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Holding Sway: The 2018 Best List

Annually for the past five years since C-print's start in 2013, we have penned a roundabout by the end of the year, going through all that was seen and critically assessing the impressions and outputs, amounting to a list of our ten best art exhibitions and encounters with art, locally and internationally while travelling.

10. Sophie Vukovic, Shapeshifters, Moderna Museet, Stockholm Visual artist and filmmaker Sophie Vukovic is currently at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm where she is finishing her last MFA year, preparing for degree exhibition in spring 2019. Sophie’s film Shapeshifters opened to acclaim early last year and admittingly we were very late getting around to actually seeing it, taking to the opening of this year’s Moderna Exhibition in November to which it makes part, to finally get there. The film which has already had theatrical distribution, hence makes for an artistic work and vehicle which has fluidly found its contexts and audiences both within film and subsequently in the sphere of contemporary art. It’s a stunning feat of artistic vision intersecting various stylistic and formal choices to convey a universally relatable narration about identity as subject to negotiation, change and discovery in the wake and aftermath of migration. The focal point is a state of being, informed neither entirely by alienation nor inherent belonging. “It’s in the space-in-between where lies what we have yet to find a language for”, reads a line from the narration of the voice-over, leaving the viewer both with an optimistic outlook on the future by the end frame, whist outlining the fallibilities of human exchange.

9. Annica Karlsson-Rixon / Diana Agunbiade-Kolawole / Anders Zorn, Nakenakter, Thielska Galleriet, Stockholm

When Thielska Galleriet announced its summer exhibition Nakenakter drawing on ideas about representations and figurations of the nude body as an act, extending moreover to queer identities and relations, emerging PoC artist Diana Agunbiade-Kolawole was found at the front and center. On the immediate and intuitive level, there was a feeling of this possibly being a turning point, signaling a timely shift forward that would place an echo within the art sphere and audiences alike, when stemming as it may from a seemingly unlikely and less progressive institution by nature. Incidentally an exhibition departing from an idea of a paralleling dialogue between the work of co-curator Annica Karlsson Rixon and etchings by Anders Zorn from the museum collection of nude female figures, with allusions to clandestine lusts in the midst, the fortunate inclusion of Diana Agunbiade-Kolawole closes in a well-due and needed “intersectional” approach, elevating the exhibition premise already by its outset. However, Diana Agunbiade-Kolawole’s series Honest Portrait proved a show-stopping moment letting on a photographic process and aesthetical output and execution that felt fresh and beautifully aligned symbolically with the gallery room; Ernst Thiel’s former tiled bathroom. A great exhibition altogether.

8. Marian Garrido, Time Is a Wonderful Material: Flexible and Elastic Like Spandex and Lycra, Galeria Fran Reus, Palma de Mallorca

There are two things that are significant seeing the exhibition at Galeria Fran Reus; One; the wry title itself which becomes explanatory about ideas on capitalist consumerism, sustainability, production and the use of resources by way of referral to the cheap industrially made materials. Two; the key component of bottles and cans of energy drinks which make part of the artworks and installations and are a defining consumer product of younger generation today per the artist and serve as a metaphor for the fast-accessible-disposable-lifestyle and constantly accelerating pace we abide by that is setting a precedence. The exhibition casts itself as a playground, setting forth even video works that are screened through actual arcade game machines, and draws from the considerably rare quality of channeling pressing issues with humor in a way that neither feels bland nor redundant.

7. Benoît Maire, Thèbes, CAPC, Bordeaux

French-born Benoît Maire’s extensive exhibition Thèbes featuring nearly eighty works, hovered between art and ideas seated in philosophy that are attempted a visual materialization. The explicit point of departure is the late philosopher François Lyotard’s idea about what is called “differend”; the notion of unresolvable conflicts as the result of lack of adequate and applicable language to express the problematic conflict present at hand, for which reason word needs substitution with imagery and meaning. Assembling three disparate series of works, spanning from painting, video, everyday objects to furniture, the visual and material narrative appeared just as non-linear and perplexing as one might imagine by the mere sound. Yet there were hints about roots of interest lying in questions of the relationship linking humankind to material objects and the authorship of the same. Deliberately disorienting to engage you, but nevertheless never quite or entirely presenting as a riddle, leaving a lot of room to appreciate and consider singular authored works, irrespective of their origin, and fortunately there was much to be fascinated by in the midst.

6. Nairy Baghramian, Breathing Spell, Palacio de Cristal c/o Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid

A seamless interaction arose between the architecture of the transparent room that is a palatial glass house in the Retiro Park of Madrid and the intervention posed by Iranian-born sculptor Nairy Baghramian’s sculptures that build on glass, zinced metal and resins, into organic and physiological forms along the walls, pillar beams, celing and window of the space. Stressed handily by its title Breathing Spell and overpowered by the apparent beauty of the presentation, the visit allowed for a moment’s suspension of all else, which came with a not so surprising, if yet in light of today’s constantly-connected mode, considerably rare ease.

5. Wolfgang Tillmans, David Zwirner Gallery, Hong Kong

Wolfgang Tillmans’s first exhibition, at the venue of the gallery in Hong Kong, opening in conjunction with the city’s Art Basel, reads in short as a major moment of “kumbaya” and “we are the world” conveyed through a selection of his images. But if any of these notions are brash and loud, Tillmans’s exhibition affectionately plays on understated and silent interconnections between people and natural and urban landscapes and what lies near and is found afar. It’s stroking visual photographic poetry about the small moments that become telling of something larger; singular moments that are entrenched in the collective. It’s still but live, and it’s touching.

