to official art belongs to the past. Nowadays, the main – though not necessarily overt – idea is to be neutral. If dramatic events or subtle provocations of aesthetic nature recorded on film are exhibited, this is always in the safe context of the sterile box of white walls. Artistic risk is taken by very few. Images which attempt to challenge
established stereotypes are inconvenient and not welcome. They destroy the secure bourgeois order, which good-naturedly receives financial support.
Photographic exhibitions give viewers a sense of security. It is the same feeling they get when they sit in front of the television or computer screen. They maintain a comfortable distance from orderly and conventional aestheticism. This has become the norm. After all, the meaning and the form of an image, of what it displays, does not concern the viewer. Detached, their eyes merely glance over it.
It is characteristic that, regardless of the domination of new media and interactive art in the 21st century, the photographic ghetto is still strong. Galleries dedicated to specific domains are long gone. There are no galleries specializing only in painting or graphic arts or watercolours. Photographic galleries are the only ones that have remained unchanged. It is, however, border regions where the most interesting things happen. Many non-photographers have contributed to the understanding of photography, including Christian Boltanski, Jan Dibbets, Joseph Kosuth, David Hockney, and – in Poland – Zdzisław Beksiński. Like many others, they were or are open-minded artists who one day decided to take a camera and knew how to use it in an unconventional way, or made use of ready photographs found in newspapers and colour magazines.
These and similar thoughts came to mind when I visited the Photographers’ Gallery in London. One of them was that every gallery is like a funnel which gathers the tastiest creative or reproductive morsels that can be minced into an exhibition. Attitudes and styles different from the recognized and safe ones sink into oblivion, or into an indefinite space outside the funnel. Sometimes an avant-garde piece is allowed to pass through the funnel, for it can also be tamed and sold as an uncontentious commodity.
It might be that I am writing these words driven by nostalgia for the 1970s. For their straightforwardness, typical not only of Poland. For the movement of independent groups and clever artistic provocation which could be observed also outside semi-official galleries that embraced the avant-garde. There are no such places any more. Neither in Poland, nor in the Czech Republic, nor in Hungary. Creative sites have been replaced with salons dedicated to presentation of sophisticated visual productions, properly mounted in branded frames. These are also the times of festival-mania, events that are nothing but mercantile games where artistic values must yield to quantity and
mass attendance ensured by promotion and media hype. The creed is: the more space in a given city that is papered with images, the better. Trendy repetitions constitute ninety per cent of the supply – pale reflected light, the same utterances on the same subjects, repeated ad nauseam. But the mass audience is greedy…
And so is the London audience. Also, London can be exclusive. The very fact that it is London counts.The Photographers’ Gallery is regarded as one of the most important places of that kind in Europe. And rightly so. It is located in the city centre; it has been there long enough for the venue to develop a brand of its own. A seven-storey building with exhibition rooms that are not too large is perfect. There is also a specialist bookshop, sales department and a café.
A team of several staff members design the programme. A peculiar expositional frame of the gallery is provided by a camera obscura found on the third floor, aimed at the neighbouring building on the opposite side of the street, and a visually attractive multimedia projection on the ground floor. They constitute a framework for exhibitions displayed on four floors: a brace connecting prephotography with digital photography.
I am talking to Brett Rogers, director of the gallery:
Jerzy olek: Would you be able to name national features of British photography?
Brett rogers: Such criterion is hardly useful nowadays. It is almost impossible to identify local characteristics because images from the Internet are everywhere. I could, of course, discuss this from the historical perspective. Social documentaries were dominant in the UK for years. The trend is still very strong, though it is gradually waning.
Jerzy olek: Your photography has been considered as documentary, socially-oriented and political.
Brett Rogers & Jerzy Olek. Photo. J. Olek
Czech, French or German photography, where the focus is on other subject matters, is very different.
Brett rogers: Political issues were dominant here in the 1980s and 90s, new documentary developed – Martin Parr is a well-known exponent of the trend. Obviously, many people use old conventions and refer to the old tradition but – symbolically speaking – uncritical continuation of the Magnum style has become tedious. Some young artists do realize that there is no such thing as objective truth, so they look for other ways of representation. The traditional illustration style is being abandoned. Nowadays, conflicts are not recorded directly, they are scanned from the Internet and then processed.
Jerzy olek: What new ideas have developed in British photography?
Brett rogers: Many artists are interested in staged studio photography as well as abstraction. There are quite a few who take an orthodox approach to black-and-white images. However, these are not new ideas; they are using the old ones in their own fashion. Recently, the influence of new technology has been massive. Frequently, mechanical images attempt to imitate painting. Many bizarre hybrids
are created and it is truly hard to say what direction the trends which are popular now will take.
Jerzy olek: It was not photographers but other artists who made important discoveries in terms of the nature and language of photography, the understanding and original interpretation of it. Gilbert and George’s contribution was substantial. Such people were not limited by the rigidity of the photographic frame or the reverence of polishing prints á la Ansel Adams.
Brett rogers: You have always been interested in art within photography, rather than photography itself. You are right, artists do very interesting things. We do our best to present this sort of work as well, focusing on where photography meets film.
