Crystal Gazing

The Norwegian art autumn will offer plenty of laughs; just don’t forget to worry about the future and the impact of new technology.

Eirik Sæther and Kristine Kujath Thorp play the main protagonists in Kristoffer Borgli’s film Sick of Myself, Oslo Pictures, 2022. Photo: Ymer Media.

The character Thomas Meinich in Kristoffer Borgli’s premiere-ready comedy Sick of Myself – played by real-life artist Eirik Sæther – makes art from stolen furniture, coquettishly advertises his thievery in interviews, and fantasises about being “international.” We laugh. But is presenting oneself as a career-conscious, charismatic charlatan actually a path to status and recognition for Norwegian artists in in 2022?

Borgli’s film is not really about art per se, but a more general human need for attention, so the sociological imprecision of his artist portrayal is forgiven. Yet if you hypothetically were to make a credible fiction based on what is brewing on the Norwegian art scene this autumn, you would have to adjust the character schema somewhat: dial down the sociopathy and give the character more virtuous motivations. On the agenda are planting new forests, issuing warnings about technology’s growing influence over man, imagining non-binary futures, and engaging in collective creation.

The 30th instalment of the Lofoten International Art Festival opened last weekend in Svolvær and Kabelvåg. The festival’s title, Fantasmagoriana, refers to a collection of ghost stories which provided the impetus for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1819) and John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1818) – two works that contributed to shaping Gothic literature at the beginning of the 19th century. The Italian curatorial duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi claims that we currently find ourselves in a neo-Gothic era infused by uncertainty and confusion, and in response wishes to highlight the importance of community as well as art’s ability to adapt and transform.

Professor, 2021. Illustration from the first issue of Bergen Assembly’s Side Magazine.

The autumn’s second major art event will launch this weekend. Bergen Assembly, this time curated (or convened, to use the triennial’s preferred terminology) by French artist Saâdane Afif, also has a literary, collectivist, and esoteric touch. To help with the curation, Afif has brought on board the mysterious Yasmine d’O, and the triennial is divided into seven exhibitions in Bergen, each named after characters to which the public has already been introduced through Side Magazine, published in the run-up to the opening. Besides contributions from Norwegian and visiting artists, the triennial includes “coal sculptures made by coal miners.”

Prior to this, the Bergen gallery Entrée has turned itself into a library for Andrea Spreafico’s exhibition. Called Poor Dictionary (From Distance to Rage), his show facilitates a conversation about writing, and visitors are invited to hang out, read, write, order books, and listen to records. This autumn also marks the launch of a multi-year collaborative project between Bergen-based curator Marie Nerland (Volt) and artist Randi Nygård with the title Skog vil seie samfunn (Forest means society). Inspired by the Japanese ecologist and biologist Akira Miyawaki, Nygård will plant so-called pocket forests in urban settings and create sculptures “associated with the forest and in interaction with life there.” Various biologists, philosophers, cultural scholars, and others will reflect on the project’s theme in a parallel public programme.

Whereas the first instalment of The Queer Gaze at Kode, presented before the summer, offered a queer look at the museum’s collection, its sequel, opening in mid-September, showcases contemporary artists who “apply their own queer gaze.” Curated by Mathias Skaset and Bjørn Hatterud, the exhibition’s featured artists include Fin Serck-Hanssen, Hamid Waheed, and Synnøve Sizou G. Wetten. Later this autumn, Bergen Kunsthall will host a large exhibition with existing and new work by the Brisbane-based artist D Harding. Revolving around the themes of trade and exchange, it will among other things feature a wallpainting made from pigments, a material that has special significance in indigenous Australian culture as it relates to the earth.

Synnøve Sizou G. Wetten, Transition III, 2021. Video still. Photo: Ingrid Styrkestad.

The National Museum’s opening exhibition I Call It Art is due to be taken down this September after a run of only three months. I am hardly the only one who has failed to make much of a dent in the outpouring of videos and releases which followed in the wake of the already crammed exhibition. Over the summer I did, however, read Morten Langeland’s novel Fifty/fifty (2022), which accompanied the exhibition. Hilarity ensues when the main character – an alcoholic associate professor named Alex – is granted the honour of test-driving the beta version of the museum’s new AI audio guide, Elise By Hologram.

Langeland’s satirical app anticipates the many attempts to gauge the future and the impact of emerging technologies at Norwegian institutions this autumn. However, the National Museum itself is not among these. Coinciding with the end of its opening exhibition, the museum will inaugurate one of autumn’s highlights for those who like old pictures: an exhibition featuring Giovanni Battista Piranesi, best known for imaginative representations of architecture – especially prisons. The exhibition explores the eighteenth-century Italian printmaker’s influence on modernist culture as represented by artists, filmmakers, and architects such as Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Ragnhild Keyser, Alvin Coburn, Sergei Eisenstein, Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas, and Julie Mehretu.

