Notes on the BFA 2023 Exhibition of The Royal Institute of Art, Stockholm May 26 - June 11, 2023 Curators: Bella Rune, Jonas Nobel, Jenny Olsson and Silvia Thomackenstein
Caio Marques de Oliveira
So, Marabouparken in Sundbyberg this year no longer serving as home to the BFA exhibition is that, by objective standard significant change that has had me feeling sorry for this year's BFA cohort. After all, Marabouparken is a very credible and regarded art institution with a very distinctive spatial disposition. Yes, the valley-like open situation has mostly over the years been kept in tact without imposing the architecture with modular and intervening walls, which in turns means retaining a certain intimacy around some artworks has been hard and the space having often worked best for spatially imposing installations and presentations.
Monitoring emerging art from a string of art schools over the years and this year alone having visited a few top-tier American art schools as a visiting curator or critic has (re)affirmed that "Mejan" holds up very well. Sometimes so well that when I look back over the year that has passed, at the end of the year, I'll often find myself thinking some of the more interesting art was spotted right here. In light of that I also want for audiences to come and see the art and be able to shed a filter and unchain from seeing things before a veil that lets you think you are seeing art that is good for being art school art. Maybe it's me being delusional thinking it might be hard for some audience members to contextualize but I still imagine that there are benefits in regard to the gaze of others, as an emerging artist to have your work seen in the sort of venues that your work ultimately should access once leaving the realm of art school. If the art is good, it will never be a premature move and Mejan is never not good.
While attending the press viewing of this year's MFA exhibition at Konstakademien I had a conversation about it with one of the school officials. "It's probably healthy I think to exhibit outside of the premises that play house to Rundgang exhibitions and various short-term exhibitions", I offered. She made a case by suggesting and reminding me that the grad exhibitions of top art schools in London mostly are held on school ground. As I arrive to school today I realize the spatial orientation has seen a transformation; an interest connected to the new vs. old as per the above. A similar "chess" move was carried out last year at Konstfack for the MFA exhibition curated by that year's CuratorLab cohort in order to shake up the habitual habitat and its inherent spatial hierarchies. In hindsight looking back now maybe that felt a bit forced? Here, however it gets evident early after entry why shedding Marabouparken this year was no loss at all.
On the contrary, but I will also stress that it comes down to this specific exhibition and the nature of several of the works that benefit from being liberated from pinnings to huge open rooms and where they can disconnect from some works to form allianaces with others. There is at least one key work involving the whole cohort that mirror their internal bond and relationships, the origins of which are in fact these many corners of Mejan and these people's interactions on and around them, so keeping the umbilical cord in tact will prove hand in glove...I think you'll see for yourselves.
If you would translate the exhibition into one song in the world it would be Smashing Pumpkins' hyper-melanchollic "Mayonaise" from 1993's "Siamese Dream" (celebrating 30 years in a month!) that always make me cry without any tears dropping out. When I leave the exhibition I'm shook, touched and I realize how different this exhibition is from the MFA exhibition that I saw the other day that was stringent and dramatic but mostly unsentimental in contrast to this. I think of one portion of my all-time favourite quote from a Bergman film where Ingrid Bergman describes Chopin. "The prelude tells of pain, not reverie. It hurts, but he doesn't show it". It's as though an interrelationship between these two exhibitions are being outlined in that quote. This exhibition is all for the reverie and has no problem wearing its "mawkishness" as a badge of honor. The exhibition really does touch on a wide register of your heart strings and appears a meditation on the expiry date of forever, or in other words the impermanence of time, and remnants of beauty. It's a nostalgia-inducing lovefest that is very romantic about transient and enchanting, small, but signficant everyday moments from a butterfly's view, accentuated by music. I am too. A sucker for it. I've been craving romantic exhibitions like these for a while and here I get to have one on a beautiful late spring Saturday; while the freest I've been all year.
Caio Marques de Oliveira (left), Therese Norgren (right)
"I'm nearing the end" sings the "narrator" of a video piece by Caio Marques de Oliveira before a montage of beautiful, happy people, presumably of a family disappears out of view. In similar fashion, the narrator of a video piece by Therese Norgren & Aron Fogelström, that stems from a lustful class trip to Naples, is heard saying; "Somewhere around here it ends" before fleeting lo-fi video footage of a sunny Italian visual score disrupts "back" into the mundane reality of an editing room where the authors in a meta twist sign off their work in back-to-basics analogue fashion, on a piece of paper. The alignment between the two works is remarkable. The poetic montage-cum-essayistic work by Caio Marques de Oliveira calls to mind the visual language of Tran Anh Hung and his dreamy excursions in "At the height of the summer" (binged on this film all through high school, twenty years ago) and "The Scent of Green Papaya". Or perhaps Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" also shoots to mind.
