The Bodies of Triage
The yearly Master of Fine Arts exhibition is always an interesting exhibition. Ideally it shows some of the main tendencies in Norwegian art and points to its future. The concept Triage, chosen as the heading, points to the theoretical buzzword on the art scene now, materiality. Materiality refers on the one hand to neomaterialist use of theories and concepts from the natural sciences as metaphors in a reworking of the relations between humans and nature in posthumanist society. Often however, it is used in a broader sense, meaning simply that much art today works with the material and formal aspects as integral part of its conceptual work. Or referring to art that works thematically (if not necessarily theoretically) with the themes of neomaterialism, such as our relation to nature, and our place in a global world. Here I want to approach the exhibition by focusing on a few thematic clusters that are part of this larger materialist space.
Migration and the meaning of bodies in a global society has been one of the main themes in art the past decades. In Triage, the most obvious examples are Yanyi Caos video All I Understand and Misunderstand and Michelle M. Sparks’ installation The Reef that Holds us Now. Cao shows herself trying to come to grips with Norwegian language. In black and white pictorial language that borders on modernist photography with all its attention to lines, shapes and shadows, Yanyi places her body in everyday scenes from Bergen overlaid by her own voice trying to pronounce Norwegian sentences. The focus on bodies and on phonetics underlines how integration and identity are embodied processes, not simply a matter of abstract communication and meaning. Sparks’ installation invites the viewer to sit underneath an oselver boat, which is turned upside down, hanging from the ceiling. Here we are left listening to the poem Terje Vigen, read by children from a variety of backgrounds. The theme of the poem, the famine in Norway during the Napoleonic wars, puts the refugee crisis in perspective.
The politics of identity and our being in the world can also be seen in projects dealing with masculinity and the loss of faith in a modern industrial paradigm of progress and reason. Elias Bjørns performance where a man walks other men around the center of town as if they were dogs, stages white masculine domination. Arild Våge Berges The Gravity of a Lake Focused into One Point and Henning Klungtvedts Postroyenia both stage engineering, but by doing so, underline the shortcomings of engineering as a world view. Masculinities are renegotiated in Våge Berges short fragmented conversation between a young man and his grandfather, where the old man’s way of relating to the world is questioned.
Mari Nordahl, Sofia Magdalena Eliassen and Vilde Løwenborg Blom on the other hand, are amongst the artists who approach the world from a place of affect and materiality. The smell of sugar, the strong colours and the hard softness of Bloms drooping sweets hanging from large hooks appeal to all the senses and to memory, bringing the radical insight of Prousts madeleine cake to the fore. Mari Nordahls pink polyester blobs dancing in front of a mirror, also underline the body as an unfinished entity, always to be reconstructed by way of the mirror of culture and the other. Eliassen’s installation Closing the Eyes to See That Which the Retina Refuses to Acknowledge faces us with undefined formal shapes and materials, as if underlining materiality as such, more than performativity, as the main feature of installations.
Sigrun Åsebø (PhD) is Associate Professor at the Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies at the University of Bergen. She has written for Billedkunst, Bergens Tidende and Kunstkritikk in addition to publishing numerous academic papers.
The text is written in conjunction with Critics´Conversations that was held at Landmark May3rd, 2017. See here for video from the conversation.