TEXTS RETROSPECTIVE CATALOGUE 2011
Retrospective Catalogue 2011 is the collection of the texts that have accompanied our exhibitions in 2011, as well as visual documentation of the exhibitions. In addition you can read a text by one of our 2011 residents; Valentinas Klimašauskas' The Barman Says, and Arne Skaug Olsen's evaluation of the two first years of the Collaborative Research Residency; Back to the future - Evaluation of Collaborative Reseach Residency. Our 2011 witness has been artist and philosopher Andrea Spreafico, who has written the witness report Dog-Thoughts on Hokaës.
Let’s make a detour
Foreword to Retrospective Catalogue 2011 by Anne Szefer Karlsen, director Hordaland Art Centre.
In 2011 we have marked the 35th anniversary of Hordaland Art Centre, and we designed a programme where we explored history(ies) and future(s) based on different themes and institutional frameworks.
At the start of the year we asked a number of questions we thought would be pertinent to the present: Do we need to take a closer look at the past? How can we prepare for the future? Is it possible to act as if the present were independent of both history and future? Or are history and future always present, in disguise? Could it be that the present is kept in place by history as it charges into the future? We have collaborated with many different voices from different parts of the world, and together we have produced five exhibitions as well as lectures and seminars, in addition to original texts. Thus we have continued our role as an institution where art is presented and as well as a centre of learning.
This jubilee program has deliberately steered clear of a self-mythologising approach, focussing rather on the idea of history(ies) and future(s) as the framework of the present. Nostalgia and hope, longing for what has been and longing for what is yet to come, may serve as poetic concepts with regard to this year’s program.
We have taken on the challenge of finding new ways of thought, new strategies for understanding the relationship between history and future as sketched in the introduction, in other words, how to understand the present. There is no direct route to such understanding, so we have had to make some detours. Detours may put us in contact with voices that are trained in the exploration of areas where the possibilities are endless.
However, let us make a detour before getting down to the nitty gritty of this year’s program! First, an experiment in visualisation: Try to describe the time surrounding an event in terms of an image, for instance the time surrounding a chaotic event of uncertain outcome. This time is at the centre of the event, but it passes so swiftly that it is almost impossible to take it in. At such a centre, time is brief, hurried and confusing. At this time, we must trust our reflexes and intuitions, as there is no time to analyse or reflect on the event that is taking place. It seems as if time is non-existent at the centre of an event, or to put it differently, it seems to be standing still because everything is happening so fast. We may visualise this time as a dot. We put a dot on the sheet of paper, swiftly and intuitively. The event need not be all that dramatic. Not at all. Everyday time also passes quickly. (The event may be somebody accidentally scratching a negative.)
Then let us continue by attending to time outside the centre of the event. We draw a large circle around the dot, turning the dot into the centre of the event. Time moves slowly at the periphery of the event. It takes longer to move around the centre of the event than to experience it; we have more time on our hands. Out here time lasts longer, at the periphery, it is slow and transparent, there is time to stop and analyse and reflect on the event at the centre of things, but also on our present distance to the event. (At this time we may for example find someone trying to negotiate a contract.)
History is made in the tension between these two concepts, the dot at the middle and the circular movement around it. Inside this circle we agree on what has happened. This is where we turn to eyewitnesses who describe the event. (Here we might for example find a description of how the skill of constructing a trap is passed on from one person to the next.)
Our perspective is created at the periphery of the circle. In fact, the circle is so wide that there is no way we could move all the way round the periphery, only part of it. All of the time we and the eyewitness have our eyes turned towards the centre of the circle, trying to understand the event that has taken place. Subconsciously, but in an attempt at analysis and reflection, we produce a pie chart. This triangular slice of time envelops the event and becomes our idea of the heart of the matter. (An archive, for example, is an excellent example of a physical pie chart.)
In recent decades art has taken on the role of producing juxtapositions of time within our circle. The artist trawls archives, creating asymmetrical slices of the circle, or launches actionist events that are such hastily printed dots. (We may notice this when we juxtapose different art works that appear to have been created using the same technique.)
Our challenge at the present is one of seeing beyond the model we have sketched above. Art cannot be just a matter of looking at history, refining our understanding of ourselves and the world. It can and must encompass something more, it can present us with opportunities where we can be challenged and make detours outside the circle: Art gives us a sense of the endless possibilities contained in things we are unaware of. Our sense of imagination enriches the world, making the time we inhabit endlessly available without assuming that things like economic growth or progress are the sole purpose of our existence. Let us take a closer look and see if we are capable of applying our sense of imagination. Let us start by creating a larger notion of the present.
Let us return to the model we drew on our imaginary sheet of paper. What if we don’t just direct our gaze at the centre of the circle? What if we turn round, looking outside the circle? What is out there, if not our own sense of imagination? In order to turn round we must employ intuition as well as reflection, analysis as well as reflex. On the best of days we will find art out there. We hope Hordaland Art Centre has been somewhere art has found its place this last year.
