The Momentum Festival of Contemporary Art started off as promotional machine of Nordic art and artists Biennial in the backwater of the so called “Nordic Miracle” – a term originating from Hans Ulrich Obrist in the nineties. This idea seems today helplessly outdated, and actually it did already at the time too. This year’s curators Annette Kierulf and Mark Sladen picked up on this notion and decided to open up the national borders for a more natural selection of artists. The result of their united effort is a rather small exhibition with in total 31 international artists entitled “Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better.”, a title borrowed from Samuel Beckett. The nod to Beckett reflects the curators’ interest for artists and art works that engage with absurdity in a wide variety of ways, where the notion of playful surrealistic expressions flourish. Absurdity can take many forms and when it is good, like with Beckett, it reflects something else than the obvious, something vital that becomes addressed in an intelligent way and leaves one startled and with some major questions about the larger issues in life.
An example of an included work that makes this kind of connection is Gerard Byrne’s film(s) 1984 and Beyond (2005-06). The script is based on a round table discussion which took place in 1963 between well-known science fiction writers that was published in Playboy at the time, about how the future in 1984 and beyond would look like. Byrne has re-staged the conversations with actors in high modernist settings and buildings. Generally the thinkers are of course hopelessly stuck in their own timeframe and society of thinking – which certainly adds value to the line of thought on what a similar situation would sound like today – and if Playboy would be able/interested in staging or publishing it?
Unfortunately Byrne’s splendid work – where fantasy and fiction challenge reality – represent a minority in the exhibition, where many work live up to the absurdist fashion in a less intelligent and more crude way. This is a strange situation since many artists that ordinarily make mind-blowing work are included like for instance Jeppe Hein, Tue Greenfort or Egill Sæbjörnsson but this time their participation does not either measure up or can bear the burden of a lot of work that is absurd to the point their being unnecessary. Why they don’t live up to expectations this time is obscured. My guess is that it has to do with the context of a lot of dry work with literal connotations or the so called “one-liners” like the stuffed boar head by Lithuainian artist Juozas Laivys, Kleopas (2005) which has a long background story and will be given to a Museum in the year 2128 and by that become a piece of contemporary art. Or Edvarrd Gran’s series with ten photographs entitled adequately enough As if there was a layer behind appearances that had no qualities, but took on the character of its surroundings (2006) where he has depicted the last ten letters of the English alphabet embedded naturally in landscape images (like the letter Y represented by a tree log in the shape of Y). According to the catalogue: “The artist is fascinated by the viewer’s experience of dissatisfaction and anticlimax.” and the question is why the viewer should care at all?
The curators shall have kudos for making a very nice catalogue with Q&A with the artists included, a nice essay by Kierulf, and an absolutely cool looking and multi-layered cover which is the 2006 Turner-prize nominee artist Mark Titchner’s contribution to the exhibition. But will someone please tell me what went wrong from the great outline of the curator’s in the production phase of the exhibition, because just like with the work of Gran’s I cannot think of many reason’s (apart from single art pieces like Byrne’s of course) why the viewer should care at all?