Aleksandra Mir

The 90s

The 90s. What was it all about?, NU: The Nordic Art Review, #11, Stockholm, Jan 2000
By Lars Bang Larsen

NU: remembers a decade in the Nordic region, not so long ago.

Before we even got used to the return of the real and chilling out in social sculptures, we have been pushed into a new millennium. What happened in the '90s? Well, we learned the art of collecting frequent flyer miles, travelling to peripheries in search of the new. For this issue, we take a critical look at the artistic practices, tendencies, exhibitions, and events related to the Nordic region during the '90s by asking our editors the following questions:

(1) The key concepts of the '90s were the return of the real, crossing of disciplines, relational aesthetics, ephemeral art, new public art, and networks. What has been productive and what has been problematic in these concepts?

(2) Another big issue was the collapse of the dichotomy between centre and periphery. Was this visible in the Nordic region, and if so, in what ways?

(3) Video installations have dominated the art discussion of the last decade. Why do you think the moving image has been so important in '90s art?

(4) In the beginning of the '90s, the crash of the art market opened up doors for new players. In what ways have the museums, public art galleries, curators, and artist-run spaces, been formulation new art practices?

(5) Getting down to hard facts: what do you want to leave behind from the '90's and what do you want to take with you into the new millennium?

(1) Lars Bang Larsen

Rirkrit Tiravanija was one of the primary artists to get the spark going for the '90's involvement with social space. He introduced ephemeral art as a viable mainstream art practice. He made down-to-earth art that intervened in a complex art language into an everyday insertion in the 'art world', something that implied an analysis of things beyond the white cube. But as time went by, it was as if his work began to repeal some of its suggested promise. To put it in edible metaphors as concrete as the ones in his own work, Tiravanija's sociable distribution of Thai soup somehow developed in the course of the decade into a nine course dinner consumed by a group of improvising actors. How come the Asian man with the Beuysian beat transformed his civic restaurant feel into a tableau of Beluga caviar for professional players?

To me, Tiravanija's work teeters between on the one hand, vulnerable and straightforward communal and cultural meetings and on the other hand institutional aplomb marshalling fantasies about models for participation. This has made the joint discussion of ethics and aesthetics—in my eyes the most productive element in this discussion-difficult to grasp in the case of Tirivanija's production. But then he let the curtain fall on the '90's with a project which was a multilayered meeting between the international art scene, global mass culture, and specificity of the local. Community Cinema for a Quiet Intersection (Against Oldenburg) was realised in Glasgow on September 25 1999. Organised by the Modern Institute, Community turned a junction of two quiet residential streets in a free zone with four large projection screens forming a square around it. The project was the roll call of a quiet residential neighbourhoods inclinations: a poll was distributed among the locals proved the () films were The Jungle Book, It's A Wonderful Life, Casablanca, () Life. The films were simultaneously projected on four cinema screens placed on the intersection of Gardner and Muirpark St. Pat () accompanied by Tiravanija's Thai cuisine-an association to () which are common place in Thailand. The streets were turning the intersection into a temporary public square. () loudspeakers on each corner made it possible for the pub (texts cut off need original )

(2) From the perspective of most other international economies than that of the comparatively isolated 'art world', the collapse between centre and periphery has often meant the perpetuation of hierarchies by other means. In any case, to talk about the Nordic region as a periphery sounds as if it is one of the neglected, underprivileged backwaters of the world, which is hardly the case. What I am suggesting is that if you feel 'peripheral' in this contexts, it is rather a question of where and what you desire to be. So let us uphold the distinction between centre and periphery a little longer, even in our little world of art, and ask 'peripheral' and 'central' by whose standards? It is no big deal to alter a peripheral status by means of cultural export or to conferring some kind of credibility on oneself via the manifold possibilities the art circuit has to offer in this respect. What is more interesting, I think is how successfully you accept your peripheral status and transform it into a culturally grounded practice of art production and communication—in a genuine dialogue with the international circuit.

The collapse between the centre and the periphery has been visible in the Nordic region to the extent that it looks like Nordic artists have successfully made it through the institutional rite of initiation—the 'Miracle' situation—into an integrated position on the international mainstream art scene. This is probably a result of the combination of the general mushrooming of network and the respective art scenes in the North ripening more or less simultaneously. In effect, artists from the Nordic region have, in the '90's, contributed to the internationalised language of contemporary art and enriched it with some new inflections. This has happened by virtue of their willingness to seek out possibilities for production and exposure were to be found- which was mainly abroad, at least in the (÷) Danish artists.

The economy of the art circuit is international, (÷) and present. This should be taken into account vis-a-vis (÷) level you, at the same time, acknowledge the () international' as such. Coming from the North or () terms—peripheral region, it can be pretty hard to fight the allure of a gravitational pull somewhere on the information highway from a denser cluster in the network, than the one in which you find yourself.

But let us just briefly turn the tables on the Nordic region itself and ask what the art institution up North has done to break down some of the cultural peripheries internal to its own art scenes. This whole question revolves not only around the matter of breaking down communication barriers and gaining access to the international mainstream. To mention a few central peccadilloes: what sort of initiatives are there to integrate the art institution in a broader cultural () a responsibility for discussing the art institution's () culture)? Why aren't the art institutions hothouses () Where is the experimentation with new ways of () with reaching new audiences? And, what version () the ebbing institutional collections for the next () goers to enjoy?