4. Lars Kleen, Båt, Kummelholmen, Stockholm Liva Isakson Lundin, Hold Sway, Wetterling Gallery Stockholm

The site for Lars Kleen’s well-noted exhibition (first chapter of two) Båt (Boat) is a former brutalist boiler room previously owned by a leading energy corporation and sold a few years back to its current owners (Torbjörn Johansson and Jan Watteus) for one Swedish krona which outlines the background into what is the space Kummelholmen. Kummelholmen for most art enthusiasts is more than just a stretch away from their normally frequenting radius, situated in the far-out multicultural suburb of Vårberg. This will likely count as one of most well-visited exhibitions in Stockholm, all things considered, and the artist is in fact closing in on 80 without properly having seen his due yet. If the occurrence of that notion will have been inexistent for some, it will not be leaving the space. Because this is a show that really is that good and will have most wondering why they haven’t heard more of Lars Kleen before and why his institutional reach will not have been greater. These little elements described in passing here greatly serves an accentuating narrative once inspecting the grandeur of the title large-scale installation Båt (Boat). In the dark and cold of the room, right there and then, it will have taught you a thing or two about the command of the artist but as well possibly have struck you up with a few epiphanies and reminders of present machinations in the art world. Båt presents visually as a fossile-like structure reminiscent of something you might, by a stretch of the imagination, find at a natural history museum. It comes across by turns primal and painstakingly statuesque and it is at the point of inspecting its technical engineering by the seams of its build that arrives the awe.

An emerging artist akin to Lars Kleen; one of two recent recipients of the Maria Bonnier Dahlin Award 2018, Liva Isakson Lundin and her first major solo exhibition Hold Sway comes to mind in this regard. Isakson Lundin, an artist with whom similar technical and engineering qualities are found, takes a keen interest in probing the inherent physical qualities of the various industrially produced and processed materials she works with, in the process of presenting her sculptures and installative works which materialize as unions of two divergent materials. The centerpiece and title installation in “Hold Sway” is a commanding formation in the main gallery of steel strips suspended in the air by ropes of nylon. We were told later the installation had only prior to installing been tried in miniature form in the artist’s small apartment which perhaps is telling enough of artistic ability and confidence.

3. Maria W. Horn, Interference, A Fine Selection: Confirmed, MDT, Stockholm

The year’s greatest surprise and pleasant discovery was Swedish composer Maria W. Horn’s performance Interference for MDT’s annual retrospectively-looking festival revisiting highlights from the year’s programming. The performance, physical and otherworldly in experience, was generated by the sparse technical structure of a musical set and probing stroboscope on stage, going off mercilessly on spectator from close and direct view. At times so strong its force, there was nothing else to do than to close the eyes and give into the oscillations between serene minimalist sounds and piercing powerful beats. Reaching the end of the 30 minutes’ performance, there was a feeling of waiver of control, being tightly held in an iron-grip by the artist and having been subjected to expertly calculated emotions and gestures through the musical narrative.

Photo: Jean-Baptiste Béranger

2. Mounir Fatmi, 180 Degrees Behind Me, Göteborgs Konsthall, Gothenburg

Whether for a publicly-funded art museum to consecutively present retrospectives of one crowd-pleasing household name in contemporary art after the other, is entirely sound in a time of turbulent world order, with pressing needs to be informed and get informed, is a question that several times have come to mind in terms of Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Certainly, that becomes the case with one too many retrospectives lacking any notably closer connections to the more precarious social and political issues of today. Mounir Fatmi’s mid-career retrospective at Göteborgs Konsthall is a testament that it is possible to present a very visually pleasing and aesthetically-driven full-house-exhibition paralleling that of an artist like Olafur Eliasson, while staying in tune with the times and without the intellectual ideas, while naturally being there, necessarily taking the upper-hand in the presentation. Putting the nature of language, its beauty and its violence, to the forefront, Fatmi’s works explores ongoing tensions between the East and the West, the dichotomy between ancient tradition and contemporaneity and freedom of expression as a fundamental principle in relation to religion and dogmatic ideology. When he intertwines Arabic calligraphy as both language and as part of the formal pattern of a work, it’s terribly beautiful.

1. Joanna Piotrowska / Adam Rzepkecki / Ewelina Chrzanowska, Warsaw Gallery Weekend, Galeria Dawid Radziszewski, Warsaw

For the inauguration of the gallery’s new space, coinciding with this year’s edition of Warsaw Gallery Weekend, the gallery revisited and presented a recreation of three exhibitions that premiered one, ten and thirty-three years ago in time. Adam Rzepecki’s work from 1985 sees a miniature spatial installation composed of architectural structures of matchboxes that are glued with pictures (that reproduce his works), in a scale ideal only for “dwarfs” which means for the rest a question of engaging very physically and effortfully with the installation, adapting moving patterns to it, in order to truly perceive the work. Ewelina Chrzanowska’s work in the gallery commemorates the ten-year-anniversary of the graphic artist by reproducing the exact flooring from her Cracow apartment by drawings that reproduce with a trompe l’oeil-effect the image of 400 wooden staves. With both installations thus far the ultimate reward of watching and engaging lies far beyond the immediate glance which is contrasted with Joanna Piotrowska’s long-durational in situ-performance for which her performers carry out a choreography which refers to self-defense and sees them assuming at times uncomfortable and awkward and at times menacing poses; much in tune with her noted black-and-white photographs. At the time of the visit a female performer was doing a solo stint in the performance and was doing a fine job of genuinely distressing the writer with rehearsed death stares, establishing a physical yet intangible and alluring connection. Incidentally only moments after the woman was having lunch next to the writer next-doors which in itself served as a brusque awakening from the tension of the encounter that lingered on leading up to pasta. A reminder of how art can create a consuming universe to which you can easily get sucked in, if you allow, only to be sucked out as quickly again.

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