Momentum, the art biennale taking place on Jeløya, the Norwegian island floating on the greater Oslofjord, goes against an elementary geographic component that makes up most art fairs and biennales. Considering the fact that a desire to mold art as a global experience is spatially lackluster, the so-called “art world” in Europe is hardly a world at all; rather, it almost always boils down to its Western part, rotating between twenty affluent cities, and usually situated within the same three neighborhoods of each metropolis.
It is also crucial to pinpoint that celebrated art fairs and biennales are typically walking distance from either an organizational institution that represents state power – be it a police station or a parliamentary building – or at least one ATM crammed into a nondescript wall. What that ultimately signifies is that art is implicitly aligned with two other forces that are perceived as being where people are obliged to come together: state and market. Now, obvious bonds between the production of art and metropolitan areas suggests that it has become almost impossible to imagine creative or cultural production that is not mired in explicit forms of control. Think of guards protecting art fairs and biennales from undesired visitors who do not have enough cash to take part in its globality, or conversations about horizontality that take place in privately-owned institutions. The situation is dire.
Situating biennales outside the coercive borders of a Capital-bent metropolitan area could be a good start: to begin with a form of redemption; a place not teeming with confusing monetary and transport systems, but one abundant with shrubs, pebbles, and indifferent cows. This is, of course, not to say that the rural is necessarily pastoral, that all ruralities are somehow the same, or that situating art in such environments does not bear a social, political, or ecological toll.
Indeed, certain artworks in MOMENTUM’s 12th iteration, Together as To Gather (curated by Tenthaus), intentionally stray from the anticipated romanticization of the rural. In Forest (2023), Germain Ngoma’s site-specific artwork, the fjord’s pebbles have been placed on hacked trunks, addressing locality by decontextualizing the island’s elements. Acknowledgements such as these act as underlying themes for MOMENTUM. Like so many other similarly bountiful congregations, the rural biennale professes non-hierarchical curation. While the Oslo-based Tenthaus collective is officiating the role on paper, the final result of the exhibited biennale is diffuse, as members of the team invited other groups and individual practitioners to hop aboard and discover unexpected commonalities with one another. Doing so meant that each participant had a shared responsibility in the exhibition’s cumulative presentation, since artists essentially curated the works of their equals, and visitors were encouraged to participate in communal creation.
Most surprising was the location of MOMENTUM’s latest iteration. True, it is by no means the first or only biennale to position itself outside of the urban hustle and bustle. But MOMENTUM succeeds in eliminating the element of the city altogether. Placed in red barns facing the fjord and an agricultural estate, the setting effortlessly defines itself as a far cry from typical seats of power, which showcase faux notions of collectively made artworks. Despite the fact that all participants in the biennale had a rather loose orientation from Tenthaus in regards to what could be displayed, recurring themes emerged, particularly a sense of play. Take the case of Gudskul – the Jakarta-based art collective that centered itself in the centerpoint between all barns, close to the other MOMENTUM venues. Its contribution to MOMENTUM is a communal kitchen, Gudkitchen-Tentsku, decorated with Indonesian food packaging that rustles like little trinkets. Funnily enough, the ambition for shared nourishment was foiled by local bureaucracies, who claimed that artists do not have permission to cook, thus rendering the practice impossible. Despite the fact that it is difficult to make new friends on an empty stomach, Gudskul’s presence during the biennial’s opening weekend was a welcoming one. The collective’s professed curiosity to make meaningful bonds is echoed by the nearby banner by Nayara Leite, which gleefully states, “I AM GLAD WE ARE PLURAL,” as well as by Gudkitchen-Tentsku’s mobile karaoke, which boomed well into the midnight summer sunset. Inside Galleri 15, which hosted the bulk of MOMENTUM’s artworks, Gudskul devised a Gudhaus – a makeshift home adorned with mock family photos of the collective, along with a sofa and some shelves. While the world-building of the room was unconvincing, even when its sarcasm is taken into account, a game of four-dimensional chess proves to be a heartfelt occasion to meet others and entertain the notion of a game based not on competition, but cooperation.
Creating meaning by sharing is central elsewhere at MOMENTUM, too. In National Utopia (2023), Jaanus Samma suspends harnesses and jock straps – arguably, some of the most intimate corporeal decorations imaginable – and beautifies them with Baltic embroidery patterns. With Collectivity Painting I & II (2023), Stephanie Lüning also focuses on participation. Here, the artist instructs viewers to splatter the residue of naturally-colored ice cubes made from local flora across on a large, white surface. Each visitor shooting their shots must wait for the sun to melt the ice, watching as the sacred transformation of crude material slowly seeping into an art form took place.
Without a doubt, the urge to have fun and make works communicable dominates this iteration of MOMENTUM. Yes, it’s joyous and refreshing, but, at times, it’s also reductive and simplistic. Gabo Camnitzer’s 50 Million Windows (2021) are essentially Sharpie doodles drawn on a wall by passers-by. This raises a question general to participatory curatorship and art: if art is a shared creation, what is the use of a single artist’s authorship?
Still, projects such as Fotobook DUMMIES Day, a treasure cove of art photography books and zines conceived by Lin Junye and Liu Chao-tze, are anything but schematic. Presenting a library collection of self-published books spanning from all over, the Bread and Butter Workshop that presented the artists’ extensive Fotobook DUMMIES Day library was reflexive in form, containing a literature of sex workers, night hawkers, and karaoke bar singers. In this project, written works and presentations fuse anthropological questions of what is considered culturally “valuable” with the difficult matter of assessing beauty as a single criteria on an interconnected planet. Initiatives of diffused curation pose a tension. If all are welcome to gather, as the biennal’s title for 2023 suggests, how were certain practices and artists chosen to participate in MOMENTUM 12 over all others that were not?
This decision-making process was made by a simple word-of-mouth invitation. Cheesy as it might sound, gathering is a means rather than an end. What matters most, as a member of Gudskul told me, is to make friends. While it is intuitive to decry experimental curation as being entangled in an unjust geopolitical system of social divisions over which it has little control, the fetishization of others is – luckily – difficult when the environment itself is as generous and welcoming as MOMENTUM 12.
Collectivity, non-hierarchical art practices, and locality are by now accepted narratives in the art sector. Yes, horizontality is the latest curatorial trend. But that does not mean its coordinates are well defined. This is not to suggest that the process of art presentation should be an exact science, but rather an enjoyable experience; a welcoming and generous one. The fact that a biennale could serve as home for so many practitioners coming from all over evokes togetherness better than any place where all are fighting to be a part in one of the centers of the world.
- IMAGE CREDITS
Cover: Nayara Leite, Homodagene, 2022. Photo by Eivind Lauritzen, 2023, Galleri F 15.
fig. 1: Germain Ngoma, Forest, 2023. Photo credit Eivind Lauritzen Â, 2023, Galleri F 15.
fig. 2, 3: Gudskul, Stitching Ecosystems, Gudkitchen-Tentskul. Photo credit Eivind Lauritzen, Galleri F 15.