Aleksandra Mir

Never mind the locals

SIKSI-The Nordic Art Review, #2, Stockholm, 1998
By Mika Hannula

Cinema for the Unemployed
23 - 27 May 1998
part of
Momentum, Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art
Momentum - Nordic festival for contemporary art, Moss - Norway

This summer's two main European art events, Manifesta 2 and Momentum, share not just declared agenda, but also some distinctive hidden ones.

Both Momentum, concentrating on younger Nordic art, and Manifesta 2, which focuses on the East-meets-West axis, take up and confront the relationship between centres and peripheries. Now that these two concepts are irresistibly and irrevocably interwoven, are we all reacting with joy and laughter to the latest catchword that combines local and global to become 'glocal', or is the result just a neo-nightmare of cultural politics, and of hidden, nasty or even vulgar agendas?

Manifesta 2 is a follow up to the original idea of putting the spotlight on the contemporary art of the former Soviet-bloc countries. The second in the series is being curated by Robert Fleck, Maria Lind and Barbara Vanderlinden. The curators set out to test the borders, to see if they are still there, visiting over 40 European countries during the selection process. The approach is what Maria Lind, curator at Moderna Museum, Stockholm, calls 'ground curating", in which the emphasis is on the personal, first-hand contacts. This is a sentiment or an attitude that for her grew to be of even greater importance during the curating process.

So these three brave nomads went there, they saw it, and now they are doing it, offering their helping hand to the 48 chosen artists. Manifesta 2's list of both known and unknown participants does look promising, and what seems to have even more potential is the fact that most of the artists are producing fresh, new works for this event, hopefully making it a site-specific jamboree.

Maria Lind explained that the form emerged out of the process as a whole, without clear-cut preconceptions. According to her, the five venues in the Luxembourg setting include three loops or patterns that constantly recur throughout the show. These are: a) biographies, incorporating both factual and fictional takes; b) painting and painting in a revisited sense, thought of in terms of images; and c) the ambience of the space, generating a filmic presence.

In the case of Momentum, the set up is slightly different, but it is still interconnected. The idea for the pan-Nordic biennial came from the local level. The curators are Lars Bang Larsen, Daniel Birnbaum and Atle Gerhardsen. The basic motivation fro the show is rooted in the blaringly manifest interest shown by the art world's centres in this particular periphery called Nordic. There was both opportunity and good timing, the momentum or heat of the moment (courtesy of the 70's born, still pseudo-rocking band Yes), to gaze at the contemporary Nordic scene, providing a condensed view both for those looking from the outside in and for those of us gazing at out navels.

As Daniel Birnbaum, a critic and upcoming director of IASPS, stresses, one of the main points of interest will be a specially built space for moving images, which will offer both a back-catalogue video library and contemporary stuff. We can only hope that the organizers succeed in creating a space where, instead of the usual propping up of the doorframe, we can also enjoy and relax while watching the videos.

The list of participants is an exalted one, even if, as with any list of artist, it is open to the criticism that it rounds up the usual suspects. Whether or not this is the case is one of the most fruitless arguments. Instead, more interesting, again are the works made specifically for the occasion? Especially promising is Aleksandra Mir's showing of Hollywood disaster movies for the unemployed, free from 9 to 5, at an abandoned cinema in the centre of Moss (app. 25,000 inhabitants). This is being done in collaboration with the local unemployment office. Another stone in your shoe is Peter Land's social sculpture, made for all the lost souls wandering around at night.

Taken together, Manifesta and Momentum share just not a declared agenda, but also some distinctive hidden ones. In the case of Manifesta, even the curators claim they are not proposing a Marshall Plan for the arts in the East, some crucial views do arise. Consciously or not, they seem to be hunting for some new discoveries, and that in itself is not so far from a neo-colonial attitude. Even more disturbing is the well-meaning notion of meeting all the people in all the places. How deep does this go? Meeting has to mean more than shaking hands. Confronting the other has to involve give and take, a reciprocal situation, which unfortunately takes up more of your time than just waiting for the next bus, boat or helicopter.

On the darker side of Momentum, we need to be extra careful not to fall into the trap of false expectations. Even the artworld's endless appetite for nouvelle cuisine is now being turned and tuned to the North, so what? This is an opportunity and a means of achieving something and collaboration. It is not an end in itself, especially since, quite obviously if heartbreakingly, after the Nordic, something else will come along, stealing the fame and the fury.

A famous young European curator has been spotted raving about the Swiss miracle. Yes, yes, I heard that. Sounds great. And, yes, have you heard about the Guatemalan miracle? Their amazing footprint pictures? Or the Finnish water-drum players with a totally unique bass sound that makes fish go bananas?

Mika Hannula is an associate editor of Siksi

Momentum, Nordic festival of contemporary art, may 23-June 21, Moss, Norway.

Manifesta 2, European biennial of contemporary art, June 28-October 11, Luxembourg.