Commentary 10.10.14

Autumn Sonata – Sweden 2014

Essi Kausalainen, {ITALIC}Orchard{ENDITALIC} (stillbild), 2013. © Essi Kausalainen.

Essi Kausalainen, Orchard (stillbild), 2013. © Essi Kausalainen.

Yesterday, the roster for the third edition of The Moderna Exhibition was announced. Moderna Museet’s quadrennial «inventory of contemporary Swedish art» has this year been widened geographically beyond Sweden, to include 38 artists and artist groups from a large part of the Baltic region – Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. If The Moderna Exhibition 2010 embraced an academic turn in art, this year’s exhibition promises to move between activism and «a more abstract, philosophical approach to our society and our time». The exhibition is curated by Andreas Nilsson, with the assistance of Maija Rudovskaand and Julia Björnberg, and participating artists include Lea Porsager, Emily Roysdon and Tris Vonna-Michell, as well as, from an older generation, Tadeusz Kantor, Jonas Mekas and J.O. Mallander. Contrary to tradition, the exhibition will not be shown in Stockholm, but at Moderna Museet’s branch in Malmö.

When the Stockholm galleries opened after the summer vacation, painting devoted to abstract imagery was a conspicuous presence with artists from a younger generation, ranging from Astrid Svangren’s assemblages at Annaelle Gallery, and Sofia Ekström’s painted and photographed «backdrops» at Gallery Riis, to Julia Selin’s huge, visceral, canvases at Gallery Flach. One could also mention the formal, often process-based, painting of artists like Alfred Boman and Karl Norin in the group exhibition Meet Your Maker at Isbrytaren/Carl Kostýal. Also, there was a new gallery in town, Belenius/Nordenhake Gallery, situated next to the Royal Opera in the center of Stockholm. The opening exhibition featured a series of large-scale, abstract-geometrical, textile canvases by the Irish artist Simon Mullan. During the autumn, the young gallerists Niklas Belenius (earlier Gallery Niklas Belenius) and Erik Nordenhake will show Sophie Tottie and Alexander Gutke. In the future there will be shows by Miriam Bäckström and Karl Norin, as well as artists from an older generation, like proto-conceptualist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd and Beck and Jung, the pioneers of Swedish computer art of the 1970s.

Simon Mullan, utställningsvy från Belenius/Nordenhake med {ITALIC}Blue Velvet{ENDITALIC}. © Simon Mullan.

Simon Mullan, installation view from Belenius/Nordenhake with Blue Velvet. © Simon Mullan.

During my first visit to the fledgling gallery I learned that it would be closed for the weekend because of the notorious neo-Nazi demonstration happening nearby at Gustaf Adolf Square: ironic considering Mullan’s pictures are sewn from the glossy fabric of old «bomber jackets», and meant to raise questions about gang membership and masculine aggression. Thousands of anti-racist counter-demonstrators rallied as well, but, in contrast to other recent demonstrations, the event unfolded relatively peacefully. The same could not be said of Gothenburg where, the same weekend, Jonna Rajkowska’s installation «Carpet» at Götaplatsen Square was vandalized by a group of Nazis. The work is part of the politically charged and critical exhibition Counterparts, organized by ICIA (Institute for Contemporary Ideas and Art), which takes place in different public spaces with the explicit aim of challenging the «neoliberal discourse» and official narratives about the city of Gothenburg.

With less than a week remaining until the Swedish general election, it is hard not to despair over the fascist charge and their expected success at the polls. Resistance, however, also generates energy and builds new alliances, like those between a growing anti-racist movement and the contemporary poetry scene. In recent years there has been a surge of interest in poetry working politically, with writers as diverse as Johan Jönsson, Jonas Hassen Khemiri and Kristian Lundberg, to name but a few, producing work that have been influential in contemporary debates. A highpoint, in terms of its immediate impact, was the poet Athena Farrokhzad’s «Sommar i P1», which turned a cozy program meant for lazy summer days into a radical call for justice and equality, and was met with both disapproval and massive acclaim from the public.  Turning our attention back to the contemporary art scene, it is hard to find a comparable tendency that would correspond to the significance of literary form on political discussions of recent years. Without suggesting such an impact as a criteria for art, it is nevertheless worth reflecting on why contemporary poetry has produced such effects, while art has not (not really).

Astrid Svangren, installation view from {ITALIC}literary imagination / body / play dead / gust / growth / an ever-present ocean / stage / eliminate / my own hyperballad{ENDITALIC} at Annaelle Gallery.

Astrid Svangren, installation view from literary imagination / body / play dead / gust / growth / an ever-present ocean / stage / eliminate / my own hyperballad at Annaelle Gallery.

