Inscribing contemporary times in archival material
When confronted with the vast material of Videokunstarkivet, the artist run platforms FRANK and Louise Dany decided to resist reinscribing the chosen works to their historical arch, rather; how would they look through a non-nostalgic eye of a contemporary mind?
Text by Lisa Andrine Bernhoft-Sjødin
Lisa A. Bernhoft-Sjødin (LBS): FRANK (Sille Storihle and Liv Bugge), together with the artist initiative Louise Dany (Ina Hagen and Daisuke Kosugi) you've curated the exhibition To Do or Not to Be at Kurant Visningsrom, as part of the Tromsø International Film Festival (TIFF). How did you come to work with Louise Dany for this project?
FRANK (F): The invitation FRANK received from Kurant was to curate their annual exhibition during Tromsø International Film Festival. In the last couple of years Kurant has invited a curator and an artist to collaborate on the programming of an exhibition or event in connection with the festival. Since 2012, we have run FRANK as a platform with the salon being the core of the project. To us the salon is a structure that enables the development of a discourse as well as building a community. Louise Dany was established last year and their thinking resonates with us, so we wanted to use the opportunity to get to know the project better and see what the collaboration would enable.
LBS: So how exactly have you worked as two platforms collaborating?
F: FRANK provided the framework for the exhibition, deciding that we would curate from Videokunstarkivet (VKA), a pilot project run by PNEK from 2012 to 2015, focusing on the early years of video making in Norway. FRANK made the initial selection of works, and then shared them with Louise Dany. The final selection was done quite intuitively and through collaboration, we were drawn to works that reminded us of the exploration of the medium that we rarely see in videoart made today. FRANK has taken care of much of the contextualization and the contact with the artists, trying to understand the artistic and historic moment they were made in. The spatial realization of the exhibition has largely been in Louise Dany’s hands.
LBS: You're showing a disparate collection of video art works from the early eighties by six Norwegian video artists, not all of which are active today, but all of them found through the VKA.. The word disparate being a key word to describe it by way of how you're not contextualizing these works as "eighties video art".
F: To Do or Not to Be can be seen as a continuation of early exhibitions we have curated, based on archives and artworks that have been overlooked or written out of history. But we are never interested in historizing, but to read the works in a contemporary context. To let works work in the now. Several exhibitions the last three years have focused on artists labeled as sidelined in spite of their obvious actuality in their time, curators hurry to reinscribe them into history. That's not our goal. The artists we've chosen are on the grounds of their contemporary durability not nostalgia.
Louise Dany (LD): We utilized VKA as an artistic tool to search for works that would trigger our curiosity.
LBS: What are your thoughts on FRANK's perspective when it comes to the historic context?
LD: It's not, and in tune with what FRANK is saying as well, it's not that we do not see the importance of history and historical context. Not at all, if anything it's a way of diversifying the ecology of how we think about artworks that are drawn form an archive. We’ve asked ourselves many times with what purpose we want people to engage with the works we have selected. We're trying at the very least not to bracket them as Early Eighties Video Art and instead present them with curiosity about the content rather than context. The ambition to rewrite history is difficult for us to get behind, because the biases and agendas we operate with within our context will shape that rewriting and further bracket the works in new, demanding categories. To revisit these works without that ambition has proven to be fruitful. We really think these works should be exhibited more broadly outside of thematic exhibitions..
LBS: What was it about the chosen works that caught your attention?
F: The artists approach to the medium is quite playful, there's an exploration of the moving image and the technology that enables it, that is seldom seen today. Visual artists working with moving images are more often using a cinematic language due to the technological advancements. The works we are showing are all strong and very humorous.
LBS: How about you, Louise Dany?
LD: As a platform we engage in the social and community aspects of the art field, and what was exciting for us was looking at how the very body of the video apparatus changed the social dynamic in which it was brought into. The video's instant feedback changes our perception profoundly, a line we can draw all the way to this day. Video has become a part of our sense apparatus, it's a part of our identity, both cognitively and physically and has a huge impact on our perception.
LBS: FRANK said earlier that you're forming the spatial presentation of these works at Kurant. Traditionally, if we can use that wording, curating an exhibition of past works, they're organized according to artist accompanied by explanatory context billboards. How does your space look?
LD: We have tried to present the works as we would like to see them as artists. This means that we took some artistic liberties when choosing how to display them. For instance; flat screens and tablets didn’t exist at the time when these works were made, but we’ve still included both of these displays in the exhibition. We believe that our contemporary thoughts was relevant also at the time these works were made. When we installed the work they somehow made it really clear what line the relation between humans and devices is following.
Spatially, rather than doing a screening program or building black boxes, we decided to keep them within one continuing space and present them through different levels of intimacy, size or screen technologies, which allows for both contemplating the works together and individually.
The installation process has also been interesting when it comes to Louise Dany as such. This is our first off-site collaborative project, so the question we asked our selves actively was "what is Louise Dany at Kurant?".
LBS: So, who are you off-site?
LD: Our platform is in many ways an intermediary. It has become clear to us that the thing Louise Dany can bring without the presence of their home is the willingness to engage in a quite personal mediation of the exhibition and the works. An element of that is spatial interventions that have a social purpose (with it’s limitations) and from that structure we try to host the conversational element, or mediation if you will. Since we don’t have first-hand knowledge of the social dynamics here in Tromsø we decided to stage the conversation instead of facilitating it, as we do in Oslo.
We performed a text on the opening night where we looked at the blurred lines between the subject and the apparatus. In the text we speculate on what that kind of perception is currently doing to us. Within this is a question of perception, both phenomenologically and politically: how we are able to understand digital noise as images through the technology and all the things inside of that noise we never get to see. We connected this to accounts of how we interpret our body signals and basically merged understandings of video and the body. It's interesting to see how close we've come to these entities, it provokes us to continue thinking about perception, consciousness and even free will.
FRANK is an Oslo-based platform established in 2012 run by the artists Liv Bugge and Sille Storihle. Louise Dany is an artist-initiative established in Oslo in 2016 run by the artists Daisuke Kosugi and Ina Hagen. To Do or Not to Be is on show during TIFF 2017 and until January 28 at Kurant Exhibitionspace in Tromsø.