STORIES, IN BETWEEN
Curated by Johan Lundh and Aileen Burns
21.01. - 06.03.2011
Stories, in Between features artists whose works trace and unpack complex cultural identities impacted by Diaspora using narrative strategies. Based primarily in Western hemisphere, participating artists negotiate and problematize cultural and geographic associations of their personal identities as wells as that of their artwork.
The show includes:
Discussions around identity in our supposedly post-colonial world have been in the forefront of intellectual and artistic activities for nearly four decades. From Edward Said onwards, thinkers like Homi K. Babah, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and Frantz Fanon have transformed the way that we understand and discuss colonialism and globalization. Despite this crucial critical reflection, or possibly as a reaction to it, we are currently in the midst of a nationalist trend spreading rapidly throughout Europe and North America. As one of the world’s wealthiest regions, Scandinavia has a strong tradition of universal welfare and foreign aid. Yet, it is also at the forefront of this alarming nationalist trend, the effects of which can be observed around the world. In this ever more globalized and culturally intertwined time, stubborn tendencies towards distrust and ignorance fueled by fear, calls for renewed engagement in the public sphere with the multicultural realities at hand.
Stories, in Between features artists whose practices trace and unpack complex cultural identities impacted by diasporas. Based primarily in the Western hemisphere, these artists discuss and negotiate cultural and geographical associations of their personal identities as well as that of their work. The exhibition includes recent and new works by Loulou Cherinet, Patricia Esquivias, Brendan Fernandes, Tamar Guimarães, Will Kwan, Runo Lagomarsino, and Maya Økland. The artists share a desire to address the multifaceted implications of migration and globalization in relation to their various practices and positions. These are not necessarily personal narratives but stories that result from research into tangled webs of international interpersonal relations. The use of time-based media allows these artists to negotiate more than one position, and convey intricacies and ideas that change through time.
Almost twenty years ago, Homi K. Babah wrote that there indeed is “something like culture's "in-between," bafflingly both alike and different.”1 In his writing Babah argues that, “hybrid agencies find their voice in a dialectic that does not seek cultural supremacy or sovereignty. They deploy the partial culture from which they emerge to construct visions of community, and versions of historic memory, that give narrative form to the minority positions they occupy: the outside of the inside; the part in the whole.”2 In Scandinavia, notions of identity have for a long time been linked to discourses of unity and essence. Reflecting on the internationalization of contemporary art, Stiftelsen 3,14 is a unique venue which strives to “try and look beyond our own country and to facilitate meetings between colleagues from different cultures and regions“.While we as curators recognize the dire importance of nurturing an international conversation about contemporary art, we want to continue and highlight a tread of 3,14‘s programming, which complicates this discourse by looking at people and artistic practices that operate within multiple structures at once.
Runo Lagomarsino’s We support (2007-11) introduces central questions to the exhibition: What do we support? Who do we support? In what context? The five slides reading We support were each shown previously in contexts such as Basel, London, Stockholm, Zagreb, and now Bergen. In those environments the statement gained new significance, and changed physically, marking the environmental forces that help to determine meaning, inside and outside, here and there. An ambition that we share with the artists in this show is to question and perhaps even change how we divide cultures between and within nations, communities, and art.
Employing time-based media to connect the local with the global, participating artists produce what Chinese curator Hou Hanru calls ‘in-between’ spaces in his essay Towards New Localities.3 This allows the works to obtain new senses, new meanings. One approach to disrupting out dated notions of nationality or identity, taken up by Patricia Esquivias, Tamar Guimarães and Will Kwan, has been to construct layered narratives, generating mixtures of dominant and minor histories that undermine expectations.
Esquivias’ Folklore II (2008) is a video about Spanish history in which vernacular culture blends with a highly subjective reading of official historical narratives. In the video the artist draws loose connections between Julio Iglesias and Spain’s King Philip II. Through her unconventional comparative methods, Esquivias illuminates Spain’s persistent economic reliance on global mobility. Gold and the golden rays of the sun have been significant motivators for this movement and her two protagonists each come to represent the necessity of these distinct industries.
Guimarães’ A Man Called Love (2007), like Folklore II, offers a voiceover narration exploring a national history; but in this case the speaker reveals the story by circling around the biography of Francisco Candido Xavier (1910–2002), a Brazilian psychic medium who dedicated his life to notating the words spoken to him by disembodied spirits, a process by which he came to write 400 books not solely authored by himself. Guimarães extends Xavier’s role as a medium, filtering the social and political history of Brazil, bound up in race and class divisions, through his life. Rather than addressing globalization, A Man Called Love questions positions determined by race and class, and undermines the connection of stories to a perceived reality.
In Canaries (the bank and the treasury) (2007), Kwan proposes a narrative link between multinational banking, Taoist funerary rituals, and the Hong Kong Diaspora. The central 3-channel video that tells the story of a fictional character, a longtime employee of HSBC, and interweaves his memories of the city and the vast history associated with the bank building where he works. The accompanying photograph and ephemera are clues which aid visitor in unraveling the elusive plot that is unfolding.
Another closely related strategy employed by Cherinet, Fernandes, Økland, and to some degree Esquvias and Kwan, is to establish comparative frameworks which proceed through a series of relations that test our presuppositions about places and people: socio-economic, identity, and place of belonging.
For Minor Field Study (2006), Cherinet edited material filmed on the border between Congo and Cameroon by Billy Marius, an anthropologist from Congo-Brazzaville, together with sequences of comparable spaces in Orminge, a suburb of Stockholm. The two are projected side-by-side highlighting links and disconnections. From a comparison between Congo-Brazzaville and a Swedish suburb one might expect mostly difference, but instead we are confronted by striking similarities in domestic and public spaces as well as interpersonal relationships.
Fernandes’ playful and exhausting attempt to learn to speak all of the accents of his cultural identity – Kenyan-Indian-Canadian – undermines our expectations about how people speak. Foe comes close to demonstrating what Babah writes in The Location of Culture: “Terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliated, are produced performatively. The representation of difference must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition.”4 Fernandes performs all of his various ethnic and cultural voices only to reveal them as performance. His true voice lies somewhere in a less easily pinpointed place, between accents.
Stranger in Motherland (2005-08) comprises more than 50 photographs taken by Økland on a trip to Brazil where every 5 years she would visit her Grandmother Pipi, a woman with some 64 grandchildren. Økland uses the camera to represent the distance she perceives between herself and the family who she has traveled across the world to see. Rather than family photo albums depicting closeness and affection, these images represent distance, a mediated encounter with people who are at once strangers and family.
The constantly changing imagery and voices that comprise Stories, in Between pushes viewers to complicate dichotomies such as North/South, East/West, Developed/Developing which are continually reinforced in the mass media and political policy. In reality, the continuous movement of people across the world, and the ever-changing visa and immigration regulations that control this mobility, ensures that the same actuality never recurs. Given the globalizing forces at play, we should ask ourselves why so many people in so many countries are looking backwards, toward an idealized national identity, which in most cases never existed.
1 - Bhabha, Homi K. Culture's in between, Artforum 32.1, 1993, p.167
2 - Ibid, p. 168
3 - P. 34, On The Mid-Ground, Timezone 8, 2003
4 - P. 62, Routledge, 1994