The class trip to Naples looks so happy. I don't know these people, I've met some of them very briefly at school and some I recognize by their face. Everything is so familiar and I gladly partake in their joy and for a few moments vicariously live through it. One of the students tell me they've gotten very close over the past three years which is evident not only in the film but also from how smooth the exhibition is with racking up dialogues. Even as I type it, I'm amused by getting to reference a pre-2000 track by some April Lavigne-situation called Vitamin C and her "Graduation (Friends Forever)". "As we go on, we remember all the times we had together. And as our lives change, come whatever, we will still be friends forever". That's not actually the narrative of the film but it is a subtext or a tie-in sentiment the film evokes. You think as you watch; "stay in the bubble of the promise of forever as long as you can". Closing in on 40 with school precluded since over a decade, you know how precious these moments were/are and what sometimes remains to show for them in the present is merely a few digital snaps on a cloud, as time takes its course. The students use handicams to film each other; I haven't seen them in years or used one since on a similar trip in 2004. The film is timeless in the sense it could a well have been made twenty years ago at Mejan, only now enough time has passed for this to appear like a penchant for retro aesthetic and a longing bid away from today's novelties like ChatGPT and queries about the authorship capacities of AI. True story; the first time someone introduced ChatGPT to me per an office demonstration (only a month ago), the task served to the bot was a three day itinerary to...Naples! And that independent from my going in a month and a half. Sometimes things are cosmic, you know?
Pointing back in time to to bring the past into the present is the gist behind what is the most peculiar (in a good sense) position in the exhibiton that is found in the genre of conceptual painting hinged on architecture. An enclosing section of back wall in what is called Mellanrummet has been removed bringing back to light bits of Mejan from yesteryear. Where the wall panels up until recently sat on the floor, Therese Norgren has site-specifically marked with a river of pink paint.
Sculpturally a notable moment in the BFA exhibition comes from Sanna Håkans. Her sculptures brought back childhood memories of my late maternal grandmother’s home in Bangladesh and her tin box of chunky two-part jaw-like hairclips, and the discrepancy between what they represented and their apparent violent shape. Interesting for me to think how for instance corsets have often, also in more contemporary pop culture, gotten to be a mirror of the pain and ”inherent violence” of beauty. But the formal shape of clips almost feels like an underused ”image” in this regard. You start pondering on a subsequent thought of the female heel shoe and how that’s made part of representations of pain, constriction and pressure in a wide sense; Meret Oppenheim, Fischli/Weiss et al. No matter what the artist’s actual intent was; it was a moment that sparked a chain of thought and excitement.
The allusions to beauty in a more direct and literal fashion comes at the hands of Niels Engström's mechincal sculpture "Day & Night" that sees two in opposite direction rotating jars of ACO Age Delay Day cream "suspended" in a perpetual flow. Two peas in a pod but they never touch and their course is similar but singular in relation to the other. It's very funny and it looks very sleek and refined! Biotherm or something along those lines might have extended additional universal immediacy but the local context of ACO is somehow even funnier. If you know, you know. And if you don't know, you stilll know! The choice might very well have been a practical matter but no need to know.
Speaking of music and heart strings; another distcintive position that feels uniqely her own is that of Johanna Bjurström who with her sculptures and objects mediates the presence of music and musical strings without the presence of actual sound. She appears to have been very consistent since her first years when also then alluding to an ecclesiastical realm and church organs. Patterning with string looks very delicate and she is clearly on to something that will surely earn her both acclaim and put her in the spotlight in prestiguous stipend/grant situations lying ahead.
Interestingly there appears to be a pair of namesakes in the class; Caio Marques de Oliveira and Kayo Mpoyi. The latter who is also an acclaimed author (published by Norstedts) by the time of the MFA exhbition will be on everyone's lips. I remember her work from the first year but her work in the exhibition here is stunning and the materal command appears to have evolved substantially. I can think of so many curators who'd want to work with her based on the quality of her displayed work.
Apropos of curators, the invited curators of the BFA exhibition are artists Bella Rune and Jonas Nobel, who worked alongside the school's Jenny Olsson and Silvia Thomackenstein (who also co-curated the MFA exhibition). As a curator I think it's really important for the profession for curators to be credited by media and artists alike, and by each other. I generally don't take it so lightly when another curator swings by a curated exhibition of mine and casually "forgets" to credit its curator. Negligence at best. Begrudging at worst. Media also has a tendency to only make a point of crediting "name curators" with a particular standing in the art scene. I should know, it's taken years to get to a point of resting assured my name won't get edited out of a review. However, I think with grad exhibitions it's also very important to bear in mind the artists also largely serve as curators alongside with the title-bearing curators. There's often curatorial groups of students who make part of the machinery and that should not go by unnoticed. So this goes out to all the curators; this was lovely and inspiring. A solid time was had.