The Jazz of Spring

Improvisation, underwater protests, transnational solidarity, and sumptuous painting rooted in history: the sap is rising on the Norwegian art scene.

Tabitha Nikolai, Ineffable Glossolalia, 2017, virtual landscape created using the Unity multi-platform game engine.

Two weeks ago, Fredrik Værslev and Lars Andreas Tovey Kristiansen announced that they will close the Landings exhibition venue at Vestfossen. Having entered its fourteenth year, Landings is among the more long-lived artist-run venues of its generation; it even beat Noplace in Oslo, which closed its doors last fall, although its program was more sporadic. In the Facebook post advertising the gallery’s final exhibition (Krummholz, featuring Andreas Amble & Gabriel Karlsson), Værslev and Tovey Kristiansen reposted Artnet’s interview with the New York gallery Metro Pictures, which closed last spring, replacing the names of the original interviewees with their own. LOL. And yet, revisiting the harsher realities that forced Metro Pictures to its knees is a timely reminder of how shielded we have actually been in Norway. To my knowledge, none of Norway’s leading commercial galleries have gone belly-up so far.

Looking at the programmes of galleries, museums, and other exhibition venues for the months ahead, it feels as if the Norwegian art scene has resumed normal service, as it were, even if art’s social dimension remains amputated, with restrictions on the number of visitors allowed and overall opportunities to celebrate openings. What visible traces have been left by the years of restrictions and closures? Where should we look to see this effect? Some saw the pandemic as an opportunity for creating structural changes, and it is not impossible that changes are slowly taking place below the surface. While we wait for them to emerge, normality feels not entirely unappealing.

Last week, the Munch Museum launched the first in a series of planned solo shows under the cute collective heading Solo Oslo. Sandra Mujinga has taken over a high-ceilinged room with a number of “monster-like sculptures” – not unlike the looming, textile-draped figures that have populated several of the artist’s recent exhibitions – in an environment of projections, glass walls, and green light. With this immersive and sensorially engaging situation, Mujinga invites us to ponder the politics of visibility and the transformative potentials of digital culture.

Information (Today), 2021. Installation view, Kunsthall Basel. In the foreground, Marguerite Humeau, Riddles (Jaws), 2017–2021, and behind, Laura Owens, Untitled [SMS +41 79 807 86 34], 2021. Photo: Philipp Hänger / Kunsthalle Basel.

More than a hint of the digital will also be evident in the group exhibition Information (Today), which opens on 4 February at the Astrup Fearnley Museum and addresses big data capitalism, a favourite topic of criticism for the last decade. It looks set to be exactly the kind of clever and timely presentation that was absent from the museum before Solveig Øvstebø took over. Shown at Kunsthall Basel last year, the exhibition is curated by Elena Filipovic, and among the artists who “respond to today’s streams of information” we find Sondra Perry, Simon Denny, and Nora Turato.

Less concerned with the cloud is Hanne Tyrmi, whose exhibition Horses Die Standing will be on view at Kunstnernes Hus from 28 January. Tyrmi has been given the rare honour of being allowed to take over all of the venue’s galleries, which she will – with “massive presence and weight” – fill with sculptures executed mainly in lead, including in the form of curtains, racks, and tree trunks, according to the press release.

2022 has been named Queer Culture Year in Norway to mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Norway. The anniversary celebrations, initiated by the National Museum, the National Library, and the National Norwegian Archive for Queer History, will involve several exhibitions throughout the year. Kunstkritikk has interviewed some of the organisers here (in Norwegian). Among them is the Henie Onstad Art Centre, which presents Every Moment Counts – AIDS and its Feelings, which also deftly celebrates the institutions’s own political awareness by pointing back to its 1993 exhibition Theme: AIDS, one of the first in Europe to address the topic. The curators informed Kunstkritikk that with this new international group exhibition – which includes a handful of familiar Nordic faces such as Bjarne Melgaard, Lars Laumann, Fin Serck-Hanssen, and Elmgreen & Dragset – they wish to move away from the American perspective that dominated the conversation on AIDS during the 1990s.

File Under Freedom, opening at Bergen Kunsthall on 5 February, will be the last exhibition by Steinar Sekkingstad, who has been curator there for many years. The presentation focuses on improvisation in visual art and music. “Improvised music is often seen as a utopian space, a democratic place for collaboration and human interaction,” states the online presentation of this historically themed exhibition, which also calls attention to the exchanges between African American jazz music and Nordic art in the 1960s and 70s. The list of featured artists includes Peter Brötzmann, Don Cherry, Moki Cherry, Sidsel Paaske, Matana Roberts, Emilija Škarnulytė, Cauleen Smith, Sun Ra, and more. Freedom as a principle of art making is a pertinent issue: Is the method still a political platform in this age of monitoring, tracking apps, and risk minimisation, or is it merely a rhetorical flourish? At the end of May, the stage is set for a festival exhibition featuring Lene Berg, who has made a film about her father. Kunstkritikk interviewed her about this project in the autumn of 2021

The Bergen-based gallery Entrée has been transformed by Magnhild Øen Nordahl from a white cube to a flexibly furnished room suitable for social and discursive activities. From February to March, the repurposed gallery will constitute the backdrop for a presentation of parts of Øen Nordahl’s doctoral work at the Faculty of Fine Art, Music, and Design at the University of Bergen (KMD). For the rest of the year, it will house other projects, such as Marco Bruzzone’s “underwater protest” in April. The gallery also has a film programme curated by Tatiana Lozano, which includes a screening of Mai Hofstad Gunne’s latest film at the Cinemateket in Bergen.

