MOMENTUM 11 celebrates the theme ‘House of Commons’ at its latest edition in Norway

The 2021 edition of the biennale investigates the ideas of inclusivity and togetherness through multi-disciplinary contemporary art created to be experienced at Moss, Norway.

by Rahul KumarPublished on : Oct 10, 2021

What is the purpose of art events like biennales? A quick refresher on the usual format – these are generally hosted outside of the metro cities, for a limited period (often three to six months), and works of art are spread across several locations within the city. Further, all works react to a singular yet broad-based theme, mostly global and contemporary, and a large part of the art displayed is especially created/commissioned. So, again, what is the core objective of an event like this? To my mind, while there may be various peripheral benefits, the raison d'être is to make the masses (inclusive audience) reflect upon critical issues (socio-political) through the arts (visual, performative, experiential).

Big Shadows | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Chto Delat | STIRworld
Big Shadows by Chto Delat Image: Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

MOMENTUM 11 at Moss, Norway, achieves this objective effectively through its latest edition titled House of Commons. Curated by Théo-Mario Coppola, the theme itself has multiple layers to be unravelled. Having historical references to Elinor Ostrom and events in Norvegian political past, metaphorically it aims at an inclusive and diverse community that lives and thrives together. “We were committed to exploring how art discourse and actions could avoid being shaped into a pyramidal structure, as well as how to keep principles and values connected to our interrelations and work processes,” says Dag Aak Sveinar, Director Galleri F 15 and MOMENTUM.

I speak with Sveinar on the curatorial framework of the biennale, its underlying principles, and the experience of working in a collaborative format.

Untitled | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Maria Nordman | STIRworld
Untitled by Maria Nordman Image: Eivind Lauritzen, Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

Rahul Kumar (RK): How do the works at the biennale react to the theme of House of Commons, especially with respect to capitalism, colonialism, racism, patriarchalism, and gender normativity?

Dag Aak Sveinar (DS): MOMENTUM 11 - HOUSE OF COMMONS shares a selection of film, photography, sculpture, performance and installations that focus on themes exploring our ideas of community, togetherness, inclusivity and diversity - works that bridge both generations and borders. Over the course of this year, the thematic approach of event has taken on a pragmatic necessity, as we are facing a future that we all must take part in shaping. The global pandemic has illuminated and intensified racial and economic inequalities (in the US alone, billionaires have become $1.2 trillion richer during the crisis). While it has also heightened our collective obligation to one another and to the earth, it is clear we need places to connect with one another in nature and we need safe spaces for dialogue. Our hope is that this small biennale and the work shared here can serve as a context for reflection and action. While many of the works are contemporary, several are from earlier in the 20th century, suggesting that activism is ongoing, and more importantly, that there is a path to follow. It's important too, to consider that Moss is not just a city in the world, it is a city in Norway.

Space Poem #5| MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Renée Green | STIRworld
Space Poem #5 by Renée Green Image: Eivind Lauritzen, Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

This year marks a decade since eight people were killed in the bombing of the government buildings in Oslo, and 69 people (33 under the age of 18), were hunted and massacred at a Labour Party youth summer camp. The attacks were motivated by right-wing extremism and while the trauma caused a country-wide reflection, it did not necessarily lead to a kinder, more collaborative and generous society. Can art in a biennale take on such challenges? It is too much to ask. But perhaps by meandering through a gallery space, taking a walk through a forest, or having a chance encounter in the city, the possibility of experiencing art within and from multiple and unique contexts can offer a chance to reconsider our shared past and contemplate what it means to be a community. In concrete terms, it means embracing and including other forms of knowledge production and utilising, amongst others, existing and new forms of community outreach to co-produce and highlight these, in our locality and beyond.

All that goes before forget | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Daisuke Kosugi | STIRworld
All that goes before forget by Daisuke Kosugi Image: Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

RK: Why the philosophies like ‘togetherness and horizontality’ important to investigate the theme and curatorial framework?

