Agencies of Art: A Report on the Situation of Small and Medium-sized Art Centres in Denmark, Norway and Sweden
How can one fathom the implications and values of smaller arts institutions within the greater art ecosystem? One key aspect is their ground-breaking approach to relations between art and society, education, and the formation of public spheres. Another is their important role in local communities whilst maintaining a constant dialogue within the international arts context. But how can we create dialogue around the values that are being built – beyond visitation numbers and media coverage? What cooperative processes can be adopted so that artists and culture, small and large institutions, municipalities, regions, states, and federal politics all cooperate to encourage art’s potential?
The authors believe that small or midsize art centres play an important role with their capacity to adapt and transform according to what artists are doing, while also providing stability and continuity. Since this crucial stability and continuity is challenged by current political decisions, this report ‘Agencies of Art’ is a timely tool for reflecting on the possible agency of art and its institutions. ‘Agencies of Art’ is based on a questionnaire and interviews. For the Reshape publication, two chapters of the report ‘Agencies of Art’ were selected: ‘Future perspectives’ and ‘Alternative future perspectives’.
Future perspectives – from social imaginaries to structural pragmatism
‘I don’t know about you, but the New Year has only just arrived and I’m already exhausted.’
– (Flanders 2017)
At the end of the questionnaire drawn up in the context of ‘Agencies of Art’, we (researchers Jonatan Habib Engqvist and Nina Möntmann) asked: ‘How do you imagine the future of your organisation? What would be the ideal conditions for your organisation in the future?’ We were anticipating that we’d receive visionary ideas and proposals, in line with the experimental spirit that these small and medium-sized contemporary art venues represent. To our surprise, many of the answers were written in language reminiscent of the kind used by municipal governments. We suspect this is an indication of how the everyday bureaucracy required to sustain daily operations for institutions is actually changing their communication style. It also clearly has to do with economic parameters – not in terms of having to do a lot with a small budget, but in terms of the demands of constant auditing, reporting, and box-ticking.
In the early 2000s, in the spirit of what has been labelled ‘New Institutionalism’, the ‘social imaginary’ was a common leitmotif in the practice of experimental and multifunctional institutions. The concept, popularised by the philosopher Charles Taylor, was applied to institutions as places that allowed people to imagine their existence as part of a larger social structure, as well as influencing their social relationships, what they expected from them and what normative pressures these relationships would be subject toCharles Taylor’s concept of the ‘social imaginary’: ‘I am thinking rather of the ways in which people imagine the whole of their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met and the deeper normative notions that underlie these expectations.’ (Taylor 2002, 92). Correspondingly, Charles Esche stated, just after he took over as director of the Rooseum in Malmö in 2000: ‘An art centre, perhaps as opposed to a museum, should create a space for artists, creative groups and individuals to give social change some form of expression that allows for reflection and discussion.’ (Esche and Stjernstedt 2001)
However, since ‘corporate institutionalism’ has arrived at small-scale institutions, pragmatism seems to rule the agendas of most small and medium-sized institutions. The normalisation of neoliberal ideology, strategies and managerialism – described by writer Mark Fisher as ‘capitalist realism’ – has taken over the art field in its entirety, down to the tiniest art initiative. As Fisher writes: ‘With the triumph of neoliberalism, bureaucracy was supposed to have been made obsolete ... [but] instead of disappearing, bureaucracy has changed its form, and this new, decentralised form has allowed it to proliferate.’ (Fisher 2009, 20) As a result, economic logic has encroached on all aspects of work and life, affecting educational as well as art institutions, which now spend a significant amount of their time labouring over endless applications and self-assessments.
Under the pressure of having to constantly reapply for yearly budgets – which are often not guaranteed soon enough to confirm planned programmes – nearly all the surveyed institutions said their ideal future would entail a substantial increase in their budget and a guarantee of their continued existence for the next couple of years. Also frequently mentioned was a desire to be more widely recognised and expand their audience. These answers point towards an internalised neoliberal impulse, something which most of the institutions are aware of and even criticise but also accept as unavoidable if they want to continue to exist and do their work. Although the formats of their programming, exhibitions, collaborations, and social events can rarely be subject to speculation, managerial rules form the backdrop for each of these institutions. In this regard, their institutional visions, as described in their answers to the questionnaire, don’t differ very much from those of larger, established institutions: They want to reach out to larger audiences and receive more recognition with a programme of successful exhibitions.
