The Nordic Biennial, MOMENTUM10. An emotional exhibition

Fondevila fjord
Pauline Fondevila, "The Promise by the Sea", performance at the Oslo Fjord

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The tenth edition of Momentum, The Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art, opened its doors last Saturday, June 8, in the city of Moss, Norway. MOMENTUM10 entitled The Emotional Exhibition is curated by Spanish writer and curator Marti Manen, who is based in Stockholm, with the assistance of Anne Klontz. Until 9 October, MOMENTUM10 presents the works of 29 Nordic and international artists —from which 16 are women, in two main locations: Momentum Kunsthalle and Gallery F15, but also at the bookstore House//of//Foundation, performances on the fjord and the Bredebukt beach, lightboxes at various points of the city, and big format boards at Spuntveggen, the controversial Moss new train station.

Founded 20 years ago, Momentum has changed over time; it was initially intended to be a platform for upcoming Nordic artists, but the event gradually expanded to take part in broader discussions, bringing international actors whilst continuing to have a strong impact and focus on Moss, enriching the city and surroundings cultural life.

The oldest Nordic biennial for the present 10th edition encourages visitors to take a moment to feel. In Manen’s words, “The Emotional Exhibition is a proposal around feelings —love, hate, rage, fear— to find ways with this desire of something related to an impossible language, linking art and the emotional instability that is the human condition.”  Since its inception in 1998 and for 20 years, Momentum has been a platform where a series of situations, exhibitions, artists, productions, placements, and encounters have been creating a mood and references for our times. Following this idea of stopping and looking back, half of the works presented in the exhibition have been displayed at previous Momentum editions, a curatorial move that asks us to reconsider artistic positions from a new perspective, new time, and new context whilst cohabiting with relevant new productions.

The biennial brings together a selection of 12 international and 17 Nordic contributors. The strength of this edition is moreover its interdisciplinary nature, from the traditional painting and sculpture to objectual and video installations, films, performances, public space interventions, or sound and smell pieces. These different methodologies and approaches to creative expression result in encounters that stimulate the audience to think about their relationship with art, recent history, and politics of the convulsive times we are living in. Momentum10 does not morph into a singular curatorial voice; instead, it covers an umbrella of possibilities: violence, integration, sexuality, feminism, family constellations, technology, ecology, social change, …that transdisciplinary exploration embraces each voice alongside its collective.

Momentum Kunsthall

Examining the venue Momentum Kunsthall, it seems right to start with Norwegian artist Knut Åsdam, whose work has been included at the first edition of the biennial in 1998. Åsdam has been asked to recreate his architectural installation Psychastenia #5, which is located on the second floor. “It is a mix of sci-fi, sex club, and cinema architecture, a place to see video art and to experience one’s own body in relation to others,” says Åsdam. After readapting the 1998 piece to Momentum10, the artist is still nowadays concerned with the same themes as he was back then. His work highlights social spaces and practices that formed part of the subconsciousness of the city, where the things that were aberrant, repressed, or hidden could appear. The cinema presents a film by Åsdam and other artists who are part of this year exhibition.

At the very entrance of the venue, we are received by Pre-text, an engaging delicate work created by Portuguese artist André Alves. The core of the work is based on the artist finding texts in books and painting over the pages to capture words and phrases he wants to but never can remember forever. According to Alves, it’s an excuse to find something in the inner state of others, within their deeper motivations, that is our own. On the large advertising lightbox one can read: “Who cares about politics when there are flames licking at your insides?” and “Words had always represented a wholly unrealizable territory of the feelings, of the heart,” from Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård and English Laurence Durrel, respectively. In addition, the Portuguese has created ten compositions for other lightboxes that are located around the city of Moss. On the walls surrounding the lightbox at Kunsthall, the artist has placed 200 phrases in pages monochromatically painted. Emotions are not only triggered by the words, but also by the colours and the forms, plus the delicacy with which the fine paper pages have adhered to the support, only at the top, thus the words remain floating on the wall and in our souls.

At the right side of the bottom floor, one enters an almost black room, slowly letting the eyes adjust to witness the blooming of the water lily flower Victoria, in the namesake film by Finnish artist Salla Tykkä, a work featured during the 2009 edition. The blooming process occurs over 48 hours beginning with the bud opening with white petals as a female and after beetle pollination, the lily turns pink and closes its petals as a male. The plant was once named Victoria Regia in honor of Queen Victoria, representing the naming tradition common to European colonialism, which is a point of interest for Tykkä. Through the intimate documentation of the lily, she examines how beauty influences human desire for power and domination.

