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Bergen Assembly 2013

Monday Begins on Saturday 
International exhibition

 

Conveners: Ekaterina Degot and David Riff


31.08. - 27.10.13

RESEARCHERS AND WORKS IN THIS INSTITUTE

[the Institute of Perpetual Accumulation]

1| Mrinal SenIn Search of Famine, India, 1980. 

2| Andreas Siekmann & Alice CreischerIn the Stomach of the Predator, 2012–2013.

3| Yuri LeidermanAndrey SilvestrovBirmingham Ornament (Fragments 141–145), 2013. 

Monday Begins on Saturday is the title of the first edition of Bergen Assembly, and takes the form of an international exhibition, publication, and symposium. It is a critical meditation on the potentials and pitfalls of the evermore ubiquitous yet at the same time elusive notion of “artistic research.” The project takes its title from a novel by Soviet sci-fi writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky about a fictitious research institute staffed by a motley assemblage of fairytale beings and mad scientists who are trying to solve the problem of human happiness through magic. The first edition of Bergen’s new triennial is an oblique contemporary re-writing of this text as a multi-venue exhibition and book.

- My experiment took about an hour. During that hour I made ten rounds of the square, until I was bloated with water and heavily burdened with boxes of matches and ewspapers. I got to know all the salesmen and saleswomen and reached a number of interesting conclusions. The coin came back if it was used to pay. If you simply threw it away, dropped it or lost it, then it would stay where it was. The coin returned to the pocket at the moment when the change passed from the seller’s hands into the hands of the buyer. If at that moment I held my hand in one pocket, the coin appeared in the other. It never appeared in a pocket that was closed with a zip.

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[en.2013.bergenassembly.no/institutes/galleri_314]

1| Mrinal SenIn Search of Famine

In Search of Famine by acclaimed Indian filmmaker Mrinal Sen tells the story of a film crew that comes to a Bengali village to make a fiction film about a famine, which killed five million people in 1943 and remained unknown, overshadowed by World War II. The film crew encounters difficulties with locals—their fading memories and their disturbing visions. The researcher himself is not sure of his motives, and with the presence of the film crew in the village, food prices begin to rise, leaving the residents fearful of another famine. In Search of Famine is a film about cinematographic research and its complex relation to the ultimate reality of food and survival, about the hazards of storytelling, and the sudden emergence of the dimension of the future inside the archeology of the past.

Mrinal Sen is one of his nation's most politically active filmakers. After having studied physics at university in Calcutta, Sen worked as a freelance journalist, a salesman of patent medicines and a sound technician in a film studio. In the mid-1940s he joined the Indian People's Theatre Association and at that time began to read about and study film. The association had links to the Communist Party of India and this heralded the beginning of Sen's involvement with Marxist politics. In 1956 Sen made his debut with Raat Bhore(1956), the first of his 30 (as of 2002) films. Although his first film was openly political, he achieved national status as the director of a comedy, Bhuvan Shome (1969). Influenced by Italian neorealism and the work of fellow countryman Satyajit Ray, Sen used location shooting and non-professional casts in his early films. By the 1970s he was making wider use of symbolism and allegory. Although he remains politically committed, Sen feels that the "difference between party Marxists and a private Marxist like me is that others think they pocketed truth, whereas I am always in search of truth... " Sen's films have won numerous international awards. Kharij (1982), a scathing look at the hypocritical reaction of a bourgeois Calcutta family to the death of a servant boy, took home the Jury Prize from the 1983 Cannes Film Festival.

During his career, Mrinal Sen’s film have received awards from almost all major film festivals, including Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Moscow, Karlovy Vary, Montreal, Chicago, and Cairo. Retrospectives of his films have been shown in almost all major cities of the world.

Apart from his films, he has also received a number of personal honors. He received the Padma Bhushan, and in 2005 he was awarded the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest honor given to an Indian filmmaker, by the Government of India. He was also an honorary Member of the Indian Parliament from 1998 to 2003. The French government awarded him the Commandeur de l'ordre des Arts et letters (Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters), the highest honor conferred by the country. In 2001 The Russian government honored him with the Order of Friendship. He has also received a number of honorary Doctorate degrees from various universities. Mrinal Sen was the president of the International Federation of the Film Societies. He also served as member of International Jury at various film festivals, including Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Moscow, Karlovy vary, Tokyo, Tehran, Mannheim, Nyon, Chicago, Ghent, Tunis, and Oberhausen. 

