by Dilpreet BhullarDec 13, 2022
What is the role of a visual art exhibition in our contemporary times, one may wonder. When art making itself has undergone tremendous change, widening of media and processes, the ‘curated experience’ as a format too has evolved. An educational presentation where the focus is no longer to create a visual stimulus is part of this idiom. A recent exhibition Minimalism-Maximalism-Mechanissmmm Act 1–Act 4 was conceptualised in four acts by Jacob Fabricius, and one of the four acts, taking place at Art Sonje Centre in South Korea - Act 4 - is curated by Mikkel Elming.
The art exhibition staged traditional expressions in a non-traditional and experimental setting. It examines how visual artists select, use, and work with materials. The works are shown physically but move from a static display to a participatory, relational, and activating exhibition. Through the series of four acts, the audience is expected to encounter multiple ways of disseminating, experiencing, utilising, viewing, and questioning curatorial methods and institutional approaches to presenting art.
Act 1 presented minimalistic works, displaying traces of the making of the works. Act 2 included paintings, where the artists created narrative stories. The storytelling itself in these works is generated through the artist’s memory, and the work’s materiality could be experienced visually. Act 3 and Act 4, on the other hand, invited the audience to interact and actively participate with their bodies. Minimalism-Maximalism-Mechanissmmm Act 1–Act 4 examined how artists use materials to tell stories about their surroundings and daily life. The exhibition creates connections between the artworks and the observer and examines how the curator can affect the relationship between works and audiences.
I speak with Jacob Fabricius about the conceptualisation process, audience's response and more...
Rahul Kumar: I have to begin by asking, how did you conceive of Minimalism-Maximalism-Mechanissmmm Act 1–Act 4? Was there a trigger that led to this project or something that developed over time?
Jacob Fabricius: In the very beginning I really wanted to make a sequel to the exhibition Post Institutional Stress Disorder (PISD), a year-long project about the human condition and institutional critique, that I coined and curated in 2018-19. Later, the curatorial idea behind MMM turned towards process, audience, and exhibition making. I wanted to play with the audience’s prejudices, experiences, and perceptions of what an exhibition might be. Play with expectations. Make the viewer experience artwork in different ways. Make them curious. Organise the works and spaces in such a way that the audiences are passive viewers in some situations and active in others. I was aiming at making contrasts in the way and flow of the exhibition would be viewed. I thought of it as a 'Yin and Yang' exhibition… that was my goal at least… not sure if I succeed.
In the beginning, my idea was to invite actual street vendors to have their booths and sell their products inside the institutional setting to create a marked kind-of feeling. I was interested in making a ‘clean’ conservative hanging of paintings and juxtapose and merged this with ‘messy’ and confusing part. Due to COVID restrictions, the marked idea was not possible, so the exhibition became a lot less messy than originally planned.
The exhibition was conceived for Art Sonje Center (Seoul, South Korea) and now it moved to Kunsthal Aarhus (Aarhus, Denmark) in a much smaller scale. Act 1-3 merged and fewer artists and works were shown, while Elming’s curatorial examination expanded and likewise were the audiences’ possibilities. Art Sonje Center has two exhibition floors - one above the other - both have the same dimensions and shape as a quarter slice of pizza with slight differences. Within each 'pizza slice', I asked Mr Hwang (head technician) to build a square white cube. Act 1 was on the first floor, but inside the white cube part of Act 2 was installed, and vice-versa, inside the white cube of Act 2 on the second floor part of Act 1 was installed. Does this sound confusing? Act 2 was inside Act 1, and Act 1 was inside Act 2. This was similar in Act 3 and Act 4, but in all systems, there are mistakes… so inside Act 3 the audience would find a video live feed from Act 4… but Act 3 was not present in Act 4.
During the conceptualisation process I had a meeting with Mikkel Elming (back then in 2020, I was the director at Kunsthal Aarhus and he was one of the young curators. We both changed jobs since then) and we were bouncing ideas back and forth. One of his ideas for Kunsthal Aarhus was an accessible cabinet of curiosities and Archive of Aesthetic Exploration fitted well into my idea for Minimalism-Maximalism-Mechanissmmm, so I asked him if he wanted to curate Act 4.
Rahul: Further, it is unique that the exhibit thematically examined "how artists use materials to tell stories about their surroundings and daily life," and juxtaposed this with the presentation style to investigate genres like minimalism and maximalism. How have the artists responded to this?
Jacob: I basically asked each artist to write about their process. The artists have been asked to make instructions of How do you make the work? in Act 1, How do you tell the story? in Act 2, How do you usually involve the audience? in Act 3 and How do you usually display objects? in Act 4. The artist's answers were given out as handouts to the audience. I was interested in having the artists explain their process and through their words ‘demystify’ their works and how they are conceptualised and made. In Act 1, Asger Dybvad Larsen, Fredrik Værslev, Kang DongJu, Monica Bonvicini, Oso Parado, Pernille Kapper Williams, Silas Inoue, and Tony Lewis, A to Z explained how they approach making work, and in Act 2 Expansion Colony, Heo ChanMi, Kent Iwemyr, Li Ran, Nho Wonhee, Suh Yongsun, and Trevor Shimizu poetically explain how they use storytelling.
