twitter facebook

Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (GIBCA): PLAY! Recapturing the Radical Imagination 0

Alida Ivanov from Stockholm

Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (GIBCA): PLAY! Recapturing the Radical Imagination
September 7 -  November 17, 2013

The crew of the biennale set out to investigate and critically reflect on the notions of play and radical imagination, which they see as important ingredients in both artistic and political discourse. The questions asked are the following: What is the transformative power of play? How do forms of playfulness affect or help manifestations of radical imagination? What actually constitutes radical imagination? Does democracy still have meaning? Do we dare to challenge the very way we live and imagine a different world?

GIBCA is Sweden’s only international art biennial. With a focus on contemporary international and Swedish art, it has grown into a kind of institution, attracting new visitors every year since it was established in 2001. In 2006, the kunsthalle Röda Sten took over as the main organizer. This year, it changed yet again in terms of organization, with a core of two artistic directors – Edi Muka and Stina Edholm, followed by a group of curators: Katerina Gregos, Claire Tancons, Joanna Warsza and Ragnar Kjartansson (in collaboration with Andjeas Ejiksson).

GIBCA is broad in many ways: both in terms of theme and size. The latter might work better than the first. What I really like about it is that it gives you an opportunity to discover the city. In Anar Krew: An Anti-Archives, at Göteborgs Konsthall and Hasselblad Center and curated by Claire Tancons, the second stage of the theme of play comes into shape, described as depicting “maritime imaginary, carnivalesque strategies”, and “anarchist influences constitutive of the protest ethos of the city of Gothenburg”. The artists presented are Sonia Boyce (b.1962), Andreas Gedin (b.1958), Nicoline van Harskamp (b.1975), Johan Heintz (b. 1958), Jean-Louis Huhta (b.1965), Deimantas Narkevičius (b. 1964), NBC och MYCKET in collaboration with designer Maja Gunn, Roberto Peyre (b. 1971), Karol Radziszewski (b.1980), Psychic Warfare (est. 2010), and Per Zennström&LennartSjöberg (b. 1961).

Joanna Warsza curates the venues Kajskjul 207, Göteborgsoperan, Älvrummet, Hotel ibis Styles, and DrömmarnaskajochÄlvsnabben, with a showing titled Art Crime. The theme was inspired by Nordic crime and horror fiction, and how this has, in many ways, staged a political debate – a post-Marxist critique of a society hiding its vices behind apparent harmony. The artists being shown are Tania Bruguera (b.1968), Åke Edwardson (b.1953), Forensic Architecture & Füsun Türetken, Núria Güell (b.1981), Maja Hammarén (b. 1978), Katarzyna Krakowiak (b.1980), Jill Magid (b. 1973), Mapa Teatro (est. 1984), Marion von Osten (b.1963), Sunshine Socialist Cinema (est. 2011), and Markus Öhrn (b.1972).

The exhibition Weight is being held at Stora Teatern, and was curated by artist Ragnar Kjartansson, in collaboration with Andjeas Ejiksson. The participating artists are Spartacus Chetwynd (b.1973), William Hunt (b.1977), Eunhye Hwang (b.1978), Nanna Nordström (b.1982), Margrét Helga Sesseljudóttir (b. 1988), and Carolee Schneemann (b.1949).

I have read the texts of the different themes over and over again, and have had such a hard time connecting everything. What we have here, are, essentially, five to six (counting the artistic directors) different curators – and it shows. The questions asked are perplexing: “Does democracy have meaning?” and “Do we dare to challenge the way we live and imagine a different world?”. Continuing this vein of thought, I would ask: “What world are we talking about?” When reading about radical imagination, I came to texts about the Black Power movements in the USA during the 60’s and 70’s, and this confused me. What is radical about this biennale? – both in terms of its context, and in the safety of Gothenburg and Sweden as a whole. My head always starts spinning when it comes to politics, and I find that it’s a hard subject to capture through commercially-funded or state-funded art, which is what this is. To do this, you need to overlook self-criticism. This leads me to think of the Berlin Biennale of last year, where they set out to define art works as a form of political activism; here, play and imagination are being seen as political activism. But for what? What is this change? Change to what? And from what? It becomes a mantra of change for the sake of change, but without a clear goal.

