Alone, together – Robert Carter on Masterutstillingen i kunst 2021: a little larger than the entire universe
A year to remember. A year to forget. The MA graduation show at the Bergen Kunsthall is usually a time for celebration, drunken fumbles with friends, embarrassing parents saying inappropriate things. But how do you celebrate a year spent in a sort of semi-permanent semi-lockdown? When the art school closed its doors to mostly everyone, gathering in your cohort was illegal and your education largely took place ‘online’?
Like many others, my sanity was kept in check over the long winter months thanks to radio. Often waking up with the voice of my favourite presenter in my ear. In Fergus Tibbs’ The Yes Weekend – a functioning radio station is installed on the top floor, broadcasting content every weekend on Vers Libre, Bergen’s premier independent radio station. I enjoyed how the students were left to curate themselves within Fergus’s work, part of this years official MA Seminar. If the Kunsthall exhibition wears a tight belt around its 27 artists, then the radio is a place to unbuckle it and let their belly hang out.
Fellow graduate Sofie Hviid Vinther presented her writing on the radio program Written words from the coffee bar, reminding listeners of all the unseen labour that goes into an art education. The hours spent making lattes and getting pissed off with the public when you’re not in the studio. It was one of the only works I can recall which directly brought the subject of class into the conversation, which as a Brit I’m still trying to get my head around in Scandinavia. In the exhibition, Sofie presented her Workwear Collection which left me a bit puzzled as to the function of her tailor-made clothes. Who are they for? As cities like Bergen continue to move from the production of things to the production of knowledge, I wonder if the artist is trying to figure this out too.
It was interesting to see how the artists in the show allowed history to move through them. In The Grave Project by Derek Sargent and Jess Miley the artist duo make a pilgrimage to various burial sites of historical LGBTQ figures around Europe. For a project which has been in development before and over the duration of the Masters’ program, this felt like a bit of a missed opportunity to me. Framed blocks of Wikipedia-entry-style text give us some historical facts about the deceased, paired with photographs of the artists posing Kraftwerk style by each grave. It left me more curious about the artists themselves; what they had for lunch, what they argued about on the train on the way there, what shitty Air BNB they stayed in. After all, the journey is surely more interesting than our final destination, no?
In the video installation Anatomy of Restlessness by Giulia Mangione the artist unselfishly takes us on her own journey. A holiday, at last! Footage partly shot before the pandemic hit is interspersed with photographic stills and fragments of text. Over the speaker, the artist recalls her attempt to find traces of a former Norwegian colony in the US – following loosely in the footsteps of the Norwegian violinist Ole Bull (1810-1880). The success of this work lies in the way Mangione allows her project fail, and ends up reflecting on her own personal attempts to ‘settle down’. I was reminded of an essay by Canadian photographer Moyra Davey, ‘The Wet and the Dry’ which combines journal entires from her own life with the Scandinavian travel diaries of writer Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797).
From autobiography – to speculative fiction. I wonder though, if perhaps a better genre for Alex Hamish Millar’s project would be ‘psychedelic fiction’. His museum like presentation, a sort of made up history lesson based on research into The Bjerknes Center for Climate Research simultaneously educated and led us astray. What caught me the most about his work was the trippy visuals, levitating rocks and phosphorescent pigeons in his 16mm film projection. I sincerely hope the artist takes a plunge into the world of psychedelics at some point in his career.
Painting has always been in conversation with its own history, with itself. For me, one of the most engaging paintings in the show, was in fact, not a painting at all. Sigrid Lerche’s video installation you just pretend to be human (great title btw) consisted of a flatscreen video on the wall with a sort of sculptural papier-mâché foreground. I read this work as a kind of sea-punk take on a rococo style self portrait. The sitter, an almost nude female with flowing turquoise hair poses in a largely featureless blacked out studio, blinking unnervingly at the camera with impossibly dilated pupils. The artist as avatar.
Thinking about painting and sculpture in this way led me back to the John Kelsey essay ‘Next Level Spleen’ where he talks about networks replacing context. It’s interesting to re-visit after thinking about the trappings and failings of the online art-eduction experience:
As it mobilizes and gains speed, art becomes a lot more like what literature once was (which is a strange thought now, when literature is itself being superseded by digital culture): In its time, literature was a massive info leak that eroded disciplinary hierarchies, overflowing national borders and property lines alike. Why should art remain confined to the channel of the artist, the gallery, and the object?
In this show I see art and literature, erode the borders between their present moment and various histories. Some more recent than others. Students from all over the world make up the class of ’21 – Scandinavia, Iran, Pakistan, Britain, China, Poland, Australia – in an exhibition which brings up questions about how we situate ourselves, and by extension the things we make in the context of the new local. Both online, IRL, and in proximity to Bergen’s Art Academy – which for a two year period, became the artists’ new home.