Touring the western region of Norway, the 93rd Vestlandsutstillingen is opening at their second stop Kunsthuset Kabuso, Saturday March 7th. Curator Kjersti Solbakken explains what this touring exhibition is about, her inspirations and up-coming projects – and the necessity of taking risks.
For people unfamiliar to Vestlandsutstillingen – what is it exactly?
– Vestlandsutstillingen was established in 1922 and is based upon a format where the open submission is central. The yearly exhibition travels through Western Norway which is a region consisting of the counties Rogaland, Hordaland, Sogn og Fjordane and Møre og Romsdal. This year the exhibition will be on the road from January to July. I was asked to curate the show last year and since then it has been very exciting for me to get to know this 93-year-old creature inside out.
Can you give a brief description of the exhibition Vestlandsutstillingen 2015 – Handlingens Gang?
– The exhibition reveals the complex relationship between art as language and language as art. Handlingens Gang features 18 art projects by 22 artists where language is being explored as both matter and as construction. Through looking at various means of communication, the exhibition aims to reflect on which elements actually transforms events into narratives. The featured artists have through a wide range of approaches studied, created and recreated stories related to materials, architectonic structures and objects. The various works in the exhibition can be read as everyday observations from immediate surroundings, and at the same time they challenge a larger interpersonal discourse where terms like authenticity, fiction, memory, presence and rituals are key.
What inspired you to choose this specific subject matter, and title?
– The title came about from playing with the Norwegian word “handlingsgang” which translates to English as the word “plot”. Due to the open submission, the choice of the subject matter has often been brought upon by the artists’ current practices in Vestlandsutstillingen I chose an open approach to this by both creating a thematic starting point for the submission, however still trying to keep a less rigorous attitude towards my understanding of the material upon reception. Even if I suggested a direction of the show, the artists managed to fill the working title with its content, and it has become an interesting and multifaceted exhibition that really surprised me.
If you had to choose, do you have any favourite artists or projects in the exhibition?
– That’s very difficult, and it’s not so interesting to me to talk about favourites, at least not at this point. As a curator I believe in the exhibition as a whole, and in the space between all these works. In addition, this show will be touring five very different locations, which means that each work might be read quite different throughout the exhibition period. I can, however, mention that as a result of a number of applications involving performative or temporary art projects, we decided to include a program of performances that will follow the exhibition. In Førde in January, we presented a game of poetry chess by the four artists Kjetil Berge, Johanna Ellen, Kristian Skylstad and Jason Havneraas. At Kabuso now in March, visitors will be able to experience a performance by Gabriel Johann Kvendseth, and I am very much looking forward to seeing it myself! As part of the performance series, we will present Inger Wold Lund, Margrethe K Brekke and Benedicte Clementsen on other locations during the tour.
What does it take to be a good curator?
– An open ear and a lot of time.
Can you give a brief description of your curatorial practice?
– Not really. Curating a show in a museum is very different from running an artist run space, and doing a group show is completely different from doing a solo show. Sometimes you might be able to work on a show for a year, other times you only have a week. I have no basic recipe. But in general I love being involved in the production of new works, and I try to work as close with the artists as possible. To make it more interesting for myself (and hopefully also for the artists and anyone who will engage with the exhibitions), I prefer working on projects where a certain risk is involved.
What are your main concerns when creating an exhibition?
– An exhibition is never made in a vacuum of any kind. I think it is important to acknowledge this, and when creating a show, to make sure you are able to have multiple goals and processes going on at the same time. One of my main concerns is therefore often to understand the context of the show to avoid it from turning into a distracting noise that overpowers the art works.
Can you name a curator/ curatorial team or exhibition that has inspired your own practice?
– After living in Oslo for almost ten years, I have to say that the most important thing for me as a curator has been to be part of the artist run scene in Oslo. To see so many artist run spaces and independent publishers come and go and having the ability to closely study all the various modes of surviving, with only a pocketful of money and sky high ambitions, has been the best school for me.
Can you name a writer or book, fiction or theory that has inspired your curatorial practice?
– I was once recommended the book “A Short Life of Trouble: Forty Years in the New York Art World” by Marcia Tucker. She was the first woman to be hired as a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the founder of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. I am not sure she has inspired my curatorial practice, but as a badass curator and writer in the New York Art world in the 1960s and 70s, she certainly inspired me to be less afraid of taking on new challenges and positions. I will pass on this recommendation.
What other exhibitions and/or projects are you currently working on?
– I am currently in a temporary position as artistic director at Fotogalleriet, so at the moment I am working on the exhibition program for 2016, which is incredibly exciting. The next upcoming show at Fotogalleriet is by London based artists Sophy Rickett og Bettina von Zwehl. The artists came across a collection produced by the Victorian photographer Sir Benjamin Stone in the Library of Birmingham. This extensive collection of meticulously compiled and catalogued albums also featured album 31, where Stone would put photos he wanted to keep but which didn’t fit into any of the categories that structure the rest of his collection. Using Stone’s album as a starting point, the artists set about revisiting and retrieving material from their respective production histories.
Why is art important?
– Art is language. It can be used to understand the world around us, however small or big that world might be.
Participating artists: Aage Langhelle, Benedicte Clementsen, Elin Melberg, Gabriel Johann Kvendseth, Gunnhild Torgersen, Ida M. Følling & Øyvind Torvund, Inger Wold Lund, Jóhanna Ellen Ríkharðsdóttir & Kristian Skylstad & Jason Havneraas & Kjetil Berge, Margrethe K Brekke, Maria Brinch, Marius Moldvær, Olve Sande, Petrine Vinje, Ragnhild Aamås, Runa Carlsen, Sandra Vaka Olsen, Silje Linge Haaland, Øyvind Aspen.
Sogn og Fjordane Kunstmuseum, Førde: 31.01- 22.02
Kunsthuset Kabuso, Øystese: 7.03-29.03
Kunstmuseet Kube, Ålesund: 10.04- 03.05
Haugesund Kunstforening, Haugesund: 9.05- 31.05
Kunsthall Stavanger, Stavanger: 12.06- 05.07