Röda Sten

The main show, The Politics of Play, at Röda Sten, was curated by Katerina Gregos. In the show, we see artists like Nabil Noutros, Luc Deleu, Ninar Esber, Parastou Forouhar, Jorge Galindo & Santiago Sierra, The Guerrilla Girls, Nevan Lahart, Tala Madani, OtobongNkanga, Roberto Paci Daló, Pavel Pepperstein, Fernando Sanchez Castillo, Marinella Senatore, Liv Strömquist, Olav Westphalen, Wooloo and Qui Zhije.

Guerrilla Girls' posters

The theme plays on the notion that both art and politics need imagination to be important, fruitful and interesting. The power of imagination is seen as something that can transform society. She tries to touch on how “politically-engaged art” is often academic, dry, didactic and, quite simply, uninspiring and dull; but she also says that it doesn’t have to be like that, even though she doesn’t mention that this kind of art is often hypocritical, too. The Politics of Play sets out to explore the relationship between art and politics through radical imagination and a state of play, as seen in the works of the presented artists. Thanks to Röda Sten as a space, the show itself becomes very interesting. It is rough, dark and airy, built in concrete and tile with old graffiti and odd shapes. It creates a certain dynamic between the pieces on show.

 Qui Zhije’s mural

We are first met by Qui Zhije’s (b.1969) large mural. His work is inspired by everything from Confucianism and Platonism, to the Enlightenment and Marxism, and so on. Combining these, he creates large labyrinth-like ink maps and other intricate drawings. It’s kind of like making deterministic mind-maps of alternative ways of looking at history, by creating different ideas of how our present might have turned out if we had chosen differently.

Pavel Pepperstein

The first room is mostly occupied by Irish artist Nevan Lahart (b. 1973) – with his large, almost naïve, installations. They are constructed on a foundation of political and social issues, but they have an arguably humorous, yet analytical, undertone. The only problem I have with these installations is that they look awful with their paper-maché-like construction. They aren’t built to last; or maybe that is the impression we're supposed to get?

On temporarily-erected walls, we find Nabil Boutros (b.1954), with his photographic series The Egyptians (2010/11). It consists of the portraits of 25 Egyptian men from different backgrounds. But actually, they are all one and the same person: Nabil Boutros, in disguise. He plays on the mentality of stereotyping.

Comic strip by Liv Strömquist 

Another wall shows a comic strip by Liv Strömquist (b.1978), End Extreme Wealth, which is about a lecture being presented to people who work on how to reduce extreme wealth – by educating the super-rich on how to get rid of their bad habits and stop accumulating capital. This piece was recently made for The Knife’s new album. What I really like about this piece is the fact that it’s a comic strip; how often do you see that in a “proper art exhibition”?

The next floor is dedicated to feminism, or it seems to be. This is probably an oversimplification on my part. On a pink wall, we have posters about discrimination against women in the art world, as created by the legendary Guerrilla Girls (est. 1985). This group of artists, activists and feminists draws up work-based listings of statistics on male-to-female ratios in art institutions. Besides making posters, they also make books and stage protests, often with confrontational gestures.

Tala Madani (b.1981) takes up a part of the other side of the room – with her paintings and films of fat and bearded middle-aged men, in all of their stereotypical valor.

Wooloo.  We need you now (more than ever). 2012

On the top floor, we meet Danish duo Wooloo (est. 2002), which consists of Martin Rosengaard and Sixten Kai Nielsen. Their video piece, We need you now (more than ever) (2012), is a charity music video on behalf of Europe's dire economical state. The format was inspired by initiatives such as the charity “Band Aid’s” anti-poverty efforts in 1984. In it, Wooloo pleads to the Catholic Church to bail-out Europe from the economic crisis.

Tala Madani paintings

After a run-through of the exhibition, we were led by Stobeés Trädgård to a tunnel that's just a short walk from Röda Sten. There, one can hear a sound piece and performance by Roberto Paci Daló. He plays the clarinet and the audience stands around him, listening. It’s here that everything becomes interesting. During the performance, we stood there in a cluster – taking in the art, so to speak. The tunnel, on the other hand, is part of the real world, and the real world wants to pass through the tunnel and get to the other side. A drunk man came in and just wanted to pass; we made room for him, but no one expected him to stay. Then other people came – on their way to work (?), or also, just to walk through the tunnel. It created such a strange division: the art world meets the real world; and art is always in the way.