BY Jörg Heiser in Reviews | 10 SEP 00
Featured in
Issue 54

Momentum 2000


BY Jörg Heiser in Reviews | 10 SEP 00

The opening of the second Nordic festival of contemporary art, Momentum 2000, couldn't have been more apt: as the faint but distinctive smell from nearby pulp factories permeated the picturesque peninsula park where the show was mainly held, kids paraded towards the open-air stage in red and blue Cossack uniforms, proudly waving the Norwegian flag. Prince Eric of Norway, frequently in the news recently because of his relationship with the ex-girlfriend of an alleged drug dealer, sat down on the ornate Royal chair beside a general in an equally ornate uniform. The brassy parade music was followed by a rather avant-garde performance of xylophone music, numerous speeches in Norwegian and English, and then a short disco-punk performance by Munich band Chicks on Speed, who were dressed in disposable paper skirts. As the event turned into a psychedelic phantasmagoria even Timothy Leary couldn't have dreamt up, the local crowd sat through it all with the utmost patience.

The ceremony felt appropriate because, like the exhibition (comprising 40 artists and curated by Ina Blom, Jonas Ekeberg, Jacob Fabricius and Paula Toppila), it embraced every cliché about social life in Scandinavia - its peculiar mix of community and individual eccentricity; light-hearted gatherings in spring meadows; its taste for heart-stirring, serious art and both brightly coloured folklore and functional minimalism - before letting it all collapse in a celebratory heap. The only difference was that the show, as opposed to the opening ceremony, did it intentionally - as in Annika Larsson's video 40-15 (1999), where men in tight tennis dresses practice their game in front of the bedroom mirror, or in Børre Sæthre's Lust Lux Pod 1.0 (2000), a clean white room filled with the sound of a camera flash and containing three 60s dressing table stools. Sitting down, you wondered what the point of the retro-cool cleanliness was, until the flash lit up and allowed you to catch a glimpse of a large photo hidden behind a milky glass: an image of a nude, full-figured man lying like a baby beneath a tree while a large-eyed fawn smelt his anus. In the blink of an eye you became the unwitting viewer of absurdist animal porn - as if Bambi and Verner Panton had made a deal to reveal the hidden kernel of Northern predilections for functional design and untouched nature.

Maybe the sight of kids in fantasy costumes running around the beautiful, temporary museum space (built by Rolf Gerstlauer, Eric Fenstad Langdalen and students from the Oslo school of Architecture) added to the impression that the supposed introspective, melancholic modesty of Nordic art has become pulverised in an exuberant pop-cultural amalgamation. Exposing the advantages and weaknesses of this, Atopian Feral (2000) by Nasstudio - a fictitious artists group comprising the many alter egos of Yon Egil Askeir - looked like the collaborative effort of a split personality. Taking as its starting point a recent story about a wolf family turning up in the woods around Moss, the work consisted of a parachute dangling from the ceiling, surrounded by a huge mural of Medusa heads crawling around a Heavy Metal nightmare landscape of snakes and creepers. Lonely howls emanated from a portable CD player. The mural was echoed in Gothic, snaky ornamentation which had been applied to an old leather jacket lying on the floor, and a porcelain greyhound in the opposite corner. Without these numerous bits and pieces, the inherent drama of the work might have been even greater.

Pia Rönicke's animated film Outside the Living Room (2000) looked more focused and almost didactic in comparison, yet she didn't trade in the advantages of pop-cultural impurity for the deceptive reassurance of neo-Conceptual rigour. A bit like applying the imaginative flow of Rem Koolhaas' book Delirious New York (1994) to both Copenhagen and Los Angeles, she pictured parks as jungles, skyscrapers rising out of them with rice fields on top, and demanded public spaces to be return-ed back by the private companies that have turned it into a guard-controlled patio. Which made Henrik Håkannson's Parklife (Birdhouse Project No.3) (2000) an appropriate counterpart outside. It fused disinterested hobby/scientific observation with the dubious innocence of surveillance cameras placed into nest boxes. It was as if the psychedelia of Momentum had gone awry - even the birds could start to feel paranoid.

Jörg Heiser is director of the Institute for Art in Context at the University of the Arts, Berlin, Germany.