BY Gregory Williams in Reviews | 03 MAR 99
Featured in
Issue 45

Nordic Nomads

BY Gregory Williams in Reviews | 03 MAR 99

Despite the underlying similarities between the recent 'merger mania' in the business world and exhibitions that gather artists from select nations, art and business typically part ways when it comes to the notion of product. Whereas corporate marriages tend to emphasise a unified output of well-defined goods, geographically based shows are made up of unique and disparate works that often resist assimilation into a collective statement. Andrea Kroksnes, the curator of 'Nordic Nomads', has chosen to highlight this fractured aspect of the group exhibition and draw a parallel between it and the status of current Scandinavian art in general.

According to Kroksnes' catalogue essay, the younger generation of Scandinavian artists, maintaining a disregard for fixed identities, tend to favour impurity and diversity over shared styles or themes. She employs the concept of hybridity as an oppositional one to descriptive categories which might position the artists in an unwanted nationalistic context. An interesting gap opens up in the process: the organising premise, through which these artists are ostensibly connected, is based on a lack of common purpose. This is resolved, however, by equating the mongrel nature of the works included with the rootlessness that defines the lifestyle of the artists, several of whom operate outside their country of origin.

In this respect, the most successful and relevant contributions to the show commented on the nomadic existence, especially in terms of the spatial displacement and compromised dialogue that inevitably occur on the road. Travel and documentation, for instance, are central to the projects of Simone Aaberg Kærn. Kærn is a trained pilot who has delved into the history of women flyers from the Second World War. Recently she has flown in a Pipercub across the United States, extensively recording her experiences through video, letters and notes (Sisters in the Sky-US Roundtrip in a Pipercub, 1998). Laid out on the floor of the gallery were objects and papers from her trip, including a small monitor with aerial views of the landscape as it slipped by below the plane. Journals kept by Kærn and her flying partner revealed the rigors of frequent take-offs and landings, as well as the tension that arises from prolonged periods of close interpersonal contact.

An interest in alienating sites informed the installations of Knut Åsdam, Ann Lislegaard and collaborators Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset. Åsdam built a series of three interconnected viewing rooms, Psychasthenium (1998) in which video works by some of the other artists were shown on monitors. A sort of lounge-cum-cruising-zone -- with clear references to anonymous encounters among peep-show booths -- enabled an obscured view of the person sitting in the cubicle next door. Lislegaard's installation Domestic Soundscape (1998), on the other hand, was a clean, almost clinical chamber with recording-studio foam covering the walls, where a single, bare light bulb flashed in response to the sounds of banal activities taking place inside an apartment while a woman's voice described the actions of the unseen protagonist. Here the familiar noises of clanging silverware and shutting doors were rendered abstract and distant, the way they might be experienced in an unknown environment. On a more threatening level, Elmgreen and Dragset suspended above the gallery entrance a sheet of plastic, Powerless Structures, Fig. 48 (1998), as if it might burst under the weight of many gallons of water. A bottle floated inside - whatever message it may have contained was secondary to the discomfort generated by having to walk underneath it in order to set foot in the exhibition.

The other dominant strand in the show involved disrupted moments of communication, similar to the way they occur between speakers of different languages. Blocked interaction is addressed in Lotta Antonsson and Annika von Hausswolff's video Slap Happy (1995), in which the two artists play pat-a-cake. What begins as a childhood exercise digresses into adult conflict as they begin striking each other's faces instead of their hands. A schizophrenic approach to narrative is elaborated in Eija-Liisa Ahtila's three-part video installation Me/We, Okay, Gray (1993). Each scenario deals in a different way with frustrated relationships and paranoid exchanges, presented in a rapid, jerky style that heightens the sense of visual and verbal turmoil.

The overall impression of heterogeneity in Nordic Nomads could be seen as an inevitable by-product of the artists' transitional state - in terms of both the site of production and level of professional recognition. Finally, however, the show offers evidence that Scandinavian art is very much in line with developments taking place in the greater international art world. Cultural hybridity is, after all, the mother tongue of this generation and has been a cause, as well as a result of, the gradual blurring of national boundaries.