Correspondingly, Sanne Kofod Olsen notes that even the ‘literature on new museology emerging over the last twenty years is mainly concerned with how museums can improve their presentation/communication/education/learning activities to attract more visitors and transform themselves into socially relevant and/or successful income-based enterprises.’ (Kofod Olson 2014) These ‘guides’ are aimed at the burgeoning number of museums – whose ranks began to increase in the 1990s, in parallel with the stock-exchange boom – and their specific function as a marketing tool within a privatised public sphere, as well as (especially in the United States) part of the entertainment industry. It is interesting in this regard that ‘development’ in institutional work, especially in the US, is often synonymous with ‘fundraising’. By contrast, in the United Kingdom, the term ‘investment’ designates financial support for art. According to this logic, art institutions develop when companies and foundations invest in them.
A number of institutions mention research as a field they would like to expand in their institutional practice. Kristine Kern of Fotografisk Center says that they would generally like to include research as a natural part of institutional practiceEmail to the authors, February 2018.. Corina Oprea wants to ‘establish Konsthall C as an institution for artistic and curatorial research and innovative exhibition formats’In response to our questionnaire.. It is telling to weigh this intention, apparently a core initiative, against this institution’s annual budget for research and development: SEK 11 000 (€1100).
Including (artistic) research as a central concern for smaller art institutions could also be seen as one attempt to escape the managerial logic of neoliberalism. Because the discourse on artistic research and its definition in the academic context fits in well with bureaucracy and economic applicability – motivating many of the research facilities at Scandinavian art academies as well – many smaller art institutions turn to alternative, free, and self-organised forms of research as a tool for their own curatorial work, as well as for the events and workshops they offer. Paul O’Neill, Lucy Steeds, and Mick Wilson recognise the significance of research for the formation of new and progressive institutions when they ask: ‘What are the models, resources, skills and knowledge-bases needed to develop a new, innovative and progressive research-led institution?’ (O’Neill, Steeds and Wilson 2017, 22) This can, to some extent, be seen as an attempt to at least partially escape not only normalisation, but also instrumentalisation. But what does this mean?
In 2005, Iaspis – the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s international artists programme – published European Cultural Policies 2015, a book that tells us in its opening sentence that art has become ‘almost completely instrumentalised – regardless of whether its financing is private or public.’ (Lind 2005, 4) This now 13-year-old anthology points to several tendencies in European cultural policies that have advanced since it was published. One of the uncannier essays in the book is Tone Hansen’s text ‘2005–2015’ (Hansen 2005, 79–90). She notes how debates that, to a large extent, originated in the public realm would be later left to committees; how projects would become outsourced in a way that would widen the gap between artists and institutions; and how the influence of extreme right-wing politics would impact cultural policies. In a European context, it is worth noting that her text also predicts an increase in state subsidies – money that, to a greater degree, is employed through means such as culture and business forums ‘and directly initiated, temporary projects’ (Hansen 2015, 75). She means that money is offered in return for obeying orders, and that ‘the culture sector must also put up with management by objective. Management by objective has become a natural thing: the State gives support, and expects social effects back.’ (Hansen 2015, 80)
Returning to Hansen’s text today, it is clear that the polarisation of the art field due to ‘management by objective’ – which we have witnessed in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway since 2005 – creates ‘a need to protect the art institution against a growing bureaucracy, as there is no choice not to become politically engaged’ (Hansen 2015, 80).
