D.A.F.T. Related events & participants: THE (deviant) ART FESTIVAL in Trollhättan

Fred Lindberg started THE (deviant) ART FESTIVAL as a society and network of contemporary artists in London 2005. The thought behind these art events was to put people and ideas together rather than single pieces of art. To create a foundation for collaborations. In 1937 Hitler exhibited “Entartete Kunst”, 1962 came Fluxus events like “The Festival of Misfits” and today our Art is striving to exist in-between being singled out as a degenerate, or choosing to be a misfit.

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Location: London, Hackney

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

REVIEW by Alison Carter

The (deviant) ART Festival

Pumphuset Gallery, Trollhättan, Sweden. 14 – 23 July 2006.

REVIEW by Alison Carter

You’ve probably never heard of Trollhättan – a town sixty kilometres north of Gothenburg, in Western Sweden. It hosts a lively free ‘Waterfall’ Festival every July, which attracts thousands of people for a long weekend of music, film, eating and drinking. The other attraction is the release, several times a day, of the Göta Alv, Sweden’s greatest river, so it flows with all its force (300,000 litres a second, to be precise) down the Trollhättan Falls. The Falls, finally tamed in the 1840s, helped generate power for Sweden’s industrial growth – Saab and Volvo still have plants here – and opened up shipping trade from the interior to the west coast. Latterly, too, the town has also become the centre of the Swedish film industry – it’s now nick-named Trollywood.

This summer the presence of The (deviant) ART Festival lent another, more anarchic side to the proceedings – like a kind of Trollhättan Fringe. Fred Lindberg and Joanna Ageborn (both Swedish and second year students at London Metropolitan University’s Sir John Cass School of Art) curated the Festival, which included work by artists from several UK Art Schools, as well as incidental poetry, music and performance, all centred round the Pumphuset Gallery on the edge of town.

Lindberg and Ageborn’s vision and energy in bringing a group of artists to the town, to interact and live together for a fortnight is really to be applauded. So too is the risk taken by Peter Hagsér (the Director of Trollhättan’s Konsthall) who gave them a space at the Pumphuset, the Summer Gallery, and freedom to shake the town up a bit. Especially when previous summer exhibitions in the exquisite 1910 former pumphouse building – almost a church in scale and form – have been devoted to more ‘hangable’ work (in the strict living-room sense).

Calling it The (deviant) ART Festival seemed to be deliberately ambiguous. Was the ‘deviant’ in brackets to attract attention and curiosity, or a statement about the artists? Did the brackets suggest a provisional deviance, not quite deviant enough to risk frightening people away? Was it just universal shorthand for what contemporary art is supposed to be – challenging, shocking? I’d already looked at the show’s blog (http://sqrappy.blogspot.com) documenting the artists and their preparations. Mutilation and perhaps torture seemed to feature strongly, and made me feel a tad squeamish. How much deviance could I take? How much could the town take? Quite a lot, as it turned out, because the show was actually full of varied thought-provoking work, and the artists were inspired, inventive and funny too, as well as a little bit frightening.

When I went into the Pumphuset Gallery the first thing that struck me was the haunting repetitive rasping, tearing sound coming from Corinne Mynatt’s video installation. The artist is naked, and methodically taping herself up with black gaffer tape – hence the sound. First her legs, folded under her, become black stumps, then her free arm, until she is as small and limbless as she can make herself. I kept coming back to this piece, drawn both by the sound and Mynatt’s powerful exploration of disablement.

Watermelon Baby, by Cai Nyahoe (which I saw only on video) was another troubling and affecting performance piece. The artist, his legs held rigid by crude callipers made of lengths of wood, his hands bound and replaced with knives and his mouth taped up, endeavours to pick up, caress and care for the watermelon which rests on a plinth, very like a Brancusi head. Terrible carnage ensues: the Watermelon Baby gets hacked to bits as Nyahoe tries ever more desperately to pick it up. He himself topples over in the process, and the melon eventually falls from the plinth, exploding on the floor in a pulpy mess. Although the artist’s human-ness is called into question by his constraining armature, his humanity is not – he’s a Frankenstein in his hopeless attempts at love and care, the watermelon/baby illusion complete.

But the show is far from unrelieved pain and darkness; the humour of Charlotte Young’s video piece marks her out as a fearless questioner of the establishment. Wearing a sandwich board with the words ‘My Art Is Better Than Your Art’ on, Young (a London Metropolitan student) is filmed hanging about at the entrance of Central Saint Martin’s, handing out flyers, trying to engage with students and staff. In making herself look like a tramp or a religious fanatic, she becomes almost invisible. What’s funny is that so few students seem to get the point. Most of them employ the usual trick used by the privileged to avoid uncomfortable encounters – a sudden kind of urgent busy-ness, things to do, people to see.

Some of the work was positively inviting. Hugo Sterk’s ‘White Cube’ is an intriguing Tardis; you climb inside, close the doors and look out through any of the carefully positioned viewing tubes. Mirrors and lenses deliver you unexpected views of the art in the gallery and the people outside in a range of scales and perspectives – most of them baffling and disorienting. It’s like being a spy or a peeping Tom – but hidden in a box the middle of the action you end up not knowing where you are, or indeed why. Oliver Evelyn-Rahr showed a crazy building system, using lever-arch file mechanisms to join odd-sized branches, sticks and poles together into an extended open triangular construction which snaked away on the lawn outside the gallery. There was something Buckminster Fuller-ish about this piece, both experimental in form and ecological in use of materials.