Swedish artist Johanna Billing third presence in the Biennale presents a new film titled In Purple which focuses on dancing as a way of resistance. The film shows a hip-hop/afro dance group and a self-managed school called the Mix Dancers Academy for young women and girls based in Råslätt, a suburb of central Sweden, part of the ambitious million home public program of the 60s and 70s. Today Mix Dancers are a powerful role model of their community. In the film, we witness a choreography in which the older members pass on the tradition of running the dance school to a younger group of dancers, symbolised by carrying together large, fragile panes of purple glass that represent first the women and also, their rented, windowless basement. A quite poetic journey.

Another reappearing work is Molecule MOVX_015 by the Norwegian/Icelandic artist, researcher, and provocateur Sissel Tolaas. A scent which she created for Momentum 8 in 2015. The walls of the stairwell are painted with this scent then, and again now. The scent itself evades description in words, triggering different sensations connected to emotions and memory. Sissel’s work challenges our understanding of art, proving that it does not need to be auratic or visual but also can be ethereal, invisible, and unresolved.

Moving again to the second floor, Spanish artist Pepo Salazar has created a large sculptural installation titled Frozen, emphasizing images that are part of the global imaginary to create as well a globalized aesthetic construction. The installation welcomes us with a Venetian gondola Passarella to enter a space full of clichés: from Italian photographed menus to Chinese red paper lamps and football players printed in duvets covers. Salazar’s diverse and eclectic artistic practice convey an automatic narrative coming from cultural items of general consumption.

Confronting Salazar installation, Swedish lady Åsa Cederqvists film and sculptural installation Mama, Dada, Gaga, take her life as inspiration for the script but also fluctuates between reality and fantasy. The title alludes to the first sounds babies make when they learn to speak and relate to Cederqvist’s interest in the language of art and how it can be accessed and understood. The film goes back and forth between the past, present, and future with characters that change constantly roles performed by her own mother and young daughter. The piece brings conversations about vulnerability, transformative states of becoming and her role as daughter, mother, and artist. Surrounding the film there are pink rag sculptures that evoke Munch’s The Scream and the hole —also present in Munch painting— as the beginning of life, and why not, also the end of existence.

Passing to the next room, in a kind of zig-zagean cinematic environment, four films made by women are presented. In the film 40-15 by Swedish artist Annika Larsson, exhibited in the year 2000 (2nd Momentum), a tennis match is taking place in a room of a small apartment. There are four men in game position: the chair umpire, the ball boy and two players. The players are seductive in their too tight, white shorts. A work about macho/masculinity reinforced with the reflection of themselves in a large mirror: narcissism, power relations, and dominant positions in western society. The film Deception by Spanish artist Regina de Miguel, named after the Deception Island in the Antarctic, pictures both, her spiritual and documentary travel to the unknown, represented by the grayish tonality of an island that has only been explored by scientists and the military. Deception Island is a place that is mysterious in its secrecy and simultaneously a frightening hell, offering a reflection on our beginnings and a presage for our future. The other two films are Couers de silex by French artist Pauline Curnier Jardin and Blind Understanding by Swedish artist Saskia Holmkvist (shown during Momentum 2009 and adapted for this edition).

Before leaving the Kunsthall, back to the main floor, the Berlin-based Mexican artist Julieta Aranda presents a site-specific installation about fragility and information connected with the industrial past of Moss as a paper producer. The artist also has a work installed at Gallery F15, a sculptural installation where she shows how technological processes influence the construction of an image, and how through manipulation of the recognizable becomes something artificial.

Gallery F15

Another iconic venue is Galleri F15, where works contrast one another more drastically. For instance, Cypriot artist Christodoulos Panayiotou presents one of the most conceptual works of the show, a marble console that at first glance looks like it has always been part of the house. On a closer look, one can read the word “Bastardo (bastard)” sprayed on the surface. The story behind it relates to the way marble —a highly valuable material since ancient times— is classified when extracted from the quarry according to its quality level. Bastardo is a low quality marblePanayiotou also presents a rhapsodic gesture as the console is activated through a specially ordered vase in which a flower will be added every day of the exhibition. This will create a contrast between beauty and decay, as new flowers are placed with faded flowers from day one.

Central room show delicate animal and human organs-like feathers sculptures by young Swedish artist Erik Öbergwhich undermine their dark romantic charm provoking something similar to anguish and affliction.