‘So, how can you say “Thanks, but no thanks” to this delicate form of interdependence, which, one way or another, always succeeds in making you a partner-in-crime, even without your consent?’ asks Elena Tzotzi, of Signal Gallery, Malmö, in her text ‘Small is strong, or is it the other way around... ?Sent in response to the questionnaire (Engqvist and Tandberg 2013, 81).’:
Caring about how you do things is, above all, caring for the artists you work with, which means that you constantly push, challenge, and question, but you’re always there to take joint risks and enjoy shared successes. It is a commitment that goes far beyond the carefully calculated moves of a mapped-out strategy. Sometimes it throws you headlong into trouble; more often, it rewards you with a companion with whom you’ll share each conviction and doubt throughout the process of collaboration. Paying attention to each detail is showing that you care, and trusting each other is daring to stick your neck out despite the extreme anxiety of a trend-following logic so dominant in the art world. To be confident enough not to compromise in any direction is not an easy thing to do on your own; it always helps to have friends along the way who will listen to your concerns, support your efforts, and question your choices. To operate a space, based on these values, is what makes the difference, and the smaller scale allows you a whole other room for manoeuvr[ing]. (Engqvist and Tandberg 2013, 81)
It may be relevant here to stress the simple fact that institutions, while they have a mandate to represent the general value system of a society, are also composed of and shaped by people: individuals working in and around the institution and their surrounding social environmentAndrea Fraser writes that it can never be a question of being for or against an institution. We are the institution, and the question is what kind of institution we want: what values we institutionalise, embody, and perform as individuals. (Fraser 2015, 278–285). An institution may thus be understood as an organised set of social structures and relationships in a state of continuous becoming. (See, for example, de Pina-Cabral 2011, 477–94) This is particularly clear when observing small institutions, which are often shaped to a considerable degree around a single individual’s artistic vision and network. While larger institutions are stuck in the present hegemonic-corporatist institutional structure and logic, it becomes evident that, for many of the smaller institutions in this study, the programmatic interests and curatorial profile of their current directors directly inform their self-conception. This is interesting from both a Swedish and Norwegian perspective, where on several occasions it has been claimed that there are no people with ‘artistic leader-ship material’ on the national level, which is why they are ‘forced’ to find directors for their institutions abroad. The leadership of small and medium-sized institutions should be accounted for here.
This is primarily a qualitative, not quantitative, aspect of the small or medium-sized art institution. Naturally, it is not a distinction that resolves the question of funding or working conditions, but might be significant to bear in mind when they are sandwiched between the larger art institutions, as Tzotzi writes, ‘in the quest for larger audiences and more funding, and the commercial galleries, operating within a totally different economic logic’. Tzotzi recognises that budgeting is a problem for smaller spaces: ‘But, even if a smaller scale might seem to be a disadvantage in this case, the only reason these initiatives exist is precisely because of a manageable scale that doesn’t allow the economic structure to overshadow the contentElena Tzotzi in response to the questionnaire..’ This in turn requires an immense and, at times, exhausting amount of dedication from curators and artists, who are already working under precarious conditions in order to realise their ideas about art and give space to the dialogue it produces.
Alternative future perspectives
New forms and potentials of delayed value
Sarah Thelwall’s idea of ‘deferred value’ confirms a number of findings from both the three national reports and our questionnaire, thus proving relevant to the Scandinavian context: Almost all of the institutions mention that they are among the first to show younger or less established artists, who are then invited to show at biennials or appear in the exhibitions of bigger institutions. (Often, the original institution does not receive due credit for this.) Staff members, mainly curators, also make their way from smaller institutions to bigger ones, and even move, in some cases, from the local to the international level.
The question, now, is: How can small institutions use the fact that they produce deferred or delayed value for the art field, and sometimes even beyond that? The attention they apparently get from bigger institutions and other actors may, for instance, be consciously directed and used to spread values that undermine forced complicity with the neoliberal operational models of the art system at large (of which most of the curators are tired, as well as critical). This may be done, for example, through slowed-down or long-term organisation models, which would allow time for more thorough research (a desire that was mentioned explicitly in several questionnaires), adequate fees for interns and artists, generous planning, and deeper ethical responsibility.