Len Lye was the first exhibition of the year. We presented six of the films he made between 1935 and 1979: A Colour Box (1935), Trade Tattoo (1937), Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1939), Rhythm (1957), Free Radicals (1958, reworked 1979) and Particles in Space (1957). For his film Tusalava (1929), whose sound track has gone missing, we commissioned three specially written sound works by Espen Sommer Eide, Lasse Marhaug and Maia Urstad for an evening program called Len LIVE! The exhibition was not retrospective in the sense of trying to present a definitive understanding of Lye as an artist; it was more of an exploration of how we can relate to his works at the present time. Lye’s point of departure was always movement, his films were made using new methods; he scratched celluloid film, painting directly onto it, so called “direct film”. This allowed him to explore ways of expression in a vivid way, one otherwise impossible through the medium of film. Lye also explored scale through his sculptures, sometimes making several versions of the same art work in different sizes. Thus he also questioned the notion of originality. In keeping with his interests we created a situation where people had to move about relative to the films in order to see the exhibition; within a limited area of the gallery the films moved between screens of different sizes and in random sequence. Exhibitions often confront us with at static display and a carefully calculated presentation. Using new technology, not available in Lye’s day, we made it possible to watch all the films in new ways.
There are several reasons why Hordaland Art Centre – as part of the 35th anniversary program – put on a solo exhibition of a deceased artist for the first time in its history. In this case the most important reason was our continued commitment to the exploration of what artists of our day are interested in and want to discuss. Lye’s works were first mentioned at Hordaland Art Centre when the artist HC Gilje talked about his work in connection with his exhibition blink, in 2009. Presenting Len Lye was an expression of our institution’s desire to take the interest one of our local artists has shown in another artist seriously, hence we invited Gilje to co-curate the exhibition.
Throughout the autumn of 2010 and the spring of 2011 we worked with the Egyptian curator Sarah Rifky, who created the exhibition The Bergen Accords, in which she took as her starting point the accord, or contract, which turned into a project in three parts. The Bergen Accords was introduced at Torgalmenningen on May Day, with the production of the living sculpture If not Us, Who? If not Now, When? by the two artists Anetta Mona Chişa and Lucia Tkáčová. This work served as a prologue to the second part of the project, a solo exhibition at Hordaland Art Centre titled This one is for the birds, presenting new and partly site specific works by the artist Oraib Toukan. In many ways Toukan’s work came about through direct negotiations between the curator and the institution, besides purely physical negotiations with the exhibition room. Also, we supported Rifky’s wish to present a proposal suggesting that the name of Hordaland Art Centre be permanently changed, a process titled Name Change Act which was part of the art centre’s inner matter until September 1, when the board of directors considered the 26 names proposed by artists and curators, and decided to keep the present name.
Here we should mention that our colleague, Sarah, was challenged to rethink the project again and again, in view of the extraordinary situation in her home city, Cairo. Processes that began in February this year and are still going on, must have contributed to the shaping The Bergen Accords and will surely contribute to the way this project will be understood for a long time to come.
2011 was the first time in many years that Hordaland Art Centre kept an exhibition open during the summer months. We decided to exhibit a work by the artist Omer Fast, Nostalgia from 2009, which is a carefully constructed film narrative in three parts, using the eye witness as source. His work is poised between the probable and the fictional, and the nerve running through the loops, screens and projections is sympathetic, maybe even empathic. This work, which was first shown at the South London Gallery, arises from interviews with immigrants to the United Kingdom. The immigrants become narrators, and through what to European eyes may look like a post-apocalyptic society we ourselves, through a filmic change of roles, are turned into eye witnesses observing the obstacles and difficulties as “we” try to seek refuge in an Africa that is alluringly peaceful and prosperous.
The work’s proposition is simple enough, as Fast turns a situation that is very real for many on its head, he uses an old trick of the storyteller's trade to get the “truth” across. But this assertion also wove a complex web of questions that were, and continue to be, important in a North European context. Assuming that everyone, given the chance, would get up and leave, is naïve. It is also naïve to believe that all migrations are voluntarily. The tension between these two assertions creates a vast landscape of reasons, duties, hopes, dreams and forces. Regrettably, we are not able to see this landscape in the media images and broadcast debates, which is why we thought this was such an important work for us to see, discuss and experience. Our summer exhibition was unexpectedly given contemporary relevance by events outside the Art Centre, i. e. the events in Oslo and at Utøya July 22.
