Q&A with Sonia Dermience, the curator of the joint exhibition TRUST
Lizete Riņķe 28/08/2015
- TRUST - Copenhagen Art Festival August 29 – October 25, 2015
The imperative TRUST is also the shared title of an ambitious exhibition arranged through the joint efforts of the five principal and largest art venues in Copenhagen: Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Nikolaj Kunsthal, Kunstforeningen GL STRAND, Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, and Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art. 41 Danish and international artists will participate in the exhibition, which is spread across the five venues as well as a few other locations around the city, and curated by the Belgian curator Sonia Dermience. Sonia Dermience is the founder and curator of Komplot, a curatorial collective in Brussels founded in 2002 that specializes in nomadic creative practices and operates as a platform for experimental art. The grand opening of TRUST on Saturday, August 29, will round off the ten days of Copenhagen Art Week.
This collaboration started in 2012 with the Copenhagen Art Festival, which is behind this exhibition and now returns with a slightly different concept at its heart. As a curator at GL STRAND and a member of the organization behind Copenhagen Art Week, Anne Kielgast explained:
“In 2012 each institution curated its own exhibition in continuation of a shared theme, and there was a large program in the public space. In 2015 we have decided to take our collaboration even further and present one joint exhibition across the five kunsthalles. On a daily basis, we all work to improve the significance of contemporary art for a larger audience, and by creating one joint narrative through the exhibition of TRUST, we aim to create a unique experience. We have invited Sonia Dermience to curate this ambitious project because of her vision establishing a narrative for each venue by way of the invited artists’ work; at the same time, this vision unites the present and past with an alternative story that we found both challenging and stimulating.”
Sonia Dermience has delved into the history of the buildings that today house the art venues, and as a part of the exhibition concept, temporarily renamed each institution in honor of a starting point in their history. Thus, Kunsthal Charlottenborg has been given the name of The Palace, Nikolaj Kunsthal – The Temple, GL STRAND – The Salon, Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art – The Studio, and the Overgaden Institute of Contemporary Art is The Exchange.
Sonia Dermience. Photo: Torben Stroyer
Prior to the opening of TRUST we had the opportunity to ask Sonia Dermience a few questions about the concept of the exhibition:
The exhibition venues themselves play a central part in the concept of the exhibition, instead of just constituting a framework. What is the idea behind building the exhibition around the historical identity of the venues?
The institutions are pieces of the larger landscape that is the city. In every occidental city or capital, you have a church, a stock exchange, the palace, a supermarket… The archetypes of our society. I gave a fictional name to each kunsthal, thereby alluding to their history and architectural identity. It became a layer of fiction that the artists could interpret, and even contribute to this fiction. Charlottenborg / The Palace, for example, goes back to its original function as a home for collected objects from around the world. Den Frie / The Studio goes back to its mission of offering spaces to artists, basically, the ideal art studio at the end of the 19th century; this then collides with the concept of a universal exhibition taking place in an interior garden… Overgaden / The Exchange was conceived as an industrial working place, as a place for the exchange of goods and ideas, and akin to Warhol’s The Factory, where he and others transformed different locations in 1970s NYC into artists’ studios and hang-out cabarets… GL Strand is The Salon, an abandoned house in which the objects become the inhabitants, acting like characters in a film about a dysfunctional family. Nikolaj / The Temple becomes a place for a ritual mass gathering around contemplative activities and consumption.
Seyran Kirmizitoprak. Ladybags, 2012. Photo: Laurie Charles
The title of the exhibition, “TRUST”, is highly ambiguous. What should we put into this word? Is it an invitation, or a questioning of this notion? The word “trust” also has associations with absolute power, created to control and dominate…
Absolutely! It’s that double meaning of the word TRUST that I wanted to put forward, plus the positive and negative of TRUST ME and DON’T TRUST ME. Then the ME or YOU is the kunsthal, the artist, the visitor… I wished to comment on the context of the appearance of the artworks. To be playful and critical at the same time with the fact that art is a medium of counter-culture that appears in places of power. The paradox is that the artists are poets working with representations of power. They must play around this context. They are commissioned to make objects that bring a subjective layer to our understanding of the world. They are not politicians or journalists, but their practice is grounded in a field in which the intimate encounters the public sphere. An image that TRUST can bring to mind is the snake character, in Walt Disney’s Jungle Book. The snake saying TRUST ME is seducing the boy in order to manipulate him. It’s that attraction that we play with. Artists need power to bring their subject matter into the world. We draw the audience into a place, and then we tell a story that each of us can interpret, enjoy and critically analyze. Seduction is the first part and we are not trapped; we must always remain aware of those processes. I defend this double function of art, the aesthetic, and the narrative. In the end, the institutional critique is directed toward ourselves and the public institutions, but also towards the market, which we are also a part of simply due to daily living. This, therefore, is why I wished to say: TRUST / DON’T TRUST The Palace, The Temple, The Exchange, The Salon, The Studio, The Boutique, The Pizzeria.