If they in their role as ‘trendsetters’ would collectively refuse to reproduce organisational practices derived from neoliberalism (as well as funding from unethical sources) in favour of creating new operating strategies, they might produce delayed value which could potentially impact the cultural field beyond just artistic and curatorial careers. As in the more successful examples of boycotting or downscaling from the past few years, it seems relevant that they distance themselves collectively and perform criticism in creative waysIn February 2014, an open letter was published by the artists of the 19th Biennale of Sydney, Australia, calling for a boycott of the biennale because major sponsor Transfield Holdings was also a contractor for Australia’s network of immigrant detention centres. As a result, the biennale cut all ties with Transfield; this, as well as the debate (which was published internationally), could be seen as a success. Although the longer-term effects of the boycott are unknown – and have already produced some ambivalence – this shows how a well-staged refusal can shake up a seemingly static system.. For example, as part of the ongoing #MeToo anti-sexual-harassment conversation, large institutions in Scandinavia have seriously struggled with the reorganisation and exposure of power structures, whereas small and medium-sized institutions have the advantage of being swifter and more efficient. Representation (the strength of being locally rooted and in touch with local publics) can transform structures more easily than could be done within the sluggish structures of corporatised larger institutions. Seeking allies outside art networks can also help with efficiency, as can getting the attention of the public.
In a review of the conference ‘Humans of the Institution’, which took place in Amsterdam in 2017, organised by Anne Szefer Karlsen and Vivian Ziherl, Ina Hagen writes: ‘One needs to step outside of the economy of recognition that fuels the art system at large.’ Although she directs this at the practice of freelance curators, it also applies to small-scale institutions; as she continues: ‘This is a bold and risky move that can only be made if an international support system of some kind is in place.’ (Hagen 2018) This is true in many ways, and it is here that organised networks – regional, national or international – play their most important role: as hubs and support structures for ‘bold and risky’ undertakingsThere are, of course, several existing examples of initiatives in the region that could be developed further – for example, the network of photographic centres called the Nordic Photography Network, which was founded in 2012 by four photo institutions. The network today consists of Gallery Image (Aarhus, Denmark), Pohjoinen Valokuvakeskus (Oulu, Finland), Centrum för Fotografi Endnotes 103 (Stockholm), Fotogalleriet (Oslo), Forbundet Frie Fotografer (Oslo), Fotografisk Center (Copenhagen), Galleri Format (Malmö), the Icelandic Photography Festival (Reykjavík) and the online magazine Verk. (Sweden). Another example is the discussion that has been initiated between Kunsthallene i Norge and the Association française de développement des centres d’art contemporain (DCA). In November 2017, a number of small and medium-sized institutions met in Paris to start discussing a pan-European network..
The potential of organised networks
Bettina Pehrsson of Marabouparken explains the crucial role, or even the necessity, of small or medium-sized organisation networks of galleries: ‘As a smaller institution, we must work with networking and in interaction with others: in the art world, with schools and universities, local communities, politics and research. Networking takes place at local, regional, national and international level. The different networks and partnerships become an asset to use in our operationsIn response to our questionnaire..’
As a signature strategy of the neoliberal working world, networking is intended to make and maintain profitable relations: Individuals can successfully climb the career ladder, and corporations can gain power and monopoly positions based on competition with and the exclusion of others. But networking has a different implication when it comes from below, initiated by actors with little power. Then mutual support, common interest and solidarity are the key elements that make a network runIn a similar vein, a number of networks have recently been founded internationally, mainly consisting of smaller institutions. This includes Arts Collaboratory, which was established in 2007 by the Dutch organisations Hivos and the DOEN Foundation and self-organised by 25 independent visual-arts organisations in Africa, Asia and Latin America (including Raw Material Company, Dakar, Senegal; ruangrupa, Jakarta, Indonesia; teor/éTica, San Jose, Costa Rica; and Sàn Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – see http://www.artscollaboratory.org); Cluster, a network of visual-art organisations located on the outskirts of mainly European cities (including Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid; Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory, Utrecht, the Netherlands; Les Laboratoires d’Aubervilliers, France; Tensta konsthall, Stockholm; the Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon; and the Showroom, London – see https://www.clustercollaboration.eu/cluster-networks); Common Practice in London, which consists of art spaces, a public arts agency focused on film and small publishing houses (including Afterall, Chisenhale Gallery, Electra, Gasworks, lux, Matt’s Gallery, Mute Publishing, the Showroom and Studio Voltaire – see http://www.commonpractice.org.uk/); or Common Practice in New York (the founding members of which are Artists Space, The Kitchen, Light Industry, Participant Inc., Printed Matter, Triple Canopy and White Columns – see https://www.commonpracticeny.org). An outstanding example is the network L’Internationale, which consists of six major European institutions led by similar interests in art and politics, such as Moderna galerija mg+msum (Ljubljana, Slovenia); Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (Madrid); Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona; Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp; Salt Galata (Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey) and Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, the Netherlands). It also functions as a discursive platform, organising shared conferences and running a text-based online magazine and website – see https://www.internationaleonline.org..
