After visiting Momentum 9: Alienation, Liberty Adrien is left with more questions rather than new knowledge. Too omnipresent curatorial arguments seems to inhibit the perception of the biennale.
An intense and eager enjoyment overrun the curatorial team of the Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art Momentum 9: Alienation. A world “anew” is imagined, a scientific future full of technological advances and transformation willing to engage in discourse and questions, with and for a local and international art audience. The context is set: “It is up to us to realise the ideas and visions we believe support the changes, […] to broaden our perception of the world and our role in it”.
Presented as a “visionary potential” the biennale feels in fact related to a denotation of a genre of film, an exploration of the dark aesthetics of lo-fi 80’s science fiction scenarios. The notion of the alien – a green creature from outer space with a robotic voice – is everywhere: in the curatorial introduction, the brochure, the webpage, the radio broadcast etc. This superfluous curatorial work of imaginative narration, made up stories postulated for the purpose of Momentum 9 and presented as an interrelated whole makes me wonder: Is this really what we – in 2017 – picture as the future, as a time to come hereafter? And how strong should the creativity of five curators be expressed in an art exhibition?
Of course, to have a reference or relation to the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes – as a part of a work of art or a fiction – is a field of interest for artists. Also, the ability to understand the state of being alienated, of being transformed in appearance, nature or character is fascinating. But the questions remain open; do we actually need such references, such a plot of setting and mainspring alien theme? Should not the curatorial focus (in this biennale context) be on imagining a “future-gardist” way of presenting art, rather than on setting this hypothetical and fictional all-overness storytelling with which the audience does not identify and thereby remains objective?
As a matter of fact how can we – in times of a highly uncertain future shaken by economic scandals, population movements, global ecological awakening, political and European time of changes – establish this connection, with a projection so far out of reality and time of an already developed inter-galactic society?
When the Momentum curators said that “alienation is not simply our contemporary condition, it’s our future”, I expected to discover a 21st century thorough examination of the subject (technology, ecosystem, life and society), and not to discover a continuity of things and facts already known and seen; nothing new in Momentum’s “bleak prophecy” describes the future of humankind. Where are the technologies, the digital and virtual evolutions and their always more astonishing – in good and bad – uses? Where is the raising of a doubt about what we think we know, what we believe not subject to variation or able to be altered? Is it due to a lack of experience, wisdom or judgement about how the question of future matters to the public?
It felt – for a viewer like myself – more like an act of turning away, of transferring important matters for the purpose of diverting. The consequences of such a framework strongly affect the way we as viewers are able to discover the artists’ artworks and the terms in which they can be understood. In this clash of opposing feelings forming the setting for my visit, I enter Momentum Kunsthall.
Placed in the middle of the first exhibition hall, the must-see Deepdownbelow by the artist duo Trollkrem (and friends) is an immersive installation. An arrangement made of a hot tub, sea rocks, sand and virtual-reality masks hanging from the ceiling, in which the spectator can enter and experience the original and playful interaction imagined among individuals. The viewer is virtually taken to a submarine gathering of people, in a world which seems independent of fate or necessity, considered with awareness and tolerance to its physical surrounding and to the human ability of survival and adaptation. A (well-imagined) genre portray of an aggregate of remnant kids, made-up with glitter, costumed and living wholly in what seems to be a well-organised group of things and a form of gender-free collective.
I proceed to the first floor and the thorough emptiness of the space is manifest. It might be due to the artworks’ arrangement – Sonja Baümel circular installation Being Encounter is facing Linda Persson’s It was like experiencing a fold in time, she said, video monitors and an expedition hut look-alike – or due to the use of very cheap materials supposed to transport us elsewhere. Yet these two conceptual installations leave me sceptical. Symptoms of frustration begin to appear while I finally come across my second highlight. In Jussi Kivi’s darkened room – in which the spectator needs to find his/her way without seeing and to patiently wait till his/her eyes get used to the dark in order to be able to see, as if deep in the night – a small and poetic landscape is protected behind glass. It is a kind of sublime dream suspended in time, within which all things seems to exist; the Nordic noir, the limits of the earth and our indifference to the fragile beauty of a forest, the great sadness and solitude of “existential distress”.
It is time to walk around the city of Moss and to visit Momentum’s off-locations. Abandoned by itself and forgotten by his realm, Jone Kvie’s kneeling astronaut is a striking scene when looking through the window of the Waterhouse. Next door, at the House of Foundation, Johannes Heldén presents New New Hampshire, a printed novel and mixed-media conceptual exhibition. An excellently uncomplicated storytelling and narrative about the artefacts remaining after a catastrophe (which we know nothing about except that something did happened), found and bought online from anonymous sellers.
At Galleri F15, in a dark, small rear room filled with particles of silver pigments and light from a projector, Serina Erfjord exhibits the instant beauty of earth science; the artist’s archetypal form of fictions and set of systems unequivocally earn your attention. However earnest it can be, it seems rather difficult to relate, to perceive or understand Erfjord’s Among stars immersive installation as a fact of alienation. It appear to exist as a simple and poetic figuration of the void and stars, an artwork which doesn’t need any words to bring a feeling of eternal and everlasting space, a small cosmos living on its own.
As it seems that science fiction 70-80’s movies have been the starting point of Momentum curatorial thinking and “conceptual structure”, H.R. Giger’s objects could have been the strongest opening pieces of the biennale. As yet presented alone, on the first floor of Galleri F15 (likened to Momentum Kunsthall, the starting point of the biennale visit), not far from being mislaid and out of context in this large white-cube, Giger’s furniture is unable to set the viewer into the scenery, as the Alien movies did. I’ll pass on Búi Adalsteinsson food system theory, turned off and tired of being told that our future will be about eating insects and that slavering arthropod animals is a “sustainable” solution.
While closing my Momentum 9: Alienation experience I come upon Wael Shawky’s trilogy Cabaret Crusade. The Egyptian artist’s sculpture pieces, glass and ceramic marionettes as portrayed in his animation film, tell us their own stories. Symbols of ancient times perceived from an artist’s point of view, Shawky’s videos tackle the “notions of national, religious and identity” and the fact that written histories can’t be verified. They reveal similarities between past and present, and picture the wisps between truth and myth. He is one of today’s most interesting artists and it is a pleasure, as always, to explore his approach to alienation, rather, about humans’ behaviour and history.
My train back to Oslo is departing soon and my general feeling about the biennale is not so clear. How and how much can the viewer separate the artists’ intentions from the curatorial aims for a particular effect? I would have, as mentioned before, liked to perceive and have a sensation towards the artworks without the negative impact of these omnipresent alienation (and vintage visions of the future) themed curatorial arguments.