The City Shines Every Day With New Stories
Installation view, The City Shines Every Day With New Stories, WIP:sthlm
Abir Boukhari is a Syrian-born curator, based in Stockholm since a handful of years by now, following the war in Syria. Back in Damascus her contributions to artistic life included founding the first curatorial platform in the country; AllArtNow, and essentially as well having been a driving force behind introducing the notion of contemporary art to a wider public there. Her work was first significantly introduced to an art audience in Stockholm by way of the curated group exhibition I Will Never Get Used to Wait at hangmenProjects in 2015. Gathering Syrian artists, the exhibition was a collective meditation on the various conditions tied with war and the realities of forced displacement from the soil of one's home. It stressed the never-ending waiting for clarity, and ultimately the longing for a return to something that proved never to be the same again. The City Shines Every Day With New Stories is the current exhibition of AllArtNow (presented outside of its homebase in Hjorthagen) housing temporarily at WIP:Sthlm, and in a way it comes across to me as a “loose” sequel or interconnected continuation of sorts to the previous exhibition.
If that former exhibition was informed by perspectives about leaving, then the one at hand fast-forwards to a condition of being in the present, moving on but still wrestling with figuring out the place you are supposed to call your home. It adopts the point of view of artists who all could be seen to represent “the other” in a Western capital like Stockholm. As such, the exhibition departs from questions about one’s place and role (as a sole individual) in the city; what it is, could be or possibly could have been at least, given certain circumstance. I think in that regard, a great takeway from the exhibition derives from the poetically resonant pondering in writing found in an installation by Nisrine Boukhari (a co-founder of AllArtNow) which reads along the lines; You fall in love with a city (possibly also from necessity) but how do you get the city to love you back and extend itself to you the way you seek? Her work consists of a serial line of glass plates bestowed with soil from the city and inscriptions of text; the plates relate to one year each of the five years she has been part of the city, and the city a part of her. There’s of course metaphorical significance tied with the various material elements; an order so composed but so easy to disrupt.
The featured work of artist collective Mapping the Unjust City also appears strong; in a way it’s comparable to getting statistics handed to you on a plate about a certain condition. Something can be so real, but it’s only real enough for people to confront themselves with the same reality if it’s pinned down in an expression so staunchly clear and precise that it cannot be discarded and rather is too close for comfort. On a map that follows the Stockholm metro system the prevalence of real estate companies and contractors are marked out, highlighting partially the privatization of housing and commercialization of space and property in a city where social housing is getting less, and stable housing situations increasingly are becoming a luxury afforded to a middle-class and up. You see all these names; Balder, Aberdeen, Einar Mattsson et al. and you realize how omnipresent their visual identities are to you on a day to day basis without really registering, but possibly nevertheless saying something about what power they might possibly possess over the collective of people in this city.
Mapping the Unjust City
Another key work in the exhibition takes the form of Felice Hapetzeder’s video Ingen bor här längre (No One Lives Here Anymore). With steely and crisp photography, the gaze is fixated on various sites of Stockholm as the city runs its everyday course. People pass by while carrying on their own business, without direct interaction with each other and it’s clear at first they are merely “extras” to the lead role that is the city itself. The city appears detached as to excude no particular warmth for its constituents. A shot of two side-by-side storefronts; one that reads “Posh Living” and the other belonging to a private pharmacy chain (Ah! Privatization), starts implying and stressing the narrative of the alientation and exclusion that some face in the city. Of his work the artist says “Cities are motors for growth and prosperity. When exaggerated, these mechanisms start to push unwanted, economically unattractive individuals out. The work describes a city that is becoming anonymous, where diversity is slowly eliminated”. The “voice” later shifts from the city to an actual protagonist; she appears a recluse; wholesome in appearance yet visibly marginalized as she is found looking through a garbage bin, assumedly for bottles to recycles (for the monetary return that brings in Sweden). She is not “us” but she is “many” who are made invisible by codes of what we don’t speak about and deny recognition whilst in our everyday conversations about the latest baking trend or collective new sporting habit to adopt.
Mourad Kouri was clearly a standout among the MFA-graduates last year at the Royal Institute of Art (Mejan) in Stockholm and presented in the sculptural hall of the Royal Academy of Arts, the installation work To Draw A Line which while paying a homage to famed Brazilian-born architect Lina Bo Bardi, also was a nod to borders and boundaries in their geographical, metaphysical, physical, political and emotional capacity. The work consisted of modular units of plaxiglass wall sheets and concrete base plinths put together. Given the “resurfacing” (again) in the West of the notion of building walls to construct divide and separation, the work could not have been timelier at its time of presentation. In the present exhibition, Mourad Kouri revisits this past work with clever self-referencing through the installation work To Stack A Line which literally stacks and piles the concrete base plinths in a formation that calls to mind the identity of concrete high-rises in the million-projects of suburban areas, well-distanced from the city center. The artist himself grew up in Norsborg and when we speak, he tells me about how growing up in Stockholm, for him the city was not the city center we like to call Stockholm, but it was the multi-cultural suburbs where every building holds a myriad of stories about arrival in a new social and urban context. "Home is not about origins, it is about arrival and horizon", Mourad Kouri notes. The reality of contemporary society here is that there is never just one Stockholm, there are several versions of it; only there are many that are overlooked and stacked under the ones most favorable and attractive to a larger and privileged collective. In his self-referencing and rearranging his past work of borders into something else, something is naturally also said about the construct and nature of borders; thus borders are constantly renegotiable; they can be dissolved, just as they can be continuously expanded on. A border marks a temporal end but contains nevertheless the possibility for change, whether towards something that once was or something that is only yet to happen, ideally.
With: Felice Hapetzeder, Juanma Gonazles, Karine Mannerfelt, Mapping the Unjust City, Maria Lantz, Mourad Kouri, Muhammad Ali, Nisrine Boukhari
SUNSET WALK with Juanma Gonazles on November 17 from Zinkensdamm to WIP:Sthlm Starting Time at Zinkensdamm T-bana: 3 pm Arriving time at Wip:sthlm: 5 pm Dinner at WIP:sthlm, 6 pm
Curator: Abir Boukhari
On view until Nov 18 at WIP:Sthlm Årsta Skolgränd 14 B