In what way, then, would networks of small institutions – with little economical muscle, but a lot of networking value within the art field – ideally operate, and how could these networks be set up effectively to benefit their members in various ways? At best, the existing regional, national, and institutional networks that have already been formed can operate as ‘organised networks’, with a strategic plan that will strengthen diverse smaller, independent institutions and activities, as well as setting up temporary and collaborative platformsIn such an investigation, there might be some common historical threads well worth exploring further, perhaps even a ‘Nordic model’. Defining these is not the task of this report, but we do sense that we should mention the long tradition of artist associations in each of the three countries and their connection to the small and medium-sized art centre. In Denmark and Norway, a substantial number of prominent art centres have grown out of such organisations, while also inspiring scepticism from other parts of the field. Similarly, in Sweden, several of the institutions have developed from centrumbildningar, centres for art and culture..
In his 2006 book, Organized Networks, Ned Rossiter argues that the key institutions of the modern era – such as the state, firm, university, or union – have been sidelined by neoliberal economic reconfigurations at a global level. Political change is no longer initiated by the representational procedures of these institutions, but rather by the relational processes of new institutions, which are ‘responsive to the logic of social-technical networks and non-representational democratic processes’. (Rossiter 2006, 13) These form the basis of distributive, non-linear and project-based organised networks that work against the bureaucratic sclerosis that threatens even the most radical networked organisations. (Rossiter 2006, 49) As became apparent from the questionnaires, many art institutions struggle with the dysfunctionality of old institutional operational modes. A ‘transdisciplinary, distributive and collaborative institutional form’ – an organised network – would offer a timely, necessary platform to recompose life and labour, against the rising threat of precarity. (Rossiter 2006, 13–14)
Today a model of ‘processual democracy’ is needed. According to Rossiter, this would be the product of constant interaction among diverse interest groups and social actors in a real-time, networked context. Rossiter draws an analogy between institutional networks and the operating modes of digital media. This could be a helpful way to think about how to set up a flow of collaboration between the Scandinavian institutions, especially when paired with the collective performance of a critical position towards the normalisation of managerialism and unethical business – for example, in well-argued and creatively staged protests. It is most relevant for our discussion that organised networks ‘form the backbone of new supranational civil movements that are gradually taking over the role of traditional social institutions, focusing on working conditions, education, health care, the environment, minority rights and so forth’ (Kluitenberg 2007). The aforementioned success of #MeToo is just one example. In the art field, networks of organised collaborations could initiate public discourse and offer distribution channels for civil demands. This is especially fruitful when one takes into account the proximity to (local) publics and their demands, which were stated as a core interest by most of the art centres in the questionnaires. The networks could then serve as an information pool: a platform for sharing individual resources such as access or visibility; a hub for various transdisciplinary forms of collaboration; in legal matters, as a sort of union; and as an entry point for audiences to participate locally and exchange internationally.
A new ‘New Institutionalism’?
One of the findings of this investigation is that the specificity of small and medium-sized institutions is being used to advance the kind of art being made. Rather than merely transporting and exhibiting artworks, new methods of both making and showing art are being developed at a local level. This is partly due to the competence of the individuals working in the institutions, but it could also be an effect of their smaller, more ‘human’ scale. This specificity becomes even more apparent when examining the distinctions between urban, suburban, and rurban institutions. The exhibitions being produced in the institutions – as well as through local collaborations with artistic initiatives and native resources – are both artistically pioneering and socially sustainable. This proximity of small-scale and medium-sized institutions to their local audiences and places – as well as the corresponding specificity of artistic and curatorial activities, which engage people to participate on a local level and learn from an international or global perspective, could benefit from public support that recognises the civil qualities and benefits being produced. Instead, these institutions are increasingly struggling with insecure, short-term funding and unnecessary managerial effort, as described more closely in the previous chapters.
