Getting Stuck Inside A You-Loop At The Nordic Biennial

COdlund_VKleven copy
Christine Ödlund, Colored light in far-red eyes, 2015. Stained glass window. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Vegard Kleven. Copyright Punkt Ø/ Momentum

In an isolated city in Norway, a biennial about isolation is taking place. Moss, which was known as a haunt of Edvard Munch, plays host to the 8th Momentum Biennial, which runs until 27 September 2015. The exhibition spans two venues, the Momentum Kunsthalle and Galleri F15, and has an eye on the Nordic region, whose cultures can tend to feel cut off from the rest of Europe, although the outlook is international, including artists from outside the Northern European territories. The biennial also focuses on the digital confinement that we all place ourselves in. Simply put, the online world attempts to make things as relevant, and as easy as possible for us, and this necessarily excludes information that we might not want to see, putting us within a “you loop” or “filter bubble”. 

This is all summed up under the title of “Tunnel Vision”, which also makes reference to traditional artist methodology as informed by works from Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own to Kafka.  Daniel Steegmann-Magrané’s work with analogue film is a good example of the artist’s immersion into a logic of their own. The work is a film created by a 16mm camera travelling through a lush green forest, modified to move only as far as the physical reel of film would allow. This makes artist’s process its own visible pace for the film. In this piece, “tunnel vision” also describes the subject matter, as the camera travels further into the horizon, creating a streamlined visual effect.

Opening of 8th Momentum Biennial. Photo by Ingeborg Thorsland
Opening of 8th Momentum Biennial. Photo by Ingeborg Thorsland

Joanna Lombard’s multichannel video work “Orbital Re-enactments” depicts, in 360 degree projections, a series of scenes with adults and children inspired by communal living, where adults behave like children and the children are left to make their own choices. The internal logic of the group is taken to its conclusion, while the camera remains a silent commentator. Elsewhere in the biennial, the artist has created a smoking charcoal circle surrounded by trees, with speakers ring out a chorus of laughter. At times intimidating, at others hysterically funny, it’s a piece that leaves you wrapped up inside your own brain: tunnel vision indeed.

Several other pieces have a similar effect – most notably Lundahl and Seitl‘s work “Symphony Of A Missing Room”, which puts the visitor into a state of sensory deprivation using headphones and goggles, and allows them to create an entire world in their minds. A guide carefully and gently leads each visitor through the experience, allowing utter absorption into your own mind. It also creates a kind of synaesthetic effect. Sight and hearing, usually the kings of the senses, are replaced with the artwork’s stimuli, and suddenly the touch of a hand, the blowing of a breeze, become that much more potent as markers of reality. These sensory evocations are brought across the two spaces, both of which are stamped with the scent of Sissel Tolaas’s signature smell created for the exhibition, while the Swedish musician Zhala’s soundtrack for the biennial floats throughout both spaces.

Zhala at the opening of the 8th Momentum Biennial. Photo by Ingeborg Thorsland
Zhala at the opening of the 8th Momentum Biennial. Photo by Ingeborg Thorsland

In a press conference to discuss the biennial, the curators (Jonatan Habib Engqvist, Stefanie Hessler, Birta Gudjonsdottir and Toke Lykkeberg) point out the narrowing effect that contemporary culture looks for in its drug consumption. Instead of widening our minds, getting rid of the control of the structures that rule our lives, there is an impulse towards using drugs to create greater focus, magnifying what is already inside our brain, particularly in the case of cognitively enhancing drugs. These “nootropics” are one of the features of Edward Shenk’s trailer for the Momentum Biennial, which, in the Youtube language of right wing online conspiracy theorists, draws links between the Svalbard seed bank, Norwegian oil companies and the biennial itself. These conspiracy videos exhibit extreme tendencies to over-focus on a single target – when all research is intended to confirm a hypothesis, any insignificant moment can become a beacon of proof. 

In some ways enacting this search for evidence is behind Minna Henriksson’s  ongoing work “Hidden”, where the artist has hunted out “cloaked fascism” in a variety of elements (particularly crossword puzzles) spurred on by the discovery of a Nazi stamp on the back of a painting she inherited from her grandmother. These two “tunnels”, one of the right-wing conspiracy theorist, one of the artist dedicated to their own task, seem to sum up the intersecting worlds conjured by the biennial’s theme. 

If you’re missing out on some you-loop time, the Momentum 8th Biennial creates the smells and sounds to fall right down the rabbit hole of your own mind.

The 8th Momentum Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art – Tunnel Vision is on show from 13 June until 27 September 2015

Text by Josie Thaddeus-Johns

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