At one end of the second floor, in a widescreen and dark room, one can see the Dutch artist Gabriel Lester provocative film The Blank Stare which was presented at Momentum 2013. There is no dialogue in the film; the characters are staring intensely to something or someone without blinking. One can only guess what they think and what is happening out of sight. Each of the scenes introduces a different situation, both in private and public spaces. Anyhow the surroundings mean nothing in relation to Lester’s cinematic approach which draws our attention to the characters’ expression: anger, fear, suspicion, delirium, and concern, recognizing and making us feel empathy with all of them.

Next room shows the TV-monitor-like video installation Vengeance by Israelian artist Keren Cytter, the piece mimics the popular soap-opera genre. Cytter shares space with a printed image of the performative site-specific work by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson presented in 2006. The piece included the phrase Scandinavian Pain in the form of a large neon sign placed on top of a barn outside the gallery. These words have remained both, as a memory and as a picture of the contemporary impression of Nordic identity, highlighting its propensity to pain and melancholia. As Kjartansson said, when he first saw the barn, immediately dragged him into the nostalgia of Munch’s landscapes. As in Munch, the works of the Icelandic, more often than not, revolve around sorrow.

At the opposite side of the floor, hang the highly emotive pastel paintings of Norwegian artist Eirik Senje, one of my favorites. The eight works belong to the series Generative Exception, in which he subtly refers to art historical motifs in the figures’ landscapes and poses. Senje is interested in the sketching process through which the emotions of art quickly emerge. The skulls together with red amorphous kind of soft figures are repeated in the drawings, and all in all can be experienced as a modern dreamscape where spiritual, philosophical, and mythological ideas take shape.

Sharing room with the Norwegian, one found Pauline Fondevila‘s drawings, which are part of a bigger and elegiac corpus entitled The Promise by the Sea, involving texts and the idea of sailing. Pauline works apart from Gallery F15 are performed at the stairwell at Momentum Kunsthall, where we hear a song she wrote, sung and recorded with many of the lyrics referring to May’68 slogans when there was a period of civil unrest in France. On the Oslo Fjord, she has created an overwhelming performance in collaboration with the Moss Seilforening, which contains a fleet of 20 small boats driven by children sailing painted with slogans as: “Let’s hide,” “The world is burning,” “Never Work,” some coming from protests, others from songs or poems. The fourth part of the work consists of big format panels located in Spuntveggen, the Moss new train station.

Gallery F15
Moss Seilforening


Venturing onward to House of Foundation, one encounters a bookstore on top of another: House of Fun by Spanish artist Francesc Ruiz offers a contemplative atmosphere instilled by a bookshop stocked with pornographic comics. Each book is filled with the same comic, but seen with different covers they evoke various concepts surrounding sexual imagery and radical fetishes. Apart from visual pleasure, the installation shows the power of cartoon drawing to imagine new bodies and desires. Ruiz’s installation is an exercise of freedom of speech, moreover, the place becomes a space for subcultural meetings, a safe area where one can explore and exchange new ideas while challenging the limits of representation.

Downstairs, artist Stine Marie Jacobsen’s Direct Approach, an ongoing work that was originally presented at Momentum 2013, reappears in a new form. The participatory project deals with constructed images of violence and how we can openly tell about our experiences thereof. For this reason, Jacobsen invites participants to speak about certain violent roles that appear in movies, in order to trigger personal memories, while doing so, the artist films the contributors’ responses. For Momentum10 a screening program is presented with films, podcasts, and posters which are part of this continuous dialogue about image and power relations.

Momentum10: The Emotional Exhibition works a metaphor for feeling and unleashing emotions. The biennial reveals feelings and emotions through collective and personal experiences and provides a wide range of artistic examples with points and counterpoints drawn during the 20-year history of the exhibition. Withal, the event has included artists who confront and approach current states of social and political affairs with emotional intelligence and emotional determination. The works presented do offer a place of reflection, wherein both artists and visitors can consider emotional turmoils inherent in the human condition.

List and works (below) of nonmention artists in this text but present in the exhibition: Anne de Vries (NL), Eija-Liisa Ahtila (FI), Fanny Ollas(SE), Hannaleena Heiska (FI), Ilkka Halso (FI), Ina Hagen (NO), Olafur Eliasson (DK), Rosalind Nashashibi (UK).

MOMENTUM10. The Emotional Exhibition
June 08 – October 09, 2019
Various locations, Moss, Norway

Words: María Muñoz
Photos: Courtesy of Momentum10 and  María Muñoz were noted.

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