The unfreezing of contradictions

This week, Bergen Assembly will take place in several locations all across Bergen. KUNSTforum has spoken to the conveners behind it all.

Ekaterina Degot and David Riff. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Ekaterina Degot and David Riff. Photo: Thor Brødreskift

Ekaterina Degot (b. 1958) and David Riff (b. 1975) are the curators behind Bergen Assembly, or conveners, as they have termed themselves.

Degot studied art history in the Soviet era, and has worked a great deal on researching Soviet communist art and reinscribing it onto the international intellectual landscape. As a curator, she did some research exhibitions on these topics, including Moscow-Berlin 1945–2000, Body Memory: Underwear of Soviet Union, and Struggling for the Banner: Soviet Art Between Trotsky and Stalin. David Riff comes from both an artistic and theoretical practice. He is an artist, writer, and translator. Riff and Degot have been curating together since 2010, when they curated the first Ural Industrial Biennial in Ekaterinburg (with Cosmin Costinas), and later Auditorium Moscow, a programme of screenings, debates, and workshops, which lasted for a month and, to a certain degree, anticipated the political uprisings of December 2011–May 2013.

What is the common denominator, so to speak, for Bergen Assembly?

DR: The main theme of the Bergen Assembly is the so-called notion of artistic research. Yet, at the same time, within this (mine)field, artists are finding spaces for highly reflexive, extremely imaginative endeavours, agency, and resistance. We want to unfreeze the contradictions in this situation by reading it as a fiction, and imagining it as quasi-utopian but also satirically heightening the reality.

ED: One big inspiration for these fictitious research institutes comes from Monday Begins on Saturday, a fantasy novel written in the early 1960s by Soviet sci-fi writers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky. The novel is about a secluded research institute populated by fairy tale creatures who use magic to achieve human happiness, and it’s a loving satire of the bloated Soviet research apparatus, with all its bureaucratic baggage.

Bergen Assembly seems to have a different approach to arranging a triennial?

DR: Bergen Assembly’s approach itself is not just research-based but also highly literary, and that, in itself, is quite unusual. It is more like an extended thematic exhibition, and less like a festival, and we think it is important to resist «festivalization».

ED: Our main goal is to tell a story, rather than to present individual work. Pieces are never isolated and they work in concert. Contemporary works will be presented alongside historical research materials; this might be the intention of a particular artist, or curatorial move, and in not knowing, the border between curatorial touch and artistic research is blurred.

Compared to exhibitions in museums and galleries, how do you find working in the triennial format?

ED: There are some assumptions about the biennial format and genre, which we actually try to challenge – like a strict quota of artists from particular regions (the local region or the curators’ home region, for instance), or an expectation of a ‘balance’ between different media, or an emphasis on spectacular, site-specific installations.

DR: All too often, the biennial is a development measure or stimulus package, and is presented as such, set up in some huge post-industrial space in an area slated for gentrification. Our story is a little special in that regard, and a lot more comparable to a project that suddenly fills all the museums and galleries. It isn’t a UFO, landing at one strategic site, but a sweeping infiltration that temporarily puts a halt to the ordinary operation of things.

The interview was published in the paper issue KUNSTforum 2 – 2013 and is re-published online in connection with the opening of Bergen Assembly.

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