Looking to this autumn’s exhibitions, there is no lack of art featuring contemporary social content. Snel Hest, a group exhibition that addresses issues of copyright and surveillance, as well as the relevance of Swedish hackers and activists for today’s discussions on the politics of the internet, opened last weekend at Alingsås Konsthall. At Borås Art Museum, the feminist group show Syster [«Sister»] deals with artistic and intellectual exchanges between women in different times and places. At Skövde Konsthall, Norm.alt opens this week, a gender-themed group exhibition with young contemporary artists, and the Mjellby Art Museum opens in the end of the month with a large-scale historical photo and video-based exhibition about the 1970s international feminist avant garde, featuring over 250 works by artists such as Eleanor Antin, Lili Dujorie, VALIE EXPORT, Esther Ferrer, Sanja Iveković, Martha Roser and Francesca Woodman. The exhibition is called Woman. and is curated by Gabriele Schor from the Sammlung Verbund in Vienna.

But it should be noted that these are exhibitions at small institutions on the periphery of the Swedish art scene. Turning our attention towards bigger cities like Gothenburg and Malmö, it seems that political issues will certainly be raised, but also restrained in favor of more detached reflection. Later in the fall, Märk linjen [«Mark the Line»] will be showing at Göteborgs Konsthall, with Francis Alÿs, Mona Hatoum, Allora & Calzadilla and Bruce Nauman, among others. The show seeks to examine the line’s function «for marking territories, clarifying power relations and separating us from the other.» And at Malmö Konsthall, Diana Baldon’s first exhibition as director will be opening in November (Baldon was until recently director of Index in Stockholm). The Alien Within: A Living Laboratory of Western Society has the stated aim of raising a debate on «hot subjects such as trans-cultural integration and fear as a fabricator of images», yet it also wants to be a «think-tank» reflecting on how such, rather general, issues can be addressed through art. There will be talks, screenings, seminars and educational workshops. Of course, these are two very different projects, but they are also similar – or so it seems – in the sense of being less invested in particular issues, and more occupied with politics on an abstract, or explicitly formal, level.

Installation view from {ITALIC}Is It Dark Already?{ENDITALIC} by Sofia Ekström at Galleri Riis. Photo: Jean Baptiste Béranger.

Installation view from Is It Dark Already? by Sofia Ekström at Galleri Riis. Photo: Jean Baptiste Béranger.

How do things look, then, in Stockholm? When it comes to the increasingly income-differentiated and segregated Swedish capital, the political challenges and important discussions of the present seem quite absent from the major institutions. Moderna Museet will be showing sculptural work by Jeff Koons, Charles Ray and Katharina Fritsch, as well as solo exhibitions with Meric Algün Ringborg and Nina Canell (Canell has barely been shown in Sweden, but will also have a separate exhibition at Lund Konsthall at the beginning of next year). Tomorrow at Bonniers there is an exhibition opening with the Brazilian artist Laura Lima, who also is in the news with the acclaimed «children’s museum» at Lilith Performance Studio in Malmö. The konsthall formerly known as Magasin 3 has renamed itself Magasin III, and changed its identity to that of a museum. Works from the extensive collection (Sol LeWitt, Walter de Maria, Katharina Grosse, etc.) will be exhibited during the autumn. Index has a new director, Axel Wieder, whose exhibition program will start in 2015. In the meantime there will be exhibitions by Emily Wardill and one of the Turner Prize winners from 2012, Elizabeth Price, organized by curator Nathalie Åhbeck. At Konstakademin, Thinking Through Painting, seeks to explore painting as a form of knowledge through different collective processes and exhibition practices. Participating are artists Sigrid Sandström, Kristina Bength, Jan Rydén, Wendy White, Marc Handelman and David Reed, as well as one of the curators for the next Momentum Biennial in Moss, Norway, Jonathan Habib Enqvist.

Work by Zoe Barcza from {ITALIC}Meet your maker{ENDITALIC} at Isbrytaren in Stockholm. Foto: Isbrytaren.

Work by Zoe Barcza from Meet your maker at Isbrytaren in Stockholm. Foto: Isbrytaren.

There are bound to be exceptions, but perhaps one can speak of a centrifugal motion where explicit political content is toned down as we move closer to the center, while having an increased presence at more peripheral institutions. This is confirmed indirectly if we shift our attention from the art scene of Stockholm’s inner city out towards the suburbs, where institutions like Tensta Konsthall, Botkyrka Konsthall, and Konsthall C in Hökarängen are vitally engaged in local and global social issues. Tensta konsthall will follow up on the ambitious Tensta Museum, and show new work by Ane Hjort Guttu and Dave Hullfish Bailey as part of the ongoing project The New Model, initiated by Maria Lind and Lars Bang Larsen in 2011, while Botkyrka Konsthall will launch nothing less than a new biennial focusing on the intersection between contemporary art and architecture. The project premiered at the Architecture Biennial in Venice this summer, and opens this week at different places in Botkyrka. Konsthall C has not been as active in recent years, but this will perhaps change when a new artistic director takes over in the fall. Could the cultural life of the urban peripheries become a vital force in contemporary art the same way it has been in the areas of poetry and music? There is, in any event, no lack of trying.