First up in the Munch Museum’s programme is French artist Camille Henrot, who will show paintings, drawings, and bronze sculptures depicting intimate relationships between people, animals, and living and dead matter. Intimacy is also explored in Piya Wanthiang’s exhibition Some Body Else, which opens in October and is part of the museum’s series highlighting young Norwegian contemporary art. The artist’s work is based on her research into trauma and takes the form of an environment consisting of coloured sheets made from the seaweed-based substance agar, often used as a plant-based alternative to gelatine, and a programmed light show intended to alternately trigger sensations of stress and serenity in the audience.

Jacolby Satterwhite, We Are In Hell When We Hurt Each Other, 2020. Still from video. Courtesy of the artist and Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York.

The first instalment of the Munch Triennial takes place this autumn and is devoted to speculation about the digital future and how we are affected by new technologies. The Astrup Fearnley Museum delves into similar territories in collaboration with artist Ignas Krunglevicius, who will transform the museum into a single, vast loudspeaker this September. The title, Possessor, evokes a rather more dystopian foreboding than the twerking androids on the Munch Museum’s website. Maia Urstad’s exhibition at Atelier Nord later this month is also poised to say something about technological developments. Ferd  (Journey) joins a series of projects by the artist that deal with tools for communication over great distances; having previously worked with radio and telegraphy, this time she turns to trains.

At Oslo Kunstforening, the autumn season is already underway with Michael O’Donnell’s exhibition Look Who’s Talking. True to his general approach of historically informed criticism of authority, O’Donnell delves into aesthetic and social configurations of the language of power, with a ventriloquist’s dummy in the lead role. Presumably lighter in tone, a broad presentation of the French genre-defying artist Niki de Saint Phalle inaugurates the autumn at Henie Onstad Art Centre. The exhibition addresses the most important periods in her oeuvre, right from the first oil paintings via the late-1950s assemblages to her so-called “shooting paintings,” flowing abstractions produced by the artist shooting at bags of paint hanging in front of the canvas. And, of course, sculptures of women “in all colours and shapes.”

Eirik Senje, currently presenting his third exhibition at Galleri K, works in a more somber palette. The many ambiguous figures that melt into the tactile substrate indicate that we are (still) dealing with an artist who believes that an image is something you should “move through step by step,” as Senje aptly put it in another context. I am also looking forward to the sporadically visible Alex Bunns’s exhibition at K4 in October. The elaborate and bizarre composite photographs he showed at Noplace in 2018 still linger on my retina. Commencing in mid-September, American artist Brittany Nelson will push and prod the medium of photography in an exhibition at Fotogalleriet. Using photographic techniques from the 19th and 20th centuries, Nelson – to put it in the contemporary jargon of the press release – “unveils technology’s queer unconscious.”

Michael O’Donnell, Right to Remain Silent, 2022. Video still. 

Ever-adaptable VI, VII must be the Oslo-gallery that has had the largest number of different addresses. Its journey from a basement room in Grønland to its current domicile in a new building in Bjørvika, just a stone’s throw from the new Munch Museum, reflects the capital’s general drift towards the waterfront carried forward on a wave of gentrification spearheaded by the opera and the new buildings created for the Munch Museum and the National Museum. On 30 September, VI, VII will celebrate its deserved 10th anniversary with an exhibition of new works by the gallery’s artists.

Another group exhibition in Bjørvika is Alle tiders mirakel (The Miracle of All Time) at Kunsthall Oslo, opening in mid-September and featuring artists such as Inger Sitter, Isa Genzken, and Agnes Varda. The opening coincides with Oslo Art Weekend, prompting countless art events all around the city. Such event clusters are concentrated discharges of energy that attract attention like a sinkhole in the calendar. However, the heightened attraction means that the attention generated is formatted by the social logic of the event, diminishing its quality.

At the end of November, the international group exhibition Holding Pattern opens at Kunstnernes Hus. Curated by author Tom McCarthy and Anne Hilde Neset, it inquires into the patterns that “govern our lives,” specifically the influence of the technologies we interact with in everyday life. In this respect, it has something in common with Susanne Winterling’s exhibition at Kunsthall Trondheim – which is, incidentally, looking for a new director after Stefanie Hessler resigned before the summer. Winterling focuses on the impact made on our bodies by the systems that surround them, through a more specifically biotechnological lens.