Following a turbulent summer, we opened a new exhibition project, one that Hordaland Art Centre and the artist Elsebeth Jørgensen have been involved with since 2008. In early 2010 we started the practical implementation of what became Ways of Losing Oneself in an Image. In close cooperation with the Picture Collection at the University of Bergen – Special Collections, in particular with senior academic librarian Solveig Greve, this exhibition achieved the merger of several elements. All the material for the work was drawn from the Picture Collection as Jørgensen created a work with more than one point of entry, just like an archive. Her works have for years circled in on various ideas in connection with the documentation of place, historicity and montages, as well as how archival processes and the construction of collective memories result in ambivalence and dilemmas related to concepts of preservation, choice, systematising and the importance of a subjective view.
Jørgensen observed this archive as a whole for a year, after which the historical records were juxtaposed with her own artistic observations in Ways of Losing Oneself in an Image. The project arises from an interest in the potential poetic narrative of the picture collection and the inaccessible part of the collection here in Bergen; the material that has not yet been registered, as well as the meta-archive of the place itself. Jørgensen’s adaptation of this material mixed fact and fiction, she reflected on how historical information may be used as hypothetical conjecture about our understanding of the future.
The last exhibition of the year was curated by Glenn Adamson, Head of Research and Graduate Studies at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In a much smaller exhibition space than he is used to this turned into an exploration in miniature of the relationship between textiles and photography. As Adamson writes in the introduction to his text accompanying the exhibition: Textiles and photography: the two mediums seem, at first, to be antithetical. On the one hand we have a painstakingly slow craft, and on the other an immediate and automatic process. One is constructive, the other indexical.
The exhibition focused on the way the Jaquard loom could unite these two techniques, showing works by the artists Chuck Close, Lia Cook, Kari Dyrdal and Johanna Friedman, who between them created a photographic landscape in the exhibition by way of different approaches to and use of the same technique. Karina Presttun continued the possibilities for a layered composition of images offered by digital photo processing, lending a spatial impression to her fabric collage, while Sabrina Gschwandtner and Kate Nartker exploited a different cross pollination of the two media through their video works; Gschwandtner, with a documentary video that might appropriately be termed a sound study which spread throughout the room, and Kate Narthker with a time-lapse video of woven stills that together made up the exhibition’s other video work.
In addition to the exhibitions of the year we have arranged our regular Master Weekends, where we have presented two different installations. In the spring Jason Dunne created the installation Potemkin Village, in which a male figure of varying sizes is repeated almost endlessly, creating a society which the viewer could not automatically gain access to, and in the autumn Gabriel Johann Kvendseth reproduced a workshop in the gallery room which was home to his installation Prototypes: ARSENAL.
Even if we have spent the whole year discussing history/histories and future/futures as a year long jubilee ceremony, we still wanted to mark the year by celebrating specificity. Therefore we invited everyone to join the seminar A piece of Anti-History in which four artists who had previously held exhibitions at Hordaland Art Centre were invited to present a talk. Torbjørn Kvasbø (solo exhibition in October 1987 and March 1993), Talleiv Taro Manum (solo exhibition in May 1998) and Eva Kun (solo exhibition in September 1988 and May 2003) lectured and held presentations, and Kurt Johannessen (several performances and solo exhibitions in September 1988 and May 2004) did a performance lecture for the occasion.
Thus this seminar was not a question of a comprehensive institutional historiography, rather a piece of anti-history, as we focused on the time we have been at 17 Klosteret (since 1985) through the smallest and most crucial components; a selection of specific exhibitions represented by the artists whose works were shown.
It is easy to feel caught unawares and bulldozed when faced with the history of an institution. Thematising such a history is a demanding task and presents a number of challenges. Especially as the institution and its life must be sustained at the same time as one turns around to look at history. We had to make a few dramatic choices during the preparations for this seminar that we think has made it a poetic as well as a constructive contribution in view of what an art centre can be. By choosing to focus on the time when Hordaland Art Centre has existed at Klosteret, much of what was said that day could almost be “physically tested”. We could say that THIS happened HERE. Besides, our frame of reference allowed us to concentrate solely on art that had been exhibited.
You may say that celebrating an institution’s 35th anniversary is a bit odd. It is. We took this opportunity as we think Norwegian art centres are underappreciated structures of art mediation, and their role as art institutions that are common to both the public and the art professionals, is very seldom celebrated. We wanted to change that, and I hope we have succeeded.
Translated from the Norwegian by Egil Fredheim.
In his introduction to the book The Beauty And The Sorrow of Combat, historian and author Peter Englund reflects on his work: more than 600 pages written based on the personal notes and diaries of nineteen people of different ages and of different nationalities and backgrounds who lived through World War I. Towards the end of the introduction he writes: “Most of these nineteen people will take part in dramatic, terrible events, but even so, our focus will be on everyday life during the war. In one sense, this is a piece of anti-history, in that I have tried to retrace this in every sense of the word epochal event to its minutest part, the individual person and his or her experiences.”