What is the standard length of a miracle?
C-print contributor Nora Hagdahl shares her thoughts on Swedish conceptual artist duo Goldin+Senneby's ongoing extensive retrospective which notably is spread across several sites around Stockholm.
What is the standard length of a miracle? Maybe infinite.
“…in the parking lot, you could show SECRET LIFE consisting of a huge Russian doll, and when I say huge, I mean huge, like ten meters high, it needs at least four parking spaces to stand adamant and it is important that it is nicely made and really look like those Russian dolls available in toy size, with red pout mouth and black hair parted in the middle, red veil and red dots on the cheeks, inside the large doll is one smaller that looks the same, and inside that one an even smaller and like that it goes on until you come all the way in where, inside a doll no bigger than this, I want visitors to be able to whisper a secret, it can be a tube straight in and then the audience will bow down and say something they have not told anyone…”
Since 2004, when Jakob Senneby and Simon Goldin (Goldin+Senneby) merged their practices into one, they have explored virtual worlds, offshore companies, withdrawal strategies, and subversive speculation. Standard Length of a Miracle is described as a mutating retrospective and is not limited either by space, time or creator. Since the opening it has occupied no less than seven different sites around Stockholm, from Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) to The Third AP Fund. Hubs that all seem strategically chosen, solid with financial or cultural capital. The ambulant retrospective will later extend to Brisbane, Paris and New York. Goldin+Senneby’s practice is perplexing. In Standard Length of a Miracle the artist duo inaugurates a game of hide and seek with the viewer. Their practice usually appropriates the corporate modes of production. Consequently, the production of the unorthodox retrospective is often outsourced to third parts. The duo rather positions itself as the curator, CEO or puppet master. The multilayered exhibition makes you discover works within works in a vegetation of complicated cross-references. In a sense the whole project is rhizomatic where new connections are made at any point or time.
At the very centre of the exhibition at Tensta Konsthall is an enormous leafless and decapitated oak. It has rooted itself in the art space. The branches ramify in the room and occupy a vast area, almost like a ceiling. According to the artists the oak refers to the dark surrealist George Bataille’s secret society Acéphale. They are said to have been gathering around an oak tree in the late 1930's. Acéphale has long been of interest for the artist duo appearing in their multi-year project Headless. The headless man (or tree?), contrasting the man of reason could here be read as a critique of Smith’s economics man, the motor of the capitalist system, often occurring in Goldin+Senneby's practice. Parts of the tree are placed on the floor surrounding it. The logs will over time be transformed into furniture, produced by the carpenter Moa Ott.
The group exhibition New Visions occupies the back wall of the room. Curated by Maria Lind, the exhibition was initiated by Goldin+Senneby during the process of creating The Standard Length of a Miracle. Including works from Rana Begum, Nadia Belerique, Monir Farmanfarmaian, David Maljkovic, Philippe Parreno, Adam Pendleton and Yelena Popova, the exhibition creates a dialogue with Goldin+Sennebys tree installation. A hash light makes it inevitable for my body not to cast a shadow over what I see. This constantly reminds the observer of their position as a beholder. Many of the works play with the same mechanisms. Nadia Belerique’s work The Archer, a series of collages with pictures from Toronto Stars’ archives, makes the artist’s own process evident. Fingerprints are visible on the surface and accentuated by the strong light. The blank surface of the work also makes your reflection intrude with the motifs. In Monir Farmanfarmaianth’s mosaic, mirrors alternate with green glass creating resonating Islamic traditional mosaics. The work mirrors the viewer and the surrounding, in distorted kaleidoscopic configurations. The vague paint in Yelena Popova’s three canvases Untitled from Evaporating almost vanishes with the raw canvas background. Distinguishing the motif from your own shadows calls for concentration. Waling by them quickly, one would probably consider the canvases as blank. The impression of New Visions is fugitive and the division between work and viewer is dissolved.
Every day at 2:12 pm, a short story by noted Swedish author Johan Hassan Khemiri is read out loud for whoever is present at the exhibition space. Khemiri’s meta-fictional response to Goldin+Senneby’s ten-year practice, sharing the exhibition's title, is read without stops or breathing space. The starting point for the story, set at a job interview, is an apology offered by the narrator for using a Swedish sounding, fake name to increase his chances of landing a position at a gallery. As the narrator says, the name Anders Reuterswärd is the reason “…we sit here today, I suspect you had another picture of me if I had written my real name, you had perhaps assumed that I could not be trusted, that I would try to steal the art, instead of guarding it…”.
The story constructs an environment that unveils the art world's alleged openness and inclusiveness. This is reinforced by the fact that we are at Tensta konsthall, a space in a segregated suburb of Stockholm. Somehow the reading perforates this enclosed territory, disconnected from its outside. Anders Reuterswärd's unawareness of the strongly coded art world creates an uncomfortable ambiguousness: Has Anders Reuterswärd got it? His naïve aspirations and interpretations make me uncertain. The story closes with a description of what he would do, had he the chance to present an exhibition. Starting with the parking lot, where an enormous Russian doll would be placed, he continues with the lobby, ending up in the exhibition hall. He describes the enormous oak, the installation we are standing in, and fiction becomes reality. Serving as an institutional critique, the listener becomes involuntary participants in the narrative. Caught in the act of judging and therefore judged.
For more info about Goldin+Senneby and the exhibition, please visit:
Images courtesy of Tensta Konsthall
Photo credit: Jean-Baptiste Béranger