Victor Lind, Monument – The Perpetrator, 2005. 

Less obviously concerned with the future, Haugar Kunstmuseum has dedicated its autumn programme to two heavies of Norwegian art. First up is Victor Lind with Friheten må gjestfri være (Freedom must be hospitable), a retrospective that spans six decades and wishes to adjust the general impression of Lind as a programmatic political artist by bringing out an “often poetic undertone that is first and foremost preoccupied with the individual’s human dignity.” Lind is followed by Bjarne Melgaard, who is known for a more misanthropic timbre. In Fuck Me Safer, Melgaard’s installation Baton Sinister, made for the Venice Biennale in 2011, will be accompanied by a selection of paintings from the last thirty years. The opening coincides with the release of curator (and former Kunstkritikk writer and editor) Erlend Hammer’s book about the artist.

Speaking of books: the first publication in the series Verdenskunst – hverdagskunst (World Art – Everyday Art), initiated and edited by Ellef Prestsæter and published by Torpedo Press, launched last weekend at the Guttormsgaard archive at Blaker. Elva er et annet sted – bilder fra tømmerfløting på Glomma (The river is a different place – photos from timber floating on the Glomma) documents the last year of timber floating,1985, as seen through the camera of Hans Hamid Rasmussen; according to the review (forthcoming on Kunstkritikk), the book reads as an elegy “for the loss of values ​​that cannot be measured by production efficiency.” The archive is also launching two new formats this fall. In response to the ongoing drive to digitise collections, the entire archive will be physically accessible to the public beginning this October. This will be followed by a “handling session,” an exhibition centred exclusively on the book Og så kom befrierne (And then the Liberators Came, 1945) by Albert Jærn, with woodcuts documenting life during the German occupation of Norway; a re-issue is in the works.

At Stavanger Kunstmuseum, history will be revisited and revised when an exhibition featuring the underrated American modernist sculptor Ruth Asawa (1926–2013) opens in early October. Alongside a selection of the distinctive ceiling-hung metal wire sculptures for which Asawa is best known, the exhibition emphasises the artist’s Black Mountain College-inspired holistic approach to artistic practice and the importance she attributed to art as part of general education. Shortly afterwards, Stavanger Kunsthall will present an exhibition featuring New York-based Cindy Ji Hye Kim, showing paintings, works on paper, and sculptures that “explore [we need a new verb to describe what artists do!] memory and the representation of personal stories.”

Cindy Ji Hye Kim, Factory of Plots (detail), 2022. Graphite on silk, beech stretcher, 172.7 x 132.08 x 3.18 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York. Photo: Kyle Knodell.

Sørlandets Kunstmuseum is busy moving into its newly built Kunstsilo venue. In the meantime, the museum will offer an interlude in the form of a travelling exhibition of political prints from the 1960s and 70s. Hailing from the Tangen collection, the prints have been curated under the title Hvem eier morgendagen? (Who owns tomorrow?), fitting it to the autumn’s overarching futuristic theme. A retrospective featuring Søssa Jørgensen and Geir Tore Holm at Kristiansand Kunsthall delves into a collaboration that goes all the way back to the early 1990s, testifying to a social and processual vein of art that constitutes a clear precursor to the neo-relational – albeit generally more therapeutically motivated – eco-art that has sprung up in recent years. 

Of course, Trondheim Kunstmuseum also offers its take on future. The Future is _____ constitutes the museum’s contribution to the overall Queer Cultural Year celebrations in Norway. Through play and sensory experiences, the exhibition invites the public to envision what the next fifty years will be like (hint: non-binary). In mid-September, the museum’s department at Gråmølna will be taken over by Marte Elise Stramrud who will show a new series of ceramic sculptures where, as before, she combines references to Pop and applied art, but this time on an “almost impossible scale.”

At the end of September, the platform ‘Coast Contemporary’ arranges a three-day event about modern witch hunts in Tromsø. Organiser Tanja Sæter explains that witch hunts are still a big problem globally, and she will be helped in her efforts to open the eyes of the world by Italian-American philosopher Silvia Federici and a group of artists including Synnøve Persen, Ànde Somby, and Bendik Giske. On the programme is also a trip to the Ethiopian artist Romel Themsgen’s exhibition at Tromsø Kunstforening, which opened last week. Something must be done to stop this! (The witch hunts, that is, not Themsgen’s exhibition.)

Marte Elise Stramrud, 1485/767, 2022. Ceramics, 18 x 32 x 14.5 cm.

The article is translated from Norwegian.