Sissel Lillebostad: The sound of new

Fra MA 2020, foto: Maya Økland

On September 10 VISP, in collaboration with KODE and KMD, hosted a Critics´ Conversation about the MA-show 2020, here is Sissel Lillebostad´s thoughts on the exhibition:

On entering KODE 2 I find several stacks of papers, newspaper shape in read-and-throw quality with MA 2020, The Art Academy, headed by a list of 22 names and a sticker giving the (new) dates and location, on the cover. Portraits of all the artists in their studios, one page each, and an economic amount of information can be found inside. Maya Økland have had the curatorial task of assembling the disparate artworks in the characteristic building, originally housing Stenersen Collection and where the 1970s still colour the space with filtered daylight through glass panels framed by pronounced columns in raw, unpolished concrete. Here, the exhibition fills twice the space as originally intended at Bergen Kunsthall, and Økland use it wisely, managing to surround the individual works with a sense of air, despite low ceiling, carpet floor and small cubicles.

Searching, I find common denominators. Stories told through film or/and still images, is a shared component in several of the works. Another striking element in the exhibition is the use of sound. The logic behind the selection of headphones contra spatial loudspeakers and how sequences of sound run through the space is not easy to grasp. A frequency leaking from one of the cubicles invade and fill the gaps in the spacious room. The film inside the cubicle in question shows fluttering black&white images of hands close up, nervously massaging a dark fluid (blood?) over somebody’s skin. The effect is unsettling. With this, Espen Pedersen exposes how unrelenting hidden pain can be. Similarly, Nayara Leite explores fragility and insecurity, but more outspoken political. In an exchange of letters sent between herself and friends back home in Brazil, people relating to the LGBTQIA confess their fears and anxiety facing changing circumstances under a new president. Leite invites to an intimate experience by the use of headphones. There I can listen to the letters read in Portuguese at the same time as a translation is screened in red and white. Photos of her friends look me straight (but friendly) in the eyes, the straightforwardness and a certain lack of aesthetic composition emphasise the normality, or should I say ordinariness, of the writers.

Both Kaeto Sweeney and Haruka Fukao celebrate rituals through the ceremonial losing of oneself in dance or making. Still, a precarious melancholy reflecting a frail belonging and fear of isolation seeps through. In Fukao’s work we witness the slow proceeding of shaping, un/wrapping and sharing 108 bowls of clay, all based on the tactile memory of a «mother» bowl. Each bowl has own personality, but none is original. Her low, almost whispering, soundtrack gets drowned out every 20 minutes by Sweeney’s loud, but muffled dance-tune; as if it is a party in the apartment next door. The silence after is relieving, but it also uncovers the loneliness of the ecstatic and introvert dancer. Will he ever share the floor with somebody?

Headphones have always been an awkward element in exhibitions. With headphones the experience becomes singular, locked in a room of your own. And then it is the hygiene of sharing intimate equipment. The unruly stack of blue disinfecting paper next to the headphones spread around the place, says a lot about present insecurity. But, the soundtracks reveal a willingness to share even uncomfortable moments. Annelen Røe screen a series of rather drab slides (yes, the old fashioned slides) with images from a museum. They coexist with a perfect English voice reading an essay dwelling on growing up in a mining community and its local myths. There is a distance in perception between the perfection in the reading and the impression of the hard work of mining that makes me wonder. Is it deliberate? Another story from growing up is Robert Carter’s short film, it comes with a soundtrack that conveys a sad, but surprisingly warm story of a father lost in alcohol. A musical epos, built around an instruction for self-defence, is played in full album length. This last work, by PV Knude, has a grand feeling to it. The setting is a little bit disappointing though. Two headphones carelessly put on a short bench – much too short for two people in corona-times – the empty album-cover resting towards the concrete column and the transparent pragmatism of positioning the bench next to a plug-in-the-wall, is bordering on arrogance. But, within the frame of the museum, this could also be read as a critique of the institutional grip on art. A grip no one seems to escape.

(The Critics´ Conversation was possible due to the generous support of Bergen kommune and Norsk kulturråd)