Life-fun Versus Art-fun

With the show Hummings, KØS Museum shows its ambitions to move its programme towards public space, but delivers unconvincing results.

Christoph Schäfer, The Køge Water Garden, 2021. Hummings, KØS Museum of Art in Public Spaces, 2021 © Christoph Schäfer. Photo: Torben Eskerod.

Finding your way around an unknown territory is part of the fun in projects like Hummings: An Exhibition of Art in Public Domain in Køge, where artworks are disseminated over ten kilometres across three areas of the city in a variety of non-art spaces. It turns a visit to an art exhibition into a treasure-hunt of sorts where art mingles with serendipitous encounters, unexpected discoveries, and, of course, the weather.

Pleasant moments of this kind also marked my visit to Hummings. As I cycled around with a dear friend, the late-summer sun shined in our faces, and I admit to using the show’s canvas tote to dry off after an impromptu skinny-dip in the sea by Køge Marina. All nice and fun, but it but it would be a stretch to say that I found the same pleasure in the art experience.

The show is co-curated by Køs Director Ulrikke Neergaard and Fulya Erdemci, who joined the museum as curator in September 2020. Erdemci has dedicated her career to working with art in the public domain, and her professional history is marked by prestigious roles and projects with a focus on public art. Presumably, this is a great addition for Køs, a museum dedicated to “art in public spaces” whose new strategy is pushing the programme beyond the institution’s walls to chew into the reality of its urban and social surroundings. An intention to be praised, surely, but given Erdemci’s experience, one wonders what might have gone wrong here.

When it comes to art in public space, it feels like there are a number of difficult issues that the show fails to even start to address. Above all, how does ‘the public’ as both audience and shared space connect in and through art? Surely, the mere act of putting art outdoors and the museum’s intention of “reaching out to new and diverse publics” do not make a square equation! Despite the complexity of these questions, I suspect that starting from a more precise communication of the project’s pragmatic sides, including a clear schedule of live events and performative pieces, would have laid the ground for the challenging task of reaching out to a public that has not chosen to walk into a museum. Particularly given that Hummings is a more demanding experience in terms of time and dedication, to say nothing of the show’s overly complex theoretical outline.

Ayşe Erkmen, Kōkako 2020. Hummings – An Exhibition of Art in Public Domain in Køge, KØS Museum of Art in Public Spaces, 2021 © Ayşe Erkmen. Photo: Torben Eskerod.

The exhibition centres around the poetic idea that humming can be imagined as a pre-linguistic mode of expression, a language that connects us to all the “other-than-human-persons.” This framing shoots off in multiple directions: concepts associated with sound and rhythm merge with a diversity of issues related to “interspecies communication” from ecological concerns and climate change to the collapsing of binary categories (and of human-centred thinking with it). Even though the notion of “interspecies” has been hyped in the contemporary art context for quite some years, I recognise that there is meaning in bringing it to a wider public. However, I doubt that this collection of works makes intelligible to a crowd of unconverted the complexity of the subject and its offshoots; the gap between the show’s intentions and the mediation of its physical manifestation is just too wide.

Nevertheless, the tour’s life-fun experience was pierced by some good art moments. On the subject of “interspecies,” my highlights are Jonathas de Andrade’s film O’ Peixe (The Fish) (2016) and Superflex’s sculptural installation Dive-In (2019). Tapping into other layers of the show’s theme, namely sound’s potential to open up a more diffuse interpretation of the categories that form our understanding of reality, the most substantial work is, without doubt, Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s After SFX (2018). Beyond these, the exhibition also glances sideways at issues concerning public art and the meaning of monuments, for example, in Ayse Erkmen’s work Lonesome George (2020) and Olga Ravn’s literary work dedicated to women accused of witchcraft in the area of Køge in the 17th century.

All in all, Hummings feels like a show that wants too much and gets out of breath running after itself – a project with high aspirations, but whose formal manifestation falls sadly short.

SUPERFLEX, Dive-In, 2019/2021. Hummings – An Exhibition of Art in Public Domain in Køge, KØS Museum of Art in Public Spaces, 2021 ©SUPERFLEX. Photo: Torben Eskerod