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Unboxing the Agency of the Inside of A Crate

As I read notes to me in a DM from Hedvig Bergman about her project, I begin almost instantly to think about the long-forgotten art sensation of the 80’s that was “con man” Mark Kostabi. The Kostabi story would have made for an urban cautionary legend for the ages - Milli Vanilli-style - had it actually been less prophetical in relation to what is commonplace today in artist studios and more of a one-off feat of fraudulence from yesteryear. You see, Kostabi was a painter who himself never touched the brush in his studio. He was the creative director of his studio, you could say, appointing someone else to both come up with the ideas and physically execute them, under his claim of “authorship”.

Now today it won’t be so shocking for anyone in art to imagine the machinations inside hangar-like studios of superstar artists like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst that assumedly will distance the artists from the romantic notion of art as the labour of the sweat of an artist’s brow. But nevertheless, in the 80’s, in a CBS segment helmed by awarded anchor Steve Kroft, which is a favourite on YouTube, this marks a sensational news angle. “These days art is a very lucrative field in which a thousand hundred dollars can chase after a painting covered with broken plates. Or for somewhat less, plywood under glass”, says Kroft before adding that the key to getting in on such action is hype (“Fictious validation of a half-assed work”, according to Kostabi). It is said figuratively that while his working staff were in the business of art, Kostabi himself was in the art business. A difference to note. “Since he is a creature of a capitalist society, of capitalist media, if his ratings go down, he is finished”, concludes Donald Kuspit, the iconic art critic of the bibles Artforum and Art In America, as an end note.

The story suggests a few things I believe Hedvig Bergman has taken an interest in, in the allegorical Machines and Models. At the fore here is the agency afforded to something that has been attributed as art, no matter its apparent or underlying substantiality. The commodification of such matters of art and the frivolity and arbitrary nature of its monetary trade, in a chain from maker to consumer by way of middlemen; commonly dealers. While we might be way passed dilemmas about the lack of originality and the aesthetical qualities of the readymade fountain as art, the monetary constructs surrounding art is still something to take people to task about. I ask myself while browsing online on Artsy how many fucks I should give about three handwritten words by the artist Vaginal Davis on a piece of stationery paper (“I hate you”) with corporate letterhead as to really pay several hundred dollars for it as original art. It will still beat me, as it will you, I’m sure, why the prints in an art edition will set your moneybag back more with decreasing edition numbers. Are we in good faith here? Does anyone seriously think these constructs make proper sense? No, but we systematically perpetuate them because when in art, we are in on it. The general public however is not. And perhaps you need the clean slate of fresh critical eyes from the outside to identify curiosities for what they are. Maybe that’s why it’s so fitting that the first showing of Machines and Models is happening to ordinary passerby through gallery glass, resembling a shopping window, in the underground of Stockholm.

Hedvig Bergman’s three wooden miniature sculptures with fitting hay-filled crates visually in form appear to relate to machines from the industrial era and revolution. Hence, they’re seated conceptually around generic creation, in stark contrast to their actual making. The transformation from something that took months in the studio to design and construct to the appearance of generic, has taken just a few minutes of applying Yves Klein-blue-colour and lacquer with the brush, making the wood instead appear like form-pressed plastic instead. A devaluating turn and the opposite of the textbook scenario of nothing becoming something, through the attribution of a label which bears the agency to elevate and perhaps also to trick. The sculptures are what they are; pointless, says Hedvig Bergman in the DM to me, but they’re art, and that is the point. And that is why they get to be on parade and earn a seat behind glass. Art has agency. And a lot of it. And to understand just how much we might need to benchmark its agency and ascribed worth against that of some human individuals in society. It’s bound to get provocative. Watching an art satire recently about human flesh as a commodity of art, about a man who had to become art to move across border controls where otherwise not allowed, it struck me that in a Western-biased world ridden by unequal distribution of freedoms and privileges, the crate for an object of art is the ultimate and much sought-after travelling visa and passport…

And then in all of this, there’s me, authoring this text to elevate, to construct hype, in trade of an artwork that shall end up in my possession at home, as a memory for future reference of my canny abilities and own role in the great art scheme of things.

Ashik Zaman

Hedvig Bergman's Machines As Models is showing at Galleri Toll (metro: Ropsten)


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