Jon Klein’s short film of an apparently autonomous hammer secretly chipping away at the inside of a huge metal work of public art in London’s Broadgate was an original and satisfying multi-layered take on ‘intervention’. Jay Patel’s corner installation – a light-bulb whose ability to illuminate was constrained by a background of absorbent blackboard paint – could be read as a meditation on the ancient conflict between light and dark.

Like taking coals to Newcastle, Beth Collar’s piece was about taking elks to Sweden (where they abound – by all accounts – not that I saw any). Her performance involved wearing a pair of life-sized antlers of the (now extinct) Great Irish Elk, and ‘going about her usual business’ in the town. These antlers are truly huge – six feet wide on either side of the head – and slightly mad. Made from Styrofoam they are fixed to a metal head-piece and counterbalanced by a correctional-looking frame which rests on her shoulders – wearing them she can neither turn her head, nor really carry out any normal functions. Collar’s piece reflects comically on the causes of extinction, the mysteries of sexual selection and Darwinian evolution, as well as providing her with first hand experience of the loneliness of the elk, bearer of these most impractical of antlers. The Elk negotiating the shopping mall captured the attention of the local press and TV – and Collar seemed to have created her own Elk-girl myth. But she had apparently also tapped into a Trollhättan folk-memory of a rogue elk which had strayed into the town some years before.

Joanna Ageborn’s edgy work is presented in two contrasting pieces – ‘Vertical Funeral’ is an elaborate memorial, and ‘Last Aid’ darkly comic. On translucent tissue paper she has made sensitive, delicate and exact drawings of real suicides – deaths by hanging or strangulation – and pegged them on a line in a little brick outhouse, a shrine lit with candles. They are graceful depictions of the lineaments of death. Next to the shrine is a patch of ‘graveyard’, with many little white twig crosses packed very close together. Later, by way of explanation, she quotes the gypsy saying: ‘Bury me standing, I’ve been on my knees all my life’. The piece honours suicides, who cannot be buried in sacred ground. Her other piece is a ‘Last Aid’ cabinet – the dark side of First Aid. In the cabinet are tablets, a razor blade, a dirty syringe, a gun, a rope and hook, together with helpful diagrams showing correct and incorrect ways to use them all, and a form with multiple choice answers – Cause of my life ending is … Last words…and so on. It is a dry, witty reversal, shockingly simple.

In the video installation ‘In Search of the Miraculous II’, Fred Lindberg stands by a canal in the dark and then sets fire to his jacket, which catches and flares in the night. He waits until it’s burning steadily, and then carefully removes it, together with his shirt, trousers and underwear and adds them to the pyre. Naked, he dives into the blackness of the water, and does not re-surface. The piece pays homage to Bas Jan Ader, the Dutch artist whose own disappearance became – intentionally or not – part of his work. Another piece, ‘Artist Feals Fat’ (sic), is a series of photos documenting himself cutting the word FAT into his stomach with a blade. There is, needless to say, barely a spare centimetre of flesh on Lindberg’s torso – and certainly no fat. He revels in provocation, and is prepared to test himself to physical limits with wit –despite some quirky spelling.

‘Shit TV’, a Charlotte Young and Fred Lindberg double-act, turned out Eurotrash-style spoof broadcasts later shown on a TV screen in a shop window on the main street. I watched them filming one item, a verbal trashing of one of the town murals – an earnest, dull portrayal of what Trollhättan’s water-power has done for Swedish industry over the years. While rejoicing that art students still fearlessly deliver uncomfortable truths in their own back yard, I also found myself hoping that Saab would take the same liberal view when it came to seeking sponsorship next year. (Lindberg is a one-time Trollhättan Saab factory worker.)

The documentary being made by Katey Iles and Jamie Quigley should provide a fascinating account of the artist/artist and artist/townsfolk interactions – the film-makers added another layer to the experience. The ever-present video cameras made me grieve a bit for the lack of filmed documentation of artists in the past, too. I was thinking about the Black Mountain College show (earlier this year at Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge) where just one brief sequence of a dancer in the woods is all that remains captured on film of the creativity of the 1940s.

For all the jolliness of the incidental Festival performances – an upside-down man with ‘magical powers’ (Matthew Giraudeau), a band called Rust Buckets (Charlotte Young and filmmaker Jon Klein), a poet-declaimer (Frog Morris) – much of the show’s static work remained unsettling; it mostly left you in no doubt that death is the only certainty. The presence of the artists made for a stimulating mix – whereas the work viewed alone might have been simply depressing, the sense of it all being a part of their temporary shared group life redeemed it. A diverse and talented group of artists and filmmakers like this can do the Art, make the TV, entertain and shock the locals all in one seamless process.

But it was also a learning process for all concerned. The show has a blog, but it’s not as professional as it should be. At the gallery itself there was no curatorial statement or list on paper of artists and work. There were posters in the town, and press and TV coverage too, but the free festival newspaper had not included details of the (deviant) ART show. The location of the gallery on the periphery of the town had its positive and negative aspects. Some of the work was far too strong to be situated so near a children’s playground, for example. But this part of town was also natural habitat for alternative groups – punks mainly. Although the punks’ inclinations might have been towards the show’s darkness and anarchy, I watched as the artists’ attempts to welcome them into one of the performances were rebuffed. Art and life – chalk and cheese. However, the group has already been invited to show at the Konsthall proper next year – so the ‘deviants’ will be coming in from the cold.