Milena Høgsberg is the curator behind Lea Porsager´s site specific work FOOD FOR THE MOON – Sluggish and Well-lubricated that opens in Henie Onstad Kunstsenter today. We asked her some questions about her curatorial practice.
Can you give a brief description of the exhibition Lea Porsager – FOOD FOR THE MOON?
The site-specific work, FOOD FOR THE MOON – Sluggish and Well-lubricated centers on Armenian mystic and spiritual teacher G.I. Gurdjieff’s sci-fi novel Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (or, An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man). According to Beelzebub, people fed their life energy to the moon in order to keep the moon from going berserk. The novel introduces the Kundabuffer, an organ inserted at the base of humans’ spines, designed to keep them from realizing their role in the cosmic economy. Even after removal, the organ continues to exert its influence, condemning man to lethargy, horniness, and aggressive senselessness.
In the solo exhibition, Lea Porsager has reimagined the kundabuffer and other elements in Gurdjieff’s story. There is a serious, yet playful translation and distilling of ideas that happens in the work on view, which is perhaps surprisingly minimal. The work may evoke an inverted lightning field (Walter de Maria) or draw formal connections to Jean Arp, or the surrealists, but there are so many other layers for the viewer who wishes to dig in. There is a political core in the project and in Lea’s practice that I hope does not go overlooked. She goes deep into her material and really inhabits and negotiates the theories her works revolve around. The texts by Donna Haraway and particularly by Karan Barad that inform FOOD FOR THE MOON are pretty radical in terms of the paradigm shift they propose. Both are unusual scientists theorizing a shift away from a human-centric world and the common binaries (culture/nature, female/male, human/inanimate) that it relies on to a world of «intraactions» that puts us in a very different relationship to things (inanimate objects) and even technology. Their theories require a kind of rewiring of our thinking – an inversion of sorts that I find very intriguing. What’s refreshing is that Lea doesn’t use these theories as a prop to justify the work; instead FOOD FOR THE MOON has grown from deep inside these theories and become something else.
What other exhibitions and/or projects are you currently working on?
Currently my focus is a large two part Bauhaus presentation, which opens May 22, 2014. In collaboration with the Bauhaus Dessau Foundation I am, together with my colleague Lars Finborud, organizing a large exhibition titled Human Space Machine: Stage experiments at the Bauhaus. It dives into the theater and dance productions, which interestingly had a unique status in the Bauhaus schools’ production because it was the one activity that, unlike the workshops, was not concerned with generating income. Here all the practitioners could play (It appears they threw great parties!).
The exhibition will include a lot of really amazing material from stage and theater drawings, water colors and paintings of mechanical movements, to a light machine, and reproduction of the costumes from the Triadic ballet which we hope to activate in collaboration with Oslo dancers.
As there has never been a larger presentation or proper survey of Bauhaus in Norway, we felt we needed to introduce the historical period, the various schools, its practitioners, program, workshops and philosophy briefly for our audiences so they can more easily situate the stage experiments in a larger context. This has resulted in a small exhibition titled Bauhaus på Norsk, in which we present various Bauhaus traces in Norway. Surprisingly several Norwegians ranging from artists and designers Ivo Panaggi, Grete Prytz and Rolf Nesch to architects Edvard Heiberg, Arne Korsmo and Ola Mørk Sandvik, studied at the school or came into contact with either Meyer or Gropius (bauhaus leaders) at one point or another.
Another figure I am tracing is the key figure Marianne Brand married to the Norwegian painter Erik Brand, who as one of the few women became head of the metal workshop and is now widely considered one of the most important contributors to the Bauhaus. Besides her collages, rarely lent and on view in museums, we will present her metal designs, as well as photos of her in Norway and correspondence with for example Kurt Schwitters with whom she was friends. The Danish artist Pia Rønicke will make a new work specifically looking at Brandt’s her panoptic self-portraits through a feminist lens.
We make no claims to a «pure» Bauhaus in Norway, but we dug up a lot of material that many probably are not all too familiar with and we will also include Norwegian design and furniture, which clearly emulates famous Bauhaus designs. It’s going to be two visually rich and fun exhibitions.
Can you give a brief description of your curatorial practice, the process from idea to exhibition?
When I work with contemporary artists, the project very much grows out of a dialog with them where I am part producer, part «sparring partner». I really strive to act ethically, which is key when you’re balancing institutional expectations while trying to safeguard the artist’s interests as well. The most rewarding aspect of curatorial work, is when you gain an artist’s trust. When I am writing a text there is nothing more fulfilling than to work with a really good editor, who gives constructive criticism and is able to identify where the core of a text resides and can respectfully «trim the fat». I strive to provide something similar in my dialog with artists, which is why I much prefer commissioning new work rather that curating extant work. For the research project Arbeidstid I curated on labor, I invited artists I knew shared my interest in the topic and so I was able to think along side them. Publishing a critical reader Living Labor (Sternberg) also allowed me to relegate some of the ideas I felt important to the project to that platform rater than try to fit them all into the exhibition. Conversely, finishing the book and my introductory essay while I was installing the exhibition also really informed the content in the book. The performative aspect of the exhibition and many other new connections between the works didn’t fully emerge till they were installed. In general I would prefer always publishing books as an extension of the exhibition and after the fact because of the reflection potential that is lost in the catalogue that go to print a month prior to installation.
Can you name a curator/ curatorial team or exhibition that has inspired your own practice?
I have been lucky to have been taught by and worked closely with a few very strong and generous curators and critics over the years that have each influenced my practice, but in very different ways. A shout out is due to Lynne Cooke, Bruce Ferguson, Mary Jane Jacob, Linda Norden, Rhea Anastas, and Maria Lind. They have different practices, and are also of different generations, and have marked the curatorial field at various moments during the development of the still young discourse on curating. What I took with me from them is the importance of working from the art (trying to get from under it preconceived interpretations) not theory, the close dialog with artists, intellectual curiosity, good research skills and the importance of striving for precision in writing.
Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your curatorial practice?
Regrettably, I can’t seem to find the time for fiction these days. I remember Mary Jane Jacob’s essay «Making room for Art» made a memorable impression on me while studying, as did several essays by Okwui Enwezor f.ex. Archive Fever and recently some books by Paul O’Neill on the durational turn have been instructive in thinking about the field of curating. As for my practice, one book that I keep returning to is by one of my mentors Michael Brenson, Acts of Engagement: Writings on Art, Criticism, and Institutions, an anthology of his work as a critic at the New York Times from 1993-2002. There is a conviction, deep engagement with the art he is interested and courage to take on what’s difficult or political that I think is very inspiring.
Why is art important?
Art has a unique ability to move us or make us consider important issues of our time. Considered in a bigger perspective, the human production of art is also the way humanity for centuries has left its mark and there is something truly remarkable that civilizations even with minimal resources, at war or facing challenging economic or climate conditions, have still managed to produce something more than the utilitarian.
If you´re interested in learning more about Lea Porsager´s work, she will be featured in an in-depth interview in KUNSTforum #4/ 2013