At this point, it is crucial to remember the central concerns of the previously mentioned ‘New Institutionalism’ of the early 2000s, in which curators and artists tried out a self-critical institutional practice that transgressed the norms of a modernist institutional canon and the limitations of a corporatised managerial institution. The institution was supposed to become flat, less hierarchical and more interactive, as well as operating as a versatile production site on all levels, incorporating curatorial criticality and multifunctional rooms adapted to a flexible, interdisciplinary programme. It was to produce a participative ‘public’ rather than reach a consuming ‘audience’; integrate the process of artistic production into institutional activities, with residencies, workshops and studio space; and initiate discourse, or at least admit critical debate into institutional practice at various levels, rather than reactively depicting and commenting on what is happening in the world. With the introduction of New Institutionalism, the viewer was to become an active participant in a creative and discursive process. Non-bureaucratic organisational transparency and participative openness in the planning of programmes were thus considered to be fundamental factors for the functioning of ‘new institutions’.
The concept of New Institutionalism derives from sociology. In the art context, it describes, first and foremost, an institutionally political, organisational, and curatorial method, but the method has also given rise to ‘new institutions’. It is a somewhat open concept that avoids the misunderstandings of other -isms while also admitting a range of curatorial approaches. As with all summaries of phenomena and developments, the individual actors differ to a greater or lesser degree, yet the common tendencies outlined above are discernible in all their activities.
Size and regional context, as well as the specific history of each institution, are the main factors influencing the scope of activity for directors and curators. Although many of these approaches were affected by strong political headwinds, this institutional-political, organisational, and curatorial method has also successfully established a critical vocabulary. Institutions must be able to adapt to various developments of artistic practice and it is clear that small and medium-sized art centres have the capacity to do so to a much higher degree than do large museums, and with more consistency than artist initiatives.
A number of issues formulated here have been adopted largely by smaller and medium-sized institutions (such as close collaboration with artists and other cultural producers in formats and processes beyond the exhibition space, collaborative and dynamic archives, and processual exhibition formats). Some of the issues are still central, but have been obscured by the effects of normalisation and instrumentalisation – for example, when an institution is treated as an entirely separate entity from its own exhibition venue. However, curating and institutional, political, and administrative work are – like software and hardware – not separate, but rather mutually dependent; that’s why the interdependencies of institutional working processes should be developed through an open, transparent process. The separation between curating and these other kinds of work is essentially promoted by neoliberal forces, and has caused what a group of prominent French intellectuals called – in a critical manifesto on the occasion of the opening of the Louis Vuitton Foundation in Paris – the ‘code of silence’. This means that even curators of the most critical exhibition programmes may clam up when it comes to revealing and debating the details of their own funding. (“Is Art a Mere Luxury Good?” 2014)
As a general situation of institutional realities, this balancing act creates an absurd theatre of criticality: an exhibition programme that is contradicted by the politics of its own institution. It is a tricky game with no simple solution. But compared to large institutions, small and medium-sized institutions are in a much better position to speak up about this problem and introduce more ethical models of curating for consciously directed delayed value. These institutions’ aforementioned distancing from the operating modes of larger institutions is both necessary and the result of an institutional practice denouncing the unethical business dealings behind institutional work. Although this situation applies, to a larger extent, to curatorial and institutional work in many countries outside of Scandinavia, the tendency to withdraw from public responsibility is already apparent in many institutions also in the Nordic region, and is peeking above the horizon for many others. This trend is just a foreshadowing of what could follow.
Another important pursuit – which was explicitly missing from the questionnaires, but necessarily applies to institutional work in Scandinavia – would be opening up the scope of interest and operation of the networks to global concerns. Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez formulates the main question as follows: ‘How do we engage various institutional constituencies in countries of the Global North, when [it is] precisely their governments [that] cause and contribute to inhuman civil wars and drone strikes in certain regions of the world ... ?’ (Petrešin-Bachelez 2017) An example of this could be the 2015 project ‘Wata don Pass/Looking West’, a collaborative curatorial project by Bisi Silva of the Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos, Nigeria; Marianne Hultman of Oslo Kunstforening; and Elin Lundgren and Petter Pettersson of Lilith Performance Studio, Malmö. Four large-scale performances by Taiwo Aiyedogbon (Nigeria), Bernard Akoi-Jackson (Ghana), Christian Etongo (Cameroon) and Odun Orimolade (Nigeria) were accompanied by a seminar at Moderna Museet, Malmö.
