20 December

Which were the most illuminating exhibitions in 2021 according to artist Miriam Bäckström?

Maria Hedlund, Untitled, 2021.

Maria Hedlund and Sahar Al-Khateeb, Memory of Things, AllArtNowLab, Stockholm

A suggestive gaze greets me in Memory of Things, an exhibition of works by Maria Hedlund and Sahar Al-Khateeb at AllArtNowLab in Stockholm. A young man representing Jesus in one of Hedlund’s works follows me through the space with dark velvety eyes. I feel seen by the person in the photograph, but seen entirely based on the character’s own urges and desires, what they can use me for. It’s as exciting every time. The second work in the same larger-than-life scale is a television set. Simultaneously, it’s an ongoing reformulation, devised by Al-Khateeb in the middle of the exhibition space, with recognisably furniture-like elements. It emerges as a draft, a proposal, or a transformation in a captured state, neither before nor after.

Theaster Gates, Afro-Ikebana, 2019. Foto: © White Cube / Theo Christelis.

Theaster Gates, A Clay Sermon, Whitechapel Gallery, London

The night before visiting Theaster Gates’s exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, I sat next to a friend who was dead sure that it was a disappointment. We have discussed matters of taste at dinners before and never agreed, and have avoided each other for some years. So, I knew I was in for a treat. Indeed, Gates had created his own reality beyond the theatre of taste. I was disarmed by the dense and generous presentation and wanted to stay longer in Gates’s approach, process, and collection of his own and others’ works. We managed to stay away from space and sense.

Arthur Jafa, I Don’t Care About Your Past, I Just Want Our Love to Last, tapet, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels. Copyright Arthur Jafa.

Arthur Jafa, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk

Like many others, I’m moved by the uncensored violence and life in Arthur Jafa’s works. Preconceived boundaries and materials dissolve when he shows what shouldn’t be shown. I was shocked when I realised what I hadn’t seen before – the system that maintains and obscures so much violence – and felt fooled by my own stupidity. Jafa’s exhibition at Louisiana was transformative. I walked in slow motion through films and sculptures, inspirational material, documented conversations, and interviews. It was a well-directed presentation of Jafa’s journey, story, and work. We took part in turning points in his life, which also became ours.

– Miriam Bäckström is a Stockholm-based artist who works in the intersection between photography, film, performance and sculpture. In recent years, she has focused on large-scale, textile-based installations.

For this year’s contributions to the Advent Calendar, see here.