Breaking the Fast

Itinerant exhibitions and foraging artists: autumn on the Norwegian art scene suggests that art has discovered its potential as a parallel society.

Calle Segelberg, Urna vid urna, 2021. Installation view, Van Etten. Photo: Kunstdok / Tor Simen Ulstein.

I wanted to get the autumn off to a fresh start by attending an opening at one of Oslo’s (relatively) recently opened smaller galleries. But I couldn’t find it. Instead, I spent what must have been half an hour walking up and down the same street, like a non-player character who had suddenly, meaninglessly, been endowed with consciousness. When I finally located Calle Segelberg’s exhibition at Van Etten, it was closed. An hour later it had, inexplicably, reopened.

Given the shutdown – not of Segelberg’s exhibition, but of society as such – there has, counter-intuitively, been a strong influx of new semi-/commercial and artist-run galleries in Oslo during the last couple of years: Femtensesse, Hulias, Santolarosa, Caravan, Hermetiske skygger, Van Etten, Kosa, 222T, Vasli Souza, K4, Isca, Kösk – have I forgotten any? The pace of their programmes has also changed. Rather than switching on and off with any real ontological consequence, like they used to, many of these art spaces now appear to alternate between a (more or less) active mode and a suspended state (not due to the pandemic).

It also seems that the ‘platform’ now has replaced the exhibition as art’s primary medium. Every artist in Oslo now runs their own gallery/publishing house/production company. With status as a primary medium comes the incentive to innovate; artistic intention has moved up the ladder of abstraction, one might say, from work to exhibition to platform – or from object to space to distribution. As if to illustrate this point, in mid-September Femtensesse will open a solo show featuring Swiss artist Manuel Schneider in collaboration with Faltpavillon, an itinerant “exhibition vessel” run by artists Michael Ray-Von and Finn Curry. Schneider’s work can be found in their pop-up tent in the backyard at Ila Pensjonat.

Art’s transition into more precarious distribution structures challenges the notion that ensuring public access is a main concern. The COVID-19 shutdown seems to have opened art’s eyes to the fact that, strictly speaking, it does not need the attention of an (external) audience or the media to the extent it had previously imagined. Some alliance with the outside is likely financially inescapable, but art lives moderately well – at least for a while – without being seen, as though burning its fat deposits during a periodic fast.

Another indication that a parallel society of art is emerging can be found in the sheltering strategies discernible in some younger artists who withdraw into a world of delicate craftsmanship and ecological conscientiousness. In the dark corners of the group exhibition Ormer tære all min saft (Snakes take all my juice) that launched the autumn season at artist-run Destiny’s in Oslo – illuminated only by some bizarre ufo-like lamps courtesy of Louis Scherfig – visitors find artist duo Kvae & Bark’s makeshift gatherer-assemblages consisting of various natural materials, some of which are edible and fermenting in small jam jars. In September, Rickhard Aall will appear at the same venue. No information is available on this as yet, but his previous show at Destiny’s, Perlende (Hørespill på engelsk) ( Sparkling [Radio Play in English]), is described on the gallery’s website as having sprung “from an attempt to make a film without images, from the artist’s living room, while the world is on fire.”

An appealing branch of this trend is the “mumblecore painting” of which Segelberg is an exponent. His tall mixed media portraits of human bodies in uncertain poses on paper tremble on thin strings attached to Van Etten’s ceiling. On the backs of the works, you see tears in the paper mended with tape. The figures resemble anonymous party guests who had stepped out of the background for a moment and now long to return. This identification with the ordinary found an immediate counterpoint in the street just outside, where Agatha Wara, in a comradely provocation, had set up shop with a pile of glossy posters featuring a picture of herself as a white-clad fairy-tale princess on horseback, which she asked everyone to sign. It was for an upcoming exhibition at Studio 17 in Stavanger, she explained. During the time it has taken me to write this article, that show has managed to open and close. Later this autumn, Wara will be exhibiting at Santolarosa, a venue run by artist Arild Tveito. He is currently showing an exhibition featuring Italian artist Andrea Romano, to be followed by Urd J. Pedersen, one of Segelberg’s fellow mumblers.