Pernille Kapper Williams. The Anatomy of Objects (Foodies’ Toys), 2012. Courtesy of the artist
TRUST is a part of Copenhagen Art Week, which this year has the headline “Shared Space”. Did you also have this in mind when curating the exhibition?
This title goes well with my idea, but when I started to work on TRUST more than a year ago, Copenhagen Art Week was not a part of it. My initial project didn’t change much in the sense that there was already this fiction about the city, and also due to the fact that I had selected artists who could work together either in existing collectives or in dialog with the others participating in the show. I believe in co-production, co-thinking and empathy as political ways in which to address our society. Isolation is a source of de-humanization, which is a source of violence, so I believe art should be a tool for getting together on the same boat. The boat is sinking and re-emerging constantly.
What was your approach and vision as a curator of this exhibition, and what is particularly important for you in your work as a curator?
The curator is the one who mediates between the artist and the audience, and there I see a large specter of contextual creation. The curator brings that layer of fiction, as I call it, which can put you in an intermediary space that is poetic and non-commercial and non-functional. I see exhibitions like gardens or forests in which you wander around and spend time discovering textual-, visual- and sound-pieces. The art center is still a space where you can spend time, your free time, wandering around as you like. It’s a non-functional space. We can call it leisure, or entertainment, or meditation; it’s about spending time to recharge…
What was your focus when putting together the comprehensive list of participating artists?
As I said, the capacity and desire to collaborate is essential for us today. I am also very interested in artists who merge a narrative, or textual aspect, with the creation of objects and visuals. How they translate text into performance, slogans into gestures, immateriality into objects, and then put it all together. There is something very ritualistic in these practices, either at the point of creation, or at the moment of the reception of the artwork. Artists work in many different contexts, not only in studios, which is also something that I wanted to show. Particularly in Den Frie, where artists reveal their places and processes of creation, and which can be an island, a train station, the street or a party… The studio is in the head. Finally, I am intrigued by artists who work on the edge… in the excess. How they represent decadence and unbearable injustice, the dark side and the colorful side. Artists who have this sense of 'excess with no limits' represent an idea of freedom. The artists still question these limits, and that which is unrepresentable.
Vava Dudu. Ille de France, 2013. Photo: Yassine
The exhibition also spreads out to a couple of other satellite locations around the city, including the fashion store Mads Nørgaard and a pizzeria. What was the idea behind placing art in these unusual settings?
Initially, we wanted to have more extra-locations. The idea is to infiltrate public and commercial spheres with small gestures, as opposed to with imposing, monumental works. I dreamed about parking lots, a park, an all-night shop… Then you realize that these spaces are all overused. There is no space left for ‘extra’ content. So, we focused on what we could find. Torben Ribe made a piece in the pizzeria next to his studio. Vava Dudu will sell clothes in a boutique. The Lake Radio and Cinema Vester Vov Vov are the two cultural extra-locations. These extra-locations were conceived as generic places of everyday life. This romantic idea of inserting art into non-places revealed itself as being outdated. There is no more non-space in a wealthy city. Everything is organized and well-used. Nevertheless, I am happy that the few places that the artists will employ totally make sense in terms of their practice. That’s the most important thing. A discreet gesture can touch a smaller audience, but it must do so with great sensibility. We just had a talk on gentrification, and some artists told me that the inhabitants of a neighborhood in which a public sculpture is being planned organized a protest against this sculpture – because it would contribute to the gentrification of the neighborhood and the raising of rents…
Ditte Gantriis. Body & Soul, 2014-15
Martin Erik Andersen (DK), Felicia Atkinson (FR), Jakup Auce (BE), Elena Bajo (ES), Jessica Baxter (BE), Nina Beier (DK), Maiken Bent (DK), Ellen Cantor (USA), Mikkel Carl (DK), Cel Crabeels (BE), Nanna Debois Buhl (DK), Vava Dudu (FR), Sophie Dupont (DK), FOS (DK), Ditte Gantriis (DK), Sofie Haesaerts (BE), Steinar Haga Christiansen (NO), Maj Hasager (DK), Pernille Kapper Williams (DK), Ilja Karilampi (SE), A Kassen (DK), Seyran Kirmizitoprak (BE), Egle Kulbokaite (SE), Emmanuelle Lainé (FR), Adriana Lara (MX), Jacopo Miliani (IT), Cécile Nouès (FR), Officin (DK), Carl Palm (SE), Douglas Park (UK), Angelo Plessas (GR), Laure Prouvost (UK/FR), Torben Ribe (DK), Ebbe Stub Wittrup (DK), Zin Taylor (CA/BE), The After Lucy Experiment (BE), Harald Thys & Jos De Gruyter (BE), Benjamin Valenza (FR/CH), Loic Vanderstichelen & Jean-Paul Jacquet (BE), We Are The Painters (FR) and Atalay Yavuz (TU).