In 2004 Mrinal Sen completed his autobiographical book, Always Being Born. In 2008 Mrinal Sen was awarded  Lifetime Achievement awards by Osian's-Cinefan Festival and by the International Film Festival in India. In 2009 the International Film Festival of Kerala awarded their first Lifetime Achievement Award to him. 

Mrinal Sen (b. 1923) in Faridpur, Bengal Presidency, British India (now Bangladesh), lives and works in Kolkata.

Mrinal Sen, In Search of Famine, India, 1980. Color, sound, 1 hour 45 minutes.

Courtesy of Mrinal Sen, Kolkata and Kunal Sen, Chicago.

2| Andreas Siekmann and Alice CreischerIn the Stomach of the Predator

In the Stomach of the Predators, a two-part exhibition by Berlin-based artists, curators, and theorists Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann, explores the predatory logic of advanced capitalism. Stemming from their joint research in the last several years concerning the privatization of the commons through the cases of seeds, land rights, and intellectual property, these two distinct bodies of work employ the methods and languages of theatrical and filmic stagings (Creischer) and pictorial tableaux (Siekmann).

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault on the island of Spitsbergen is a contemporary Noah’s Ark: a repository for keeping all the known seeds of agricultural plants in the world safe from extinction by cataclysm or climate change. But on closer examination, it turns out that the project is financed by the very same corporate lobbies and foundations pushing the second “green revolution” in biofuels and soy, introducing the very mono-crop practices that directly threaten seed diversity. For In the Stomach of the Predator (2012–2013), Andreas Siekmann and Alice Creischer propose their own vault of historical materialist research into the problematic of “green capitalism.” Using symbolic icons inspired by the 1920s and 1930s Isotype language of Otto Neurath and Gerd Arntz, Andy Warhol’s dance diagrams, and even the Pac-Man video game, they narrate the sheer quantities and qualitative relationship overturned in a global logic of disaster and demand, where not only intellectual property but also genetic material become commodities, and proprietary seed displaces all other strains. A special video performance made during the artists’ research trip to Spitsbergen enacts an Arctic neoDadaist animal procession, a contemporary version of what a young Marx would have ridiculed as the “spiritual animal kingdom”: that strange mix of dog-eat-dog competition and the noble rhetoric of philanthropy.

 

In the Stomach of the Predator is presented as part of the year-long research into the notion of “survival” within the long-term series Future Vocabularies (2014–2016). The series inquires into the possibility of art to offer a space for developing a variety of itineraries for envisioning another future.

Andreas Siekmann (b. 1961), lives and works in Berlin.

Alice Creischer (b. 1960), lives and works in Berlin.

Andreas Siekmann and Alice Creischer, In the Stomach of the Predator, 2012–2013. 

Twelve prints on canvas, 170 x 240 cm, HD video, 10 minutes. Courtesy of Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin, and KOW, Berlin. 

Commissioned by Bergen Assembly 2013.

3| Yuri Leiderman and Andrey SilvestrovBirmingham Ornament (Fragments 141–145)

Why in the world is a Georgian chorus singing a traditional song that unexpectedly mentions the death of Saddam Hussein? The stars of the film, taken by surprise, talk about this odd turn of events “live”. The conversation then shifts to samurais by the sea, the poets Mandelstam, Kliuev and Gorodezky, Moscow in the 1930s, and a Russian painter who immortalised Putin fishing. All surreal glimpses of the artist’s relationship with power.

Yuri Leiderman and Andrey Silvestrov’s project Birmingham Ornament (2007–2013) is an ongoing investigation that oscillates between contemporary art, cinema, and writing. It includes staged and filmed surrealist situations where professional and amateur actors, as well as imperturbable TV presenters, recite poetic texts. The texts—both heteroclite and basic, enigmatic and direct—touch on topics as serious as the Holocaust in a breathtakingly light, airy way. For the current iteration of this work, the artists continue developing a “poetic economical geography.” Their film, shot in ancient Minoan palaces on Crete, centers on the idea of storage, fundamental to European civilization. The latter, according to the artists, buried itself in the caves of material and information hoarding, excessive communication, and future anxiety (“the culture of ant”), having lost the “light” and nonchalant approach to storage (“the culture of the bee”) of the Minoans.

 

Yuri Leiderman (b. 1963) lives and works in Berlin.

Andrey Silvestrov (b. 1972) lives and works in Moscow.

