An urban and technological vision

– I hope that the exhibition can signal an uncertainty about one’s own existence or the present political situation, says curator Mats Stjernstedt about the 2017 Nordic Pavilion.

Charlotte Johanesson, Magritte Apple (from the Digital Theatre series), 1981-1985.
Charlotte Johanesson, Magritte Apple (from the Digital Theatre series, with Sture Johannesson), 1981–1985.

The exhibition in the Nordic Pavilion in Venice 2017 is titled Mirrored and will include six artists of different generations. According to curator Mats Stjernstedt, the exhibition will demonstrate connections that traverse national and regional borders, taking American art and architecture theorist Guiliana Bruno’s concept of a “placeless place” as its starting point.

The exhibition’s oldest artist is Norwegian Siri Aurdal (b.1937) and the youngest is Israeli Jumana Manna (b.1987). Two artists from Sweden, Nina Canell (b. 1979) and Charlotte Johannesson (b. 1943), and two from Finland, Pasi «Sleeping» Myllymäki (b. 1950) and Mika Taanila (b. 1965), will also participate. Aurdal, Johannesson and Myllymäki are all associated with “urban art” and were pioneers in including industrial material, digital technology and moving image in their works. The political undertone of the exhibition is perhaps most clearly seen in the selection of Jumana Manna, who has often worked with the notion of place in relation to national identity and narratives.

Porträtt av Siri Aurdal Photo: © Eline Mugaas Courtesy Galleri Riis Oslo / Stockholm.
Siri Aurdal. Photo: Eline Mugaas. Courtesy Galleri Riis Oslo / Stockholm.

Over the last three biennials in Venice, Norway, Sweden and Finland have taken turns to organize an exhibition each in the Nordic Pavilion, but during 2017–20121 they have agreed to present common projects. This year it is Sweden, through Moderna Museet, who is responsible for the Nordic pavilion, followed by Finland in 2019 and Norway in 2021. 

Yet Mirrored, according to Mats Stjernstedt, seeks to remove itself from the notion of a group exhibition, and should in part be seen as a reaction to the biennial format.

– The theme and selection has developed gradually over a period of research in 2016 and in many ways reflects my interests in art, Stjernstedt tells Kunstkritikk.

– My exhibition does neither seek to make a statement about a common Nordic identity, nor represent the state of the world. Rather, I hope that it can signal a kind of nervousness and uncertainty about one’s own existence or the present political situation.

Stjernstedt argues that the task of representing nations at national pavilions is inherently problematic in that it reflects the expectations, not just of the curator, but of the funding bodies as well.

Nina Canell, Brief Syllables (detalj), 2014.
Nina Canell, Brief Syllables (detail), 2014.

– The pavilions in Venice are often massive marketing projects, ambitious monographs over established artists. Beside those you find more experimental approaches. My feeling is that curating the Nordic Pavilion has involved a certain measure of freedom relative to basic conditions. For example the stipulation that at least one participating artist needs to have a connection to each of the Nordic countries, Stjernstedt says.

– I think I am struggling, as well, with the Nordic Pavilion’s tendency to present a stereotypical image of nature and landscape, which has to do with that the architecture itself constitutes a passage between the building and an outdoor experience.

To Stjernstedt, the variance of age and diverse interests and careers of the artists should be viewed as an invitation to seek possible connections, not differences, between them. The curatorial work has been marked by an interest in the individual artistic practices, rather than possible ways that the group of artists could represent the overall concept, Stjernstedt contends.

Jumana Manna. Foto: Viennale/Robert Newald.
Jumana Manna. Photo: Viennale/Robert Newald.

– People who have followed my work over the years know that I have spend a lot of time with a type of monographic practice, rather than arranging group exhibitions. It is a method of working that allows for a more profound interaction with an artist, which has also affected the selection for the pavilion. To my mind, the selection and exhibition represents several strong individual positions, as much as a thematic whole.

Asked whether the exhibition will feature historical works or only new commissions, Stjernstedt contends that the binary opposition between existing and new works, too, needs to be problematized.

– The presentation will consist of a mix of new and already existing works, but for some older works we are working with reconstruction, and some presentations might use new technology as well. For different reasons such as time, technology and politics, an emphasis on sculpture, object and process has developed, Stjernstedt says. 

The title of the Venice Biennial 2017 is “Viva arte viva”, and curator Christine Macel’s statement has certain similarities to the theme of the Nordic pavilion. Among other things, Marcel will establish “trans-pavilions” for artists of all ages and origin. Like Mats Stjernstedt, Macel has underlined in several statements the problem with the original purpose of the biennial, to expose artists to an international market. To what extent the exhibited works will reflect this curatorial position, will be evident when the Venice Biennale opens i May 2017.

Mika Taanila, The Most Electrified Town in Finland, 2012.
Mika Taanila, The Most Electrified Town in Finland, 2012.