These may be harsh (and locally biased) points () an art institutional situation that is politically, economic () But it is all about pushing the peripheries wherever

(3) Video quickly gained momentum as a phenomenon beyond the scale of media formalism. Video installations may have dominated the exhibitions in numbers, but also in kind—namely from the perspective of the moving image in the white cube representing a contemporary perception of things and the fast pace of life. Perhaps Virilio was right when he said that the cinema is the truly centred subject. I don't necessarily agree that this implies totalising demands on reality—think Blair Witch Project or the Dogma films, the constitution of handheld aesthetics that capitalises on an easy home video familiarity with the moving image. But I think the moving image is a centred subject in the democratic sense that you can talk to anybody about films. The moving image has an unparalleled transparency as a communicative sign and as a generalised cultural standard.

In the '90's, a generation of artists who grew up with TV came of age and picked the moving image as their preferred medium when they needed to tell a story. A perfect cultural interface with variety of intersections: it can assume the pontificating shape of a Gary Hill or a Douglas Gordon—the successful result of manipulating footage with the real risk of messing up existing material. Or it could be hi-tech Pippilott Rist's over-the-top mind-blowing fascination and Eija-Liisa Ahtila's quasi-surreal narration. Or, if you wish, Gitte Villesen's or Gillian Wearing's low-tech immediacy of intimacy on the verge of representation. And, perhaps at the centre of all this, the moving image is an up front way to appeal to the memory of people with thousands of TV hours on our retinas?

(4) There is nothing like a recession to clean the stuffy air of an economic boom and stimulate the experimental spirit. It seems tho be accepted that if the '80's was the decade of the dealer, then the '90's was the decade of the curator. This is perhaps the single most significant development in terms of the importance of the ramification of geographical, institutional and professional networks and especially of the discussions of the where, how, and why of production. Or perhaps one should say instead that this was the decade of curatorial spirit because this not only applies to the proverbial free-lance curators. As artists' careers became more international and their methods more diversified (often taking the shape of the non-object, more or less site oriented, ephemeral practices), progressive gallerists took on a manager-like position, rather than merely dealing. And at the same time as curators learned the lesson from the '80s the hard way—don't retail what you display—people connect across professional borders and things started getting interdisciplinary. Not only in terms of artistic strategies, but also in terms of the art scene's social structure: let us say that the '90's were the beginning of the horizontalising of roles.

It is as if the '90s were spelled in the plural, not because there were 10 years of them, but because they were so decentred. So many artists and artistic idioms—along with a range of new economies—have been introduced and have barely come of age that the tune of the decade surely will linger on in an elaboration of the diversification that took place. As the provincialisation of urban culture and urban phenomenon of art intersects, the agents of the art circuit will grow in number and the field itself will diversify in terms of artistic practice and presence.

(5) I want the bona fide experimental attitudes that weren't only experimental just because they had become an organisational attitude. I want the down-to-earth, communicative, populist spirit of art: every city of 100,000 inhabitants should host an international biennial. I want the attempts at comprehensive cultural understanding to go hand in hand with the most obscure sub-culture. I want to take with me every flash-in-the-pan artist's career that the speed of the art market turnover has left behind. And I want to take grand old lady Louise Bourgeois with me into the new millennium. I don't want to leave anything behind. I just wish the notion of contemporary art would be imbued in a more comprehensive sense of memory.

Mention five shows that formulated your view of the '90s.

1. Traffic, CAPC MusÈe d'Art Contemporain Bordeaux, 26 January—24 March 1996. They were all there—Carsten, Douglas, Vanessa, Angela, Maurizio, Miltos, Jorge, Peter, Liam. Gillian, Henrik & Jes, you name them. But Nicolas Bourriaud managed to capture a great deal more than merely Zeitgeist.

2. Jens Haaning, Middleburg Summer 1996, de Vleeshal, Middleburg, 6 July- 26 August 1996. Haanings's world as will and imagination: A Turkish owned textsile factory relocates its entire production to de Vleeshal for the duration of the exhibition. Wow.

3. NowHere, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 15 may—8 September 1996. For the first time in the North, a curator invites curators and highlights the ideology of exhibition organisation in a contemporary contexts. MORE of that please.

4. David Hammons, Blues and the Abstract Truth, Kunsthalle Bern 16 May—29 June 1997. There was a rumour that he was invited to Venice as well as document that summer, but declined. Anyway, I loved the stuffed cat on the drum kit. Kontexts Kunst, Neuen galerie, Graz, 2 October—7 November 1993. History bomb that made an impact on all levels of art discussions. -Lars Bang Larsen

Mention five events that formulated your view of the '90s.

1. N55 Spaceframe, Copenhagen, June—August 1999: 90s utopianism at its best in the architectural "free space" of Copenhagen harbour.

2. Vanessa Beecroft, Play, 1995: The unparalleled strange and psychotic atmosphere of Samuel Beckett as a female anorexic turned into something completely different when pro modelling and Prada entered the game later on.

3. The censoring of Burn Out's Parking Lot at Kongens Nytorv in Copenhagen, 1994: if Jes Brinch and Henrik Plenge Jakobsen had staged their teenage riot at Enghave Plads on the Western Borough and not at the most fashionable square in Copenhagen the authorities would never have intervened.

4. Galleri Campbells Occasionally Performance Night June 1996, curated by Frederikke Hansen and Jacob Fabricius: Michael Elmagreen & Ingar Dragset mutually unravel each other's whit knitted skirts in a public gent's room to suggestive house tracks. Afterwards Mads Steen serves well nigh inedible, pre-fabricated lobscouse under parasols on the centre strip of NØrre Voldgade as a social event, Lastly beat poetry reading by Karl Holmqvist in H.C. Ørstedsparken. Very Copenhagen.

5. Aleksandra Mir's Life is Sweet in Sweden 1995:Gothenburg; Sweden's second city finally hit the press for the World Championships in athletics. Enter fellow townswoman Mir, who deconstructs the whole thing in her frivolous alternative tourist bureau.