Bruno Knutman, {ITALIC}Konsteleven{ENDITALIC}, 2008. Foto: Galleri Magnus Karlsson.

Bruno Knutman, Konsteleven, 2008. Foto: Galleri Magnus Karlsson.

Expressionist painter Vera Nilsson (1888–1979) will be the subject of a retrospective exhibition at Liljevalchs Konsthall in Stockholm this autumn. «The painting is an outcry!» she said of her most famous work, the six meter long «Penning contra liv» [«Money versus life»](1938), painted in solidarity with those suffering during the Spanish Civil War, and representing a critique of the fascists, but also of the economic interests making their rampage possible. The exhibition includes over 140 works, and is the first comprehensive display of Vera Nilsson in decades. With her deep commitment to solidarity and the struggle against fascism, Nilsson can possibly grab ahold of issues returning to the present from the historical past, thus also forcing the question: where, among artists working today, can we find something comparable to her political gravity, integrity and commitment to form? In the context of this autumn’s exhibitions, one artist who comes to mind is Lina Selander who opens her largest exhibition to date at Kalmar Art Museum in a couple of weeks. Selander, who will also be the subject of a major presentation organized by Moderna Museet at next year’s Venice Biennial, works with montage-based films and installations, which are ever attentive to questions of the photographic image, but which also deal perceptively with refugeehood, oppression and memories of political disasters of the past.

Another exhibition worth mentioning is one featuring new work by the seldom-exhibited painter Bruno Knutman at Galleri Magnus Karlsson in October. Always somewhat on the periphery of the established art scene, Knutman’s retrospective at Lunds Konsthall in 2010 met with critical and public acclaim. The title of his new exhibition, Allvarstider («Grave Times»), should perhaps not be taken too seriously, as Knutman is an artist for whom humor cannot be easily distinguished from more sincere meaning. In his paintings, Knutman has returned to the anxiety and fear, as well as the curiosity, of his childhood experiencs during World War II. So it can be assumed there is a certain seriousness and gravity to his images, but of a kind that can only be realized through a continually overturning of opposites. A gravity of childhood and play? In this sense, Knutman can be seen as indebted to artists like Vera Nilsson and her contemporary Siri Derkert who insisted on the figure of the child as an aesthetic principle of painting. Derkert will be presented in an exhibition at Gallery Andrén-Schiptjenko in November, following the trend of contemporary galleries representing the estates of deceased artists.

Installation view from {ITALIC}We Hate in Order to Survive{ENDITALIC} at IAC in Malmö. Photo: Woodpecker Projects.

Installation view from We Hate in Order to Survive at IAC in Malmö. Photo: Woodpecker Projects.

What more? In the autumn Bildmuseet in Umeå continues its exhibition series with Sami artists with the painter and activist Anders Sunna (earlier artists in the series include Marja Helander, Katarina Pirak Sikku and Per Enoksson). There will also be an exhibition about «reindeer meat and light» by the Norwegian artist Geir Tore Holm, and this summer’s large-scale exhibition of Chinese contemporary art, Right is Wrong, will continue until October. At Verkligheten, also in Umeå, a contemporary art festival about survival, Survival Kit, will be opening next week, arranged in cooperation with the Latvian Centre of Contemporary Art in Riga. Over thirty artists and groups are involved, including Superflex and Chto Delat. In Malmö, two small-scale but seemingly ambitious exhibitions are drawing attention. First, Translation Theme Park, a presentation of Japanese contemporary art curated by the artist and poet Leif Holmstrand, dealing with translation as a «creative and destructive process». The exhibition will be shown at Galleri 21 and Galleri Ping-Pong, while phase two of the projects will take place next year and present Swedish artists in a Japanese context. The other exhibition is We Hate In Order to Survive at Inter Arts Center, which will be devoted to understanding the contemporary rise of fascism from a historical point of view, while also, perhaps, offering a correlative to the inclusion of political and activist practices in The Moderna Exhibition, with which it coincides. The exhibition is organized by the artist-run initiative Woodpecker Projects, and participating artists include, among others, Maj Hasager, Uffe Isolotto and Henrik Lund Jørgensen from Denmark, Ellisif Hals and Ingrid Sunde Koslung from Norway, and a large number of Swedish artists from the Malmö region.

Work by Jim Thorell from {ITALIC}Meet your maker{ENDITALIC} at Isbrytaren in Stockholm. Foto: Isbrytaren.

Work by Jim Thorell from Meet your maker at Isbrytaren in Stockholm. Foto: Isbrytaren.

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