The global, critical monologue
This edition of the Bergen Assembly exhibition – spread out over five venues, curated by the conveners and their core group of collaborators – is decidedly global. By that I mean that the exhibition’s content and perspectives, its problems and positions, are seemingly gathered without any central point of reference, and certainly not letting the local context colour the exhibition in any meaningful way. This is of course not exactly groundbreaking in an art world that seems to be as free from boundaries as is the case of capital. This is perhaps a cheap shot, and it is in any case not a terribly interesting entry point to evaluate the exhibition. But it might be a way of understanding how the different parts of the exhibition function. The global impression seems to be a result by the conveners’ stated approach to the triennial, not working from a given problem statement or a theme, but rather bringing together a group of people the conveners wanted to work with, while letting their individual interests and projects play out.
This is made very clear by the two parts of the exhibition that distinctly stand apart from the global streak in the rest of the exhibition, namely political parties at Kode1 with curatorial contributions by Pedro G. Romero and María García, and Sick and Desiring at Hordaland Kunstsenter with curatorial contribution by Nora Heidorn. These parts of the exhibition are clearly rooted in place and time. This is a stark contrast to the rest of the exhibition, which contains a great number of distinct projects that are interesting in their own right, but presented together in a jumbled manner. The only strand that brings them together is their overt criticality. This decentralized approach is clearly an attempt to free the exhibition itself from a set of hierarchical structures and modes of thought, but the result leaves us with a flat approach to social issues, that lends itself to caricatures of a struggle against oppression that is everywhere the same. I don’t think that’s a very productive position.
Adding to this, is the fact that a large portion of the most overtly political works never leave the activist mode of communication, that is, the long winded, righteous monologue. Don’t get me wrong, I quite often agree with the points being made, but it’s tiresome being talked at for such a long period of time.
 I don’t see the few works connecting to sàmi issues primarily as connecting to a local context, but rather as a result of the Office of Contemporary Art’s strategic work of bringing sàmi art onto the global art scene.
Kristoffer Jul-Larsen is associate professor in Norwegian literature at Western Norway University of Applied Science in Bergen, and is an art critic for Kunstkritikk – Journal of contemporary art. He is the author of a dissertation on the history of literary criticism in Norwegian radio. For Bergen Assembly 2016 Jul-Larsen was the local coordinator for Freethought, and he has extensive experience from Bergen’s cultural scene.
This text was written in conjunction with Critics´ Conversations held at KODE1, Sunday September 8th, 2019. In the panel was Rachael A. Rakes, Skye Arundhati Thomas and Kristoffer Jul-Larsen. Moderator was Johanna Lettmayer.