Saturday 10 February saw the opening of Between the Lines at the Oslo Academy of Fine Art, an exhibition featuring 118 artists who use poster art to fight discrimination and the abuse of power on the art scene. At the same time a group of artists go on Facebook to urge art students, artists and people working within the field of art to share their #metoo stories.
Kunstkritikk met the working group behind Between the Lines – the artists Hanan Benammar, Liv Bugge and Marianne Heier, and dean at the Academy Stine Hebert – a few days prior to the opening. The production of posters was clearly nearing its completion: heaps of printed posters covered every surface at the Academy’s graphic arts workshop. Together with the workshop managers Gabrielle Paré and Vibeke O’Rourke, the members of the working group inspected the results created by the Risograph, a digital duplicator that may be described as a cross between offset printing, silk-screen printing and laser copying.
– I think I like the first version we tried better than this, says Liv Bugge, comparing two versions of her own contribution. O’Rourke and Stine Hebert agree. The motif on the poster is printed in blue with the finely grained raster clearly visible, a trait typical of Risograph prints. The poster shows an arm forcefully raising an orb-shaped object aloft. Stylised rays make the orb shine.
All the posters were submitted in response to an open call, and all are produced in the same way in either blue, red, yellow or black. The results were presented on Saturday 10 February in a salon-style hang in the National Academy’s reception gallery.
– We wanted to call for action, but in a way that is positive and humorous. The exhibition should have something of a punk vibe: rapidly produced, with a clear message, a format that is easy to disseminate and distribute. What is important is to create a material manifestation of a particular time and movement. And to raise awareness, says Hanan Benammar to Kunstkritikk.
An important conversation
Between the Lines comes in the wake of the global #metoo movement, the international art scene’s #notsurprised and similar actions within the Nordic culture field, such as the #stilleføropptak campaign of the Norwegian film, TV and theatre scenes and #konstnärligfrihet on the Swedish art scene. All of these initiatives document harassment and abuse of power.
No similar initiative has yet arisen within the field of Norwegian visual arts, but it may be on its way with the Facebook group Fugletitting (Birdwatching), which shares anonymous stories of a #metoo nature from the Norwegian art scene. The circle behind the new group, which includes Hanan Benammar, Anna Ihle, Sara Rönnbäck, Idun Baltzersen and Amber Ablett, has also urged people on the art scene to share their stories via email. The working group behind the exhibition emphasise that Between the Lines is something else:
– #metoo has made the subject of harassment and misuse of power a natural topic of conversation at the dinner table. This important conversation is no longer taboo. Artists belong to a profession where we come into contact with many different institutions, usually alone and without a good network of support. That is why it is important for us to pull this conversation into the public debate and connect it to an institutional setting in order to highlight those mechanisms that reproduce and enable the misuse of power, says Marianne Heier to Kunstkritikk.
The working group have chosen to connect Between the Lines to a more wide-ranging, inter-historical, feminist struggle for rights.
– The rhetoric we have seen in the discussion of #metoo is extremely heteronormative. But harassment takes place across genders, sexual orientations, gender expressions and national affiliations even if it takes on different forms. We are interested in adding an intersectional dimension to the conversation. Everyone benefits when the misuse of power is challenged, says Hanan Benammar.
An including line
The working group drew inspiration from See Red Women’s Workshop, a British silk-screen poster collective that was active from 1974 to 1990. The collective was known for printing posters with clear, often humorous political messages on themes such as gender equality, racism and sexual liberation among women. This reference is part of the working group’s efforts to outline the history behind the current situation and demand structural solutions to an old problem.
Contributions to Between the Lines have flooded in, from well-established as well as young, upcoming artists.
– We’ve only just accepted a final contribution that arrived today! But now the submission is closed; it’s simply not practically feasible to accept any more. We are extremely pleased to have received so many excellent contributions – even well after the deadline, says an excited Marianne Heier.
– However, it is striking to note that our working group consists only of women and that the volunteers who help out on the exhibition have also all been women, right up until today. And among the contributing artists we also see that men are certainly a minority, she says.
The working group has adopted an all-including line, which means that every contribution submitted will be on display in the exhibition. Artists who feel an affiliation and sympathy for the cause were encouraged to take part, including those who have no direct links to the Academy.
From conversation to action
What can Between the Lines contribute to the ongoing struggle against discrimination and the abuse of power?
– #metoo was the catalyst that enabled the conservation to take the form it has today; in that sense it has had an educational effect. But there’s still a long way to go from that kind of private conversation to seeing actual structural changes, maintains Marianne Heier. Stine Hebert elaborates:
– We locate the exhibition in this gap between conversation and action. Our hope is it will contribute to making action easier. To take a pragmatic example: what kind of measures are in place to protect students against being exploited by authority figures within their institution? Where should you report this, what procedures are in place and so on. We must talk about these things and make sure that everyone knows. This exhibition is a good start to that kind of aware-raising.
The Oslo National Academy of the Arts, of which the Academy of Fine Art is part, is currently addressing several harassment cases concurrently with Between the Lines. The working group emphasises that the long-term work supported by the exhibition is not directly connected to these ongoing cases. Nevertheless, it is part of the efforts to raise awareness within institutions.
– Institutions have a responsibility for learning from the times they live in, always striving to improve. Accountability is not about individual people, but about the necessity of having the institutions reflect on their own practices. We must ensure that we have procedures and routines in place that counteract discrimination and harassment of various kinds. As part of this effort, the posters of Between the Lines will stay on display at the National Academy once the exhibition period is over. They will be hung in the canteen and above the photocopier, in hallways and in offices. That way we will help keep the discussion going. The exhibition is a first step, says Stine Hebert.
– Essentially, it is about being there for one another, sums up Benammar.
– The official opening on Saturday is a social and political event more than it is a celebration of the art exhibition in itself. One of the things we have learned from #metoo is that we must join ranks and recognise and support our colleagues. So attend the opening! she urges all readers of Kunstkritikk.