Yuri Leiderman and Andrey Silvestrov, Birmingham Ornament (Fragments 141–145), 2013.

HD video, color, sound, approx. ​20 min. In English; no subtitles. Supported by Cine Fantom, Moscow.

Commissioned by Bergen Assembly 2013.

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Monday Begins on Saturday is a critical meditation on the potentials and pitfalls of the ever-more ubiquitous yet at the same time elusive notion of “artistic research.” The project takes its title from a novel by Soviet sci-fi writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky about a fictitious research institute staffed by a motley assemblage of fairytale beings and mad scientists who are trying to solve the problem of human happiness through magic. The first edition of Bergen’s new triennial is an oblique contemporary re-writing of this text as a multi-venue exhibition and book.

 

The Strugatsky Brothers wrote Monday Begins on Saturday in 1961, at the height of the Cold War Soviet research boom. It tells the story of a programmer who gets sidetracked by hitchhikers while vacationing in the Northern region of Karelia, and winds up working at the Research Institute for Wizardry and Sorcery, which is organized into sections such as the Department of Prophecies and Predictions or the Department of Linear Happiness. Its researchers are on a modest quest to solve all of humanity’s problems. The institute’s main philosophy is dialectical: positivism and vulgar materialism must be fought off at all costs and opposed with the weapons of magic and the imagination. Its ethic of incessant research—alluded to in the title of the novel—is similarly dialectical: an ideal life of perpetual inquiry and thinking, opposed to the quick fixes of consumerism and immediate satisfaction. Here even knowledge of the future should not be “consumed”—it must remain an open horizon. But this utopian atmosphere is secured by almost inexhaustible state support, propped up by an ever-growing bureaucracy, and protected from the demands of the market. Although some institute researchers even want to work on New Year’s Eve, others nonetheless become terribly complacent, which leads to a profuse growth of hair from their ears…

 

And this leads us, albeit circuitously and perhaps surprisingly, to the city of Bergen. Coming from the outside, it already looks like a utopian island for artistic research, paradoxically Hanseatic and Alpine, sailor’s port and Zauberberg at once, with an overdeveloped (or ideally saturated) artistic topography for a city of its size. Bergen has no single neglected postindustrial space of the type and scale normally repurposed for biennials—the kind of venue that often defines a project’s topics, spatial structures, and politics. Instead, its artistic landscape is punctuated by many small art institutions: publicly funded to varying degrees, unburdened by the art market, precarious but very committed, often modest and always operating with humanistic aims, offering spaces for idiosyncratic, even wacky, pursuits. At the same time, all must struggle against pressures which define cultural inquiry in the European post-welfare state more broadly: the tides of increasing academization, deliberative and strategic complicity with political or institutional agendas, and even complacency. In that sense, one could argue that there are analogies with the intellectual, economic, and ethical landscape of Soviet research institutes, ironically (but lovingly) described by the Strugatsky Brothers.

The first iteration of the Bergen Assembly attempts to “read” this narrative through a literary and intellectual re-working of the novel for today. A montage of newly commissioned artists’ projects and historical material, punctuated with fragments from literature, and quasi-fictional curatorial annotations, the Assembly is conceived as an aggregate or archipelago of fictitious research institutes—a little like the departments in the novel—“hosted” by existing institutions in Bergen. This constellation forms a retelling of the Strugatskys’ animal fables, ethno-fictions, scams, and tall tales through the golems and projections of our own time, in this age of hypercapitalist necromancy. To be clear, these are not direct responses to the novel, but rather juxtapositions in a visual essay of twisted analogies, probing the notion of artistic research from unexpected angles in curatorial framings that blur the distinctions between art history and art-making, artist and curator.

The exhibition Monday Begins on Saturday, opening in late August 2013, presents the positions of more than 40 international artists working in a variety of media. Projects are distributed over ten different locations in the city of Bergen. Many projects are specially commissioned for the Bergen Assembly. The exhibition is accompanied by a publication, a print version of the curatorial montage with newly commissioned and anthologized theoretical, literary, and artistic texts and contributions. In keeping with the concept of the overall project, the boundary between the exhibition and book is similarly fluid; curatorial annotations, quotes from novels, and documentation seep into the exhibition, while on the printed page a practice of writing-with-images, in passages reminiscent of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing or W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz, can be found. An international symposium featuring artist’s talks and panel discussions with the project’s contributors also takes place during the opening days of the Bergen Assembly.

Vaagsallmennigen 12, 5014 Bergen, Norway