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Notes on Nutopia - New City tegen2 and Studio44 February 23 - March 17, 2024

Curators: Erik Berggren & Ida Rödén

Nutopia - New City, installation view, Jakob Krajčík & Maria Backman, Tegen2, Stockholm 2024

Nutopia/New City is a current offer and exhibition brought forth in the artist-run scene of Stockholm, spanning over two of its main fixtures; both tegen2 and Studio44 on Södermalm, and domiciled in what could be called ”speculative art”. The point of entry and departure at hand is the envisionment of a utopian societal disposition that could accomodate, and inform ongoing and new fluxes of migration yet to emerge, perhaps most poignantly on the account of war and forced displacement. It’s an exhibition vested with the idea that migration flux of grander proportions is a constant and not just interim phenomenon impacting conditions on earth - since always. In light of an ongoing geographic annhilation that is playing out before the media lens daily now as we speak; exhibitions like this bear particular potency in so far to mediate and instill an anticipatory/particpatory mindset going forward rather than offer specific answers. An exhibition on this universal premise has obviously happened - and will continue to happen in multitudes, but novelty isn’t an end in itself in speculative art. Every exhibition along these lines informs its own potential. The exhibition at tegen2 works so well because it knows not to attempt to be preachy; or overintellectualize (that sort of Hannah Arrendt thing can be left for the catalogue essay). Instead it knows that that the one-liner synopsis is already plenty and that visual poetics rather than ”literal” is the way to go, and relies on such poetics to spark epiphanies for you as a viewer, whatever they may be at a ”cold read”. In fact, it takes to the second room before a literal adress even happens per a video of Heba Y. Amin; of a commencement speech at a geopolitical summit. Totally a functioning balance.

Nutopia - New City, installation view, Heba Y. Amin, Tegen2, Stockholm 2024

Before that a painting by Maria Backman and an architectural sculpture by Jakob Krajčík together possess a particularly impressive cumulative visual effect despite their apparent discrepancies; in mood among other things. Backman’s painting is an ”abstraction” in relation to any notion of ”an urban city” and yet in its almost biblical and prophetic apparition; the coiling and intertwining of two identical monolithic fixtures instantly bring to mind ”twinning” in societal infrastructure; twin cities, twin towers etc. Perhaps a scene emblematic of thinking along the lines of delta ecologies. Krajcik’s perky signal orange terminal is a showstopper also in itself and brings to mind how emptiness too leaves space - and takes space - and how abundance of abandonment should have us emphasizing ”reinvesting” more, and innovation less, from a certain point of view. Its scale certainly sparks off a graphic image in mind of all the available vastness that exists in, or is conditioned by capitalist ”schemes”, and which effortfully could be repurposed.

Nutopia - New City, installation view, Muhammad Ali, Studio44, Stockholm 2024

Over at Studio44, a short walk away from tegen2, and what is the larger venue of the two, Muhammad Ali presents drawings that are distinctively regonizable as his. The artist is currently also presenting in the group exhibition Unhealed, that just recently opened at Moderna Museet Malmö, and is co-curated by Abir Boukhari and Joa Ljungberg. A sequential drawings present what appears to be an anthromorphic figure, or perhaps more accurately a human body dressed in an animal, horse-alluding suit. Bringing thought, one way or another, in an exhibition about "the new city" also to "the non-human animal" and such coexistence obviously makes a lot of timely sense. Actually, this specific display strikes me with a possible subtext about how our ruthless and exploitive ways, rendering a dog-eat-dog society, links us even closer to the survival of the fittest modus operandi of animal kingdoms.

Apropos of survival, the depicted suit itself makes me think back of a studio visit I had now five years ago at Beckmans College of Design where I annually tutor at the Form program, but that time meeting with the graduating Fashion cohort. Erik Olsson's runway show of menswear, presented boxy silhouetttes of streetwear marked by obvious flirting with functional and industrial suits and overalls. In conversation, I was made aware of how a future of toxic and hazardous air and various contageous viruses in public spaces might inevitably have to dictate the clothing design of the future. Consider then that this was just a few months before the covid-19 pandemic! Everything came full circle later when the epitomy and high priestess of global fashion since decades, Naomi Campbell, was photographed wearing a white protective suit over whatver her outfit might have been that pandemic day. Not getting out of bed for less than 10K per day obviously is an income well-worth securing, if you get my anecdotal joke. Hi, Evangelista.

Connecting to thoughts extracted looking at Ali's work is Erik Pauser's recent documentary Thomas utopia that injects several degrees of realness into the exhibition as whole, circling in on the actual and present living conditions of the quotidian individual, but more precisely the marginalized individual, post-relocation, whose very consideration is the core of the exhibition brief. An African diasporic man candidly addresses the labor exploitation faced in Sweden, being paid far below minimum wage and barely keeping afloat above substinence level. The accounts offered are relatable and ones you've heard over and over before, if in this hyper-segregated society you either have your ear staunchly to the ground, or better yet are socially attuned to various groups in society, beyond visbile and invisible class divides. When the man addresses a disconnect between his situation and the perception of his standing, held by his family and friends back home ("You live in Europe, you must be rich!"), it speaks oceans of a continued estrangement between the Global North and the Global South that is at least greater than I tend to believe in the global internet era.

The leg of the exhibition at Studio44 notably feels less coherent and perhaps shoehorns in some eccentricity that will be a hit or miss for the visitor.

Nutopia - New City, installation view, Nina Wedberg Thulin, Studio44, Stockholm 2024

Meanwhile, Nina Wedberg Thulin's aerial and architectural sculpture of Acropolis-like disposition is the sort of fun and genuinely exciting sculpture that we get to see way too rarely in Stockholm. It looks beautiful and seamless. With its sheer, illuminated and infltable body, it will surely make the connaisseur of international art think of the sublime Korean-born Do Hu Suh. What I'm enjoying about the sculpture is the reminder that to know where one is or could be going, one must also know what is gone or have come before. In similar fashion as speculative art in recent years has been informed by notions from science fiction (as the ultimate marriage between low-brow and high-brow art), finally regonizing the intellectual depth found in the genre, one could think of looking too at past civilizations for cues about the "new city" as an approach that is apt.

Ashik Zaman

Artists: Muhammad Ali, Heba Y. Amin, Maria Backman, Kalle Brolin, Nils Claesson, Felice Hapetzeder, John Huntington, Jakob Krajcik, Kristina Müntzing, Cecilia Parsberg, Erik Pauser, Paula Urbano, Nina Wedberg Thulin


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