Petrešin-Bachelez further reminds us that ‘art institutions today should not pretend they are built out of the neutrality of the white cube and its Western Enlightenment legacy, as if these have no material or cultural link to the centuries-long exploitation of the Global South’. In order to attend to these issues, she appeals to ‘new ecologies of care’ and asks that we ‘radically open up our institutional borders’. Doing this simply involves communicating and exchanging with other networks – for example, in the Global South – and giving their concerns attention in ScandinaviaThis is also something that would require a change of policy from national arts councils. For example, when Marianne Hultman was invited to be a guest curator at the Dakar Biennale in Senegal, she soon understood that any funding she received from Norway would be minimal. Any independent curator in the Nordic region can see a similar lack of international funding, in particular in support of more experimental practices from artists in countries of the Global South (and in weak or developing democracies, such as in Turkey or Egypt). There seems to be little interest from states in collaborating with countries outside the Global North on a cultural level, beyond the more rhetorical ‘embassy exhibitions’. In the aforementioned example, the Dakar Biennale would not provide any production funding, nor would the Norwegian funding system, which, rather paradoxically, indicated that although Norway is considered a wealthy country when it comes to supporting Norwegian artists and curators in the South, it would appear that Norway is less apt to support Norwegian cultural workers when they go to the Global South than to elsewhere in the Global North.. Building the sustainability of an institution in Scandinavia would then imply opening up to a larger history which is neither linear nor local, but, instead, complex and global.
There are early examples of curatorial projects that dealt with the specific colonial history of Nordic countries, such as the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Art’s ‘Rethinking Nordic Colonialism: A Postcolonial Exhibition Project in Five Acts’, curated by Kuratorisk Aktion (Frederikke Hansen and Tone Olaf Nielsen) in 2006. The project, organised in parts all over Scandinavia, was aiming to shed light on history and ‘why this past has been forgotten in some parts of the region, to show how this history continues to structure Nordic societies today and how our contemporary problems of intolerance, xenophobia and nationalism have their roots in this history’. What would naturally follow an important project like this would be an analysis of the continuation of colonial power structures within a contemporary, globalised world order, as well as the implementation of these questions into curatorial and institutional practice, with the aim to develop a sustainable and binding institutional policy. This remains a more recent endeavour and is largely still incomplete.
Organised networks of small and medium-sized institutions have the multifaceted flexibility and plurality of voices to deal with these questions and claims in comprehensive ways. A notable project was Konsthall C’s year programme for 2017–18, dedicated to the topic ‘the decolonial turn’ (Den dekoloniala vändningen) and including the exhibition ‘Nordic Trouble’The exhibition was on view from 9 December 2017 to 25 February 2018. It included work by Anawana Haloba, Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt and Camilla Aviaja Olsen, Corina Oprea, Ellen Nyman, Katarina Pirak Sikku, Minna L. Henriksson, Saskia Holmkvist and Santiago Mostyn with Luise Kimme. We also point to the previously mentioned co-produced exhibition ‘Nordic Delights’, which addressed thematically similar issues., as well as the symposia ‘Decolonizing the North’On 7–8 December 2017, with Lesley-Ann Brown, Gurminder K. Bhambra, Gunilla Larsson, Encarnación Gutiérrez Rodríguez, Tone Olaf Nielsen and the respondents Ylva Habel, Patricia Lorenzoni and Stefan Helgesson. and ‘Decolonizing the Curatorial’On 16 March 2018, with Temi Odumosu, Pauliina Feodoroff, Mathias Danbolt and Nivi Christensen.. Due to the scale and size of Konsthall C, this programme depended on an international and interdisciplinary network to take place. This makes it not only fully possible to work with these questions as a basis for curatorial and institutional work, beyond the selection of artists – it also means that the programme is shaping what the institution is and how it works.
‘Future Perspectives, From Social Imaginaries to Structural Pragmatism’, and ‘Alternative Future Perspectives’, are two chapters of the publication ‘Agencies of Art. A report on the situation of small and medium-sized art centers in Denmark, Norway and Sweden’, published by OK BOOK (Oslo), 2018.
Full publication available here.
Published by kind permission of OK BOOK and the Authors
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