Teaser photo for Marco Bruzzone’s underwater protest, which will take place in Bergen as some point during spring under the auspices of Entrée.

Beginning in late March, the newly minted Hannah Ryggen Triennial – arranged by The National Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Trondheim Kunstmuseum, Kunsthall Trondheim, and Kjøpmannsgata Young Art (K.U.K) – will occupy much of the available venues in Trondheim and the surrounding area. The main exhibition curated by Solveig Lønmo, Anti-Monument, is divided across four locations: Gråmølna, The Hannah Ryggen Center, the Austrått Manor, and the unfinished submarine base Dora II. Bringing together artists such as Arthur Jafa, Frida Orupabo, Jennie Bringaker, and Per Kristian Nygård, the exhibition explores – referencing Ryggen’s tapestry We Live Upon a Star, which hung in the Norwegian government building that was bombed on 22 July 2011 – what it takes for us, as a global community, to facilitate a future of greater solidarity.

Kunsthall Trondheim’s contribution to the triennial is the group exhibition Unweaving the Binary Code, which presents Ryggen’s tapestries in dialogue with a computer programme (written by mathematician Ada Lovelace in the 1840s) that made it possible for weavers to programme patterns, as well as with contemporary artists such as Charlotte Johannesson, Ann Lislegaard, and Pearla Pigao. The exhibition contends that coding and weaving are feminist practices and sources of political action.

Athens-based artist Niilas Helander’s first solo show No Demands opens at Kunsthall Oslo on 18 February. Here, the struggle of Indigenous Peoples and transcultural solidarity take centre stage, and Helander draws in contributions from a range of artists, researchers, and authors. Coinciding with the exhibition is the publication of Nomad Text, featuring writing by the artist and other contributors such as American poet Essex Hemphill, Britt Kramvig, Audre Lorde, Diane di Prima, and Marry A. Somby.

Galleries and smaller venues also offer plenty of exhibitions to look forward to throughout the spring. The first of the year at Standard (Oslo) features the freshly graduated Tuda Muda – or Samrridhi Kukreja, to give her birth name. The exhibition processes the artist’s experiences of being a woman in her native India over twenty-three charcoal drawings from a series encompassing works also featured in the group exhibition Paper Planes at the gallery last summer, and a larger work that combines drawing and video. Muda’s drawings of deformed bodies could perhaps be described as meditations on a culturally damaged self-image.

Tuda Muda, I do. Do I ?, 2019. Charcoal on paper.

Maria Pasenau is no stranger to the self-portrait and willingly reports from the private sphere, albeit while referencing a somewhat different cultural frame of experience. Last winter, she figured in the television show Kunstnerliv (Artists’ Lives) on NRK. With its probing, psychologising approach, the programme testifies to a distinctively contemporary alliance between art and television that foregrounds the individual’s trials and tribulations – probably not a big step for Pasenau, whose Instagram-allied photography is already rooted in a far more boundary-breaking confessional aesthetic. The exhibition The Odder Erotica, which opened at Trafo Kunsthall earlier this month, is the first major public presentation from Pasenau after she moved to the small village of Odda. Here she has, among other things, explored the creative yields of masturbation (as reported in Kunstnerliv), and at Trafo we can see the results.

A more sublimated desire will be in evidence at OSL Contemporary this April with an exhibition featuring Danish painter Emily Gernild, curated by Milena Høgsberg on the basis of Gernild’s book Black Lemons from last year. The pictures I’ve found online show Gernild drawing on a wider trend within younger Scandinavian painting that evokes cheerful domesticity while taking on the medium’s expressive possibilities in an ongoing dialogue with modernist role models – specifically flower painting and still lifes circa 1900. Another artist anchored in early modernism is the Swiss artist Dieter Hall, whose paintings and drawings from the period 1980 to 2000 will be on view at the artist-run venue Destiny’s in March.

Presumably, Mari Slaattelid’s exhibition Blason at Kristiansand Kunsthall, which opened last weekend and has shields as its theme, is home to a more restricted pictorial form. Slaattelid says it best herself on the venue’s website: “I think I want a kind of painting that acts as matter-of-factly as these shields … When content always comes up anyway, one can look at it as fog of various kinds that drifts past.”

Dieter Hall, David, 2012. Oil on canvas.