Jerzy olek: Is your offer attractive because it is varied?
Brett rogers: It is a complex problem. For instance, our curators search for photographs which have never been put on display for one reason or another. In such cases, new techniques or narrations are not required. I believe that photography itself has enough potential to be used in an interesting way.
Jerzy olek: The classic reportage is disappearing…
Brett rogers: Archives are filled with intriguing material, and this is not stylistically hackneyed photography. The opposite can be equally interesting. I am talking here about works which, actually, display nothing, but they are visually powerful and very expressive.
Jerzy olek: It is generally believed that photography is easy to view and to understand, but this is not true. On the other hand, the reception of photography has been pauperized as a result of the development of digital photography.
Brett rogers: The context and the reception of photography have changed radically. Some magazines use amateur photographs from the Net. The power of the screen is enormous. This is why we decided to mount an ongoing projection on the ground floor. After all, people under thirty see photographs exclusively on the screen. It is also on the Internet that we look for subject matters.
Jerzy olek: For example…
Brett rogers: One of the curators has noticed that cats are extremely popular on the Internet. She viewed twenty websites dedicated almost entirely to cats. Two animals created a sensation; cameras attached to their collars took a picture every thirty seconds. Their owners earn a living from selling those photos. Such cases, which are not that rare at all, affect the idea of who the author is.
Jerzy olek: How do you, together with your team, select the material which gets displayed at the gallery after being edited?
Brett rogers: We have drawn up several dozen problem categories and we look for interesting sets of photographs to fit them. They include, for instance, photography in sculpture, in collages, in drawings, or in architecture. But also a category as peculiar as reinterpretation of important historical figures in a contemporary context. We pay a lot of attention to young talents. We present established photographers. There is also a section dedicated to photography and its different uses, in fashion, advertising, daily life – a variety of aspects. For example, we have staged an exhibition of the most interesting Japanese photography books published in the last ten years.
Jerzy olek: How do you popularize photography? How do you attract new viewers?
Brett rogers: We do it in a variety of ways. We organize regular workshops, lectures as well as
masterclass courses. These events take place twice a week. Our educational programme is mostly targeted at teenagers. We want them to come to the gallery.
Jerzy olek: How do you cope moneywise?
Brett rogers: For years, admission was free. But we came under pressure to make money. So we have tickets now, but they are cheap. Additional income is generated by the café, the bookshop and the shop which sells mounted photographs. Prices range from six thousand to five hundred pounds. Some works are exhibited in the shop and these can be bought right away.
Jerzy olek: Do you not think that the latest production has lost, in many cases, something from the old photographic spirituality? There are many dead pictures. For example, Andreas Gursky’s Rhein. My students asked me why it was bought for more than four million dollars.
Brett rogers: This photograph is about our society. About emptiness.
Emptiness is not what visitors to the Photographers’ Gallery can complain about. Upon entering the venue, they are stopped by The Wall, showing a never-ending projection. The idea is to present the ways in which technology affects our experience and understanding of photography in the digital era. I happened to watch a cycle on display possibilities provided by a 3D program made available by Google. They involved covering pieces of furniture or the interiors of private apartments, hotels or offices with famous images, like they were wallpaper. These were virtual scenes, but they do not have to be so.
The small Touchstone room in a praiseworthy idea; viewers are expected to comment on a photograph – the only one exhibited in the room and regularly changed, in writing.
Many people visit the gallery, and with good reason. Besides expositions and meetings with artists, there are workshops, mostly for families but also dedicated to particular subjects, such as “collage in the classroom”, which attract large numbers of participants.
Without doubt, photography is a powerful magnet and it doesn’t really need special promotion. However, there is always the question of what is worth viewing.
coca in…Review of Contemporary Art Centres and Museumsquarterly
puBlisher:Centre of Contemporary Art “Znaki Czasu” in Toruńul. Wały gen. Sikorskiego 13, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
editorial board: Malina Barcikowska, Mateusz Bieczyński (Issue Editor), Natalia Cieślak, Dobrila Denegri, Marta Kołacz, Jacek Kasprzycki, Anna Kompanowska, Piotr Lisowski, Paweł Łubowski (Editor-in-Chief), Sławomir Marzec, Marta Smolińska, Krzysztof Stanisławski, Jerzy Olek, Aleksandra Mosiołek
Graphic design: Max Skorwider (Art Director), Paweł Łubowski, Wojciech Kuberski
collaborators: Christine Coquillat (Paris), Magdalena Durda, Daria Kołacka (Basel), Roman Kubicki, Zuzanna Mannke (Essen), Anna Markowska, Olga Sienko (London), Tadeusz Sawa-Borysławski, Grzegorz Sztabiński, Miško Šuvaković (Belgrade)
translations: Monika Ujma, Maciej Pokornowski proofreading: Ian Corkill, Paweł Falkowski
Editorial board reserves the right to shorten articles and correspondence, and to give them titles. Unsolicited materials will not be returned. Editorial board is not responsible for the content of advertisements.