Hege Nyborg, The pictures will disappear – fireflies, insomnia and forgetting, 2021. Installation view, Kunstnerforbundet.

At Kunstnerforbundet, Hege Nyborg’s exhibition The pictures will disappear – fireflies, insomnia and forgetting enters into a conversation with four works from the 1930s. All four have previously been shown at Kunstnerforbundet, making them part of what Nyborg terms “the institution’s subconscious collection.” The archival melancholy is less palpable in Brit Fuglevaag’s show at the same venue, named after the materials – wool, linen, sisal, plastic, and paper – that serve as the basis for her energetic textile work. “Energetic” is usually also a fitting adjective for Ida Følling’s work, which will be on display at Kunstnerforbundet towards the end of October alongside, among others, photographer Dag Nordbrenden.

A song by Mexican singer and trans woman La Bruja de Texcoco forms the soundtrack to a new film by Dora Garcia about the feminist protests seen in Mexico during recent years. It will be screened in the exhibition If I Could Wish for Something, opening at Fotogalleriet next week. Here it will be shown alongside the film Love with Obstacles (2020), which explores the legacy of the activist and author Alexandra Kollontai, Russia’s ambassador to Mexico from 1926 to 1927. The juxtaposition emphasises parallels between the Mexican and Russian revolutions, especially with regard to the disappointments of the women’s struggle.

Issues surrounding public space are high on the agenda for the tenth instalment of the Sculpture Triennial. Arranged by the Norwegian Sculptors’ Society, the triennial has previously taken place at the Vigelandmuseet, but this year it will be held at the society’s own premises to coincide with its 75th anniversary. Many of the works will be presented outdoors in the green areas between the society’s home in Hekkveien and Tøyen. The list of featured artists includes names such as Andrea Bakketun, Ayatgali Tuleubek, Gisle Harr, and Louise Jacobs.

Seven exhibitions will be launched concurrently when the new Munch Museum in Bjørvika opens in late October. Presumably the main attraction is the one featuring British artist Tracey Emin, who will also bestow a new permanent, nine meter tall bronze sculpture, Mother (2021), on the Oslo waterfront. With a reception history marked by controversy and explicit references to Munch in her own work, Emin is a conversation partner who seems to have been waiting in the wings for a while. The quality Emin’s work aside, I feel a sudden urge for a dialogue at Munch Museum that takes us past predictable choices where the sovereign criterion is not a striking similarity to Munch’s persona: self-mythologising, social transgression, a focus on decay, etc. What about Munch and – I’m picking a name straight out of thin air, here – Kurt Johannessen, seemingly reconciled with the torrents of existence and on show this autumn with his musing therapeutic absurdism at Tag Team Studio in Bergen? Oh, well. Maybe next time.

Tracey Emin, The Mother, 2021. Bronze. illustration: J & L Gibbons.

At the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, no new exhibitions will open this autumn. Instead, exhibitions that opened before the summer are being reactivated with new works. Last week, Anna Daniell, Germain Ngoma, and Pedro Goméz-Egaña intervened in the ongoing The Hour of Reckoning, which shows a selection from Sonja Henie and Niels Onstad’s original, male-dominated collection offset by new works by contemporary artists. Daniell’s five-metre tall sculpture, En gave fra en kvinne (A gift from a woman), rubs against dignitaries like Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Fernand Leger, Jean Dubuffet, and Joan Miró. Later this week, the centre will inaugurate its new wing, Sal Merz, named after Kurt Schwitters’s expansive collage technique. The event includes performances by Marthe Ramm Fortun and Florian Kaplick. The exhibition Merz! Flux! Pop! devoted to Schwitters and his colleagues and descendants, opened before the summer.

The Nitja Centre for Contemporary Art, which moved into a new building in the centre of Lillestrøm, a town roughly 30 minutes east of Oslo, this winter, will present an exhibition featuring Børre Sæthre later this autumn. In The Sound of the Atom Splitting, opening in early October, we will presumably see popular culture’s spectacular scenographies tweaked and transposed to immersive installations with dystopian-surreal-erotic overtones (and undertones).