Rahul: Though interconnected, the four exhibitions create connections between the artworks and the observer. How has the audience participation added context to the works?
Jacob: In Act 1 and Act 2 it was only Bonvicini’s piece Plastered that engaged with the audience physically. By placing a new, extra floor (composed of drywall and polystyrene panels) on top of the existing floor, the audiences were walking on the work and through their action, they disfigured, altered and destroyed the institutional floor both on a metaphorical and literal level. However, Act 3 and Act 4 were mainly the participatory parts of the exhibition. In Act 3 the audience was able to share, indulge, and engage with the artworks. Here the viewer can share experiences, and through their actions create different types of relations to the artworks, artists and other audiences. They could drink the free beer made by SUPERFLEX in collaboration with Brewery 304, taste Kasper Hesselbjerg’s Chocolate Chip Sea Cucumber Soft Ice on Ice at Gong Gan (super cool restaurant in Seoul), share dumpling recipes in The Dumpling Club installation and enjoy a few selected dumplings conceptualised for MMM at the amazing cocktail bar Pine & Co, play with Cha Sla’s hammers or try and bring home parts of New Red Order’s souvenir and installation Selling In (Not Out). In Elming’s Act 4 - Archive of Aesthetic Exploration - the audience could handle, test and make displays with many miniature works by Ali Kazim, Elsa Salonen, Lola Daels, Seulgi Lee, Studio ThinkingHand, and Tove Storch. Archive of Aesthetic Exploration was divided into two parts; an archive where the audience was invited to explore hundreds of small artworks stored in boxes; and a laboratory where the audience can set up and juxtapose the works from the archive in four different contexts and experience the influence of curating on the appearance of the works. Here the audience became the curator.
Rahul: Please share with us your inspiration for the 'conceptual instruction' approach of involving the audience.
Jacob: The 'conceptual instruction' is meant to activate the viewer, so they tap into the discussion about making work, and begin to think about original versus copy, copyright versus copyleft, and activate them into a Do-It-Yourself audience. The instructions were meant to inspire and make people think or rethink the process of making art. The conceptual instruction approach is inspired by the exhibition Art by Telephone that took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 1969.
Rahul: It is satirical yet intriguing how the suffix of 'Ssmmm', an intentional misspelling is aimed to be read as a stutter. How are you asking the audience to influence stickiness in the art world through this?
Jacob: Yes, the ssmmm in Mechanissmmm refers to a mechanism or a machine getting stuck, making repeated mechanical noises. It is meant as a comment about museums and institutions getting stuck. I didn’t want to point fingers at certain institutions or methods, but I want the audience to think about institutions, how they work or how they do not work. It is my hope that the audience may ask themselves how and why they visit institutions, how they can influence the institution… if and when the institution is stuttering, repeating itself…
Rahul: How does the work of Cha Sla, and more importantly the aspect of play further the intent of the theme of the show?
Jacob: This answer may repeat what I have said before, however, when I conceptualised the exhibition my aim was to generate spaces (Acts) with different appearances. In Act 3 Cha Sla made 17 alternative and absurd tools (hammers), that people could take off the wall and pose and play with. Act 3 consisted of sharing, playing, tasting, and trying – so here the element of participatory was the vital conceptual framework. Cha Sla’s work Choose Your Tool was part of MMM at Art Sonje Center, and generally, this first version of the exhibition was much more playful than Aarhus.
Rahul: Similarly, please talk about the paradoxical nature of the works of Hesselbjerg, and his preoccupation with the food atlas.
Jacob: Kasper Hesselbjerg usually presents food as sculpture and sculpture as food. He creates relational settings – servings he calls them – where you can taste, drink, touch or otherwise experience the works. I am not sure what you mean by ‘paradoxical nature’ in the food atlas collages…in the collages, Hesselbjerg tries to merge what can be considered high-end, quality food (like oysters) with daily, western low-end foods (breakfast cereals like Coco pops). The 11 collages function as maps, menu cards, and as mood boards that show crisscross inspirational pallets, images of animals, industrial sites, and popular culture that refer to a particular serving. The work Chocolate Chip Sea Cucumber Soft Ice on Ice was elegantly served on handmade glazed stoneware plates (that looked like a chip sea cucumber on the outside) and consisted of a line of soft ice (also this shape imitated the sea cucumber animal) on crushed ice cubes with grated chocolate chip sea cucumber and a mint leaf on top. Convoluted? Oh yes, but very elegant and tasty…
Minimalism-Maximalism-Mechanissmmm is on display at Kunsthal Aarhus in Denmark until January 8, 2023.