The autumn season also boasts two major group shows dealing with heavy ecopolitical themes. The Ocean, which opened at Bergen Kunsthall last week, takes its starting point in the coastal city’s relationship with the sea and attendant issues like climate change, international trade, and colonial history. Contributors include Sol Calero, Nina Canell, Ina Hagen, Willem de Rooij, Tabita Rezaire, Susan Schuppli, Allan Sekula, and Wolfgang Tillmans. At Stavanger Art Museum, the exhibition Opplevelser av olje (Experiences of Oil), curated by Anne Szefer Karlsen and Helga Nyman, will take on “the possible trauma caused by the extraction of fossil fuels for society and for individuals.” The artist names are to be announced during August.

Earlier this month, Hordaland Kunstsenter in Bergen opened an exhibition featuring Stein Rønning, who continues to twist and turn sculptures and photographs and the relationship between these media in a manner poised between post-minimalist sombreness and understated comedy. The primal scene of the artist’s oeuvre is invoked this time, too: Rønning is said to have produced a clay sculpture while blindfolded. The press release states that this was 25 years ago, but I have previously heard it dated to 1989, making it 32 years ago. Perhaps the event is as unstable in temporal terms as Rønning’s sculpture has proved to be in material terms, given its innumerable incarnations and transformations over the years. By contrast, a dislike of repetition is said to infuse the art of Arvid Pettersen. His paintings spanning five decades are on view in a retrospective at Kode, with main emphasis on works from the 1980s.

Lisa Seebach, The End [One Two One Two This Is Just a Test], 2021. Reflective textile, printed textile, steel, chain, paint. Photo: Bent René Synnevåg.

Entrée in Bergen is currently showing Lisa Seebach’s I’d Rather Be Rehearsing the Future. With lyrical pathos, her work in ceramics and metal is proclaimed to take us to a world beyond the breaking point, into a confusing and frightening future, yet with glimpses of utopia “like a glimmer of silver from the abyss.” More rooted in the here and now in terms of method and theme, is deep listener Elin Már Øyen Vister. Beginning next week, Lydgalleriet in Bergen will present a selection of works from their project Soundscape Røst 2010–2020. Taking the island community of Røst as their starting point, they have used field recordings, interviews, music, and sound collages to examine the impact of industrial fishing, pollution, and social policies on cultural and natural landscapes.

In Frida Orupabo’s exhibition at Kunsthall Trondheim, opening in late September, the artist will continue her interweaving of old archives with social media to explore questions concerning Black identity. In her review of Orupabo’s exhibition at Galleri Nordenhake in Stockholm in 2018, Kunstkritikk’s Frida Sandström aptly describes Orupabo’s project as “a decolonial reading of the collage.” Another artist concerned with identity is Steinar Haga Kristensen, recently announced winner of the Lorck Schive’s Art Prize for Ultraidentifikasjonspaviljong (Ultra identification pavilion) – a work that, according to the jury, comprises an uncompromisingly fascinating kaleidoscopic collection of styles and media. The exhibition is currently on at Trondheim Kunstmuseum and also features contributions from Matias Faldbakken, Kira Wager, and Tori Wrånes.

Later this autumn, Danish painter Georg Jacobsen (1887–1976) will take over the Trondheim Kunstmuseum’s TKM Gråmølna venue with his meticulously constructed still lifes. Another painting Dane appears at Kristiansand Kunsthall, which will present a retrospective featuring German-born Ursula Reuter Christiansen towards the end of October. Apart from a connection to Denmark, Reuter Christiansen seems to have little in common with Jacobsen. Rather than searching for principles with which to bring order to the image, Reuter Christiansen, whose background is in the 1970s feminist movement, sees painting as a wellspring for physical, bodily expression and identification: “I am my pictures, my pictures are me.” End quote.

Ursula Reuter Christiansen, Poppies Mutate into Bats, 2021. Installation view, Faurschou Foundation. Photo: Anders Sune Berg.