DS: From the start, the focus for the biennale was articulated around the ideas of 'togetherness' and 'horizontality'. We were committed to exploring how art discourse and actions could avoid being shaped into a pyramidal structure, as well as how to keep principles and values connected to our interrelations and work processes. In close collaboration with the director, the biennale and the artist-practitioners, the curator and the associate curator would work together to reflect on how a renewed approach to the biennale format could be an inspiring and sustainable alternative to prevailing modes of domination, and how it could create a tangible dialogue with local, regional and international participants within a Nordic context. Ultimately, this proved to be enormously challenging. In previous editions, and before the pandemic, our method to encourage collaboration and togetherness, to build a feeling of being a part of the process was mainly done with visits to Moss by the curatorial team and the artists. Due to the restrictions posed by the health crisis, this close, in-person collaboration has not yet been possible for this edition and is incredibly important for creating a context that accepts vulnerability, encourages participation and welcomes diverse perspectives. The dismissal of the curator just days before the planned opening date has led to many nuanced and thoughtful conversations, many of which are ongoing. While unexpected and traumatic for all involved, it has allowed for opportunities for reflection on what constitutes collaboration, solidarity and contractual relationships, as well as the roles and responsibilities of curators, institutions, production teams, participants and artist-practitioners in larger-scale projects.

04 min watch Exhibit walkthrough (abridged version) | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | STIRworld
Exhibit walkthrough (abridged version) Video: Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11

RK: In continuation, please elaborate on the notion of 'commons' as developed by Elinor Ostrom in the 1980s. Why is it important to repurpose this for our contemporary times?

DS: As the biennale expands from exhibiting in a permanent gallery space and within the limits of urban spaces to a natural environment, it has led to questions about ownership, particularly in relation to land, and how to develop and share temporary projects that don't threaten the natural environment but visually and actively accentuate an awareness and understanding. Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist who in 2009 became the first-ever woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, was known widely for her collaborative interdisciplinary approach. She was interested in how local life could be managed through processes of emancipation and shared responsibility, without any regulation by centralised or private authorities. Her ideas, and her joyous welcome of a combination of perspectives to explore how to resolve issues around resource management and building equitable and sustainable institutions, were very intriguing to a biennale in transition.

About the footprints, what we hide in the pockets and other shadows of hope | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Chto Delat | STIRworld
About the footprints, what we hide in the pockets and other shadows of hope by Chto Delat Image: Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

Her theories, which explore ideas around utopia and commoning, are particularly relevant today, as we grapple as a society with what it means to be a community. These offered a conceptual framework for the HOUSE OF COMMONS where artist-practitioners and participants could come together to share knowledge and insights. Also relevant are Silke Helfrich’s ideas around commoning and collective resources, in particular her emphasis on the importance of building a new language for a common society. There is a wonderful series of videos where she explains her theories (1). The HOUSE OF COMMONS proposal was to avoid the use of concepts, notions and words that imply a hierarchy, such as “audience,” and instead find terms that characterise horizontal and inclusive interrelations, such as “participants”. In the same way, the word “practitioner” has been introduced, which encompasses most contemporary practices. The intention for this switch in vocabulary was to reinforce outreach, education and engagement.

J'ai le devoir de mémoire | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Délio Jasse | STIRworld
J'ai le devoir de mémoire by Délio Jasse Image: Eivind Lauritzen, Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

RK: How are the contemporary practices included in the biennale contextualised with the location and its historical significance? For instance, the island of Jeloya getting delinked with the mainland with the construction of the Moss Canal in 1855 – how are these sensitivities taken into consideration in the works being showcased?

DS: The 11th edition truly is a new beginning for the biennale, which has broadened its scope to include the protected nature reserve on the island of Jeløya, just across the Oslo Fjord from the city of Moss. The island is where Alby gård can be found, one of the oldest farms in Jeløy with roots dating back to early Viking Age. Galleri F 15 is located inside this farmhouse. This year, artworks by artist-practitioners can be encountered in venues across the city of Moss such as the Kunstforening and Musikkpaviljongen, in the exhibition spaces of Galleri F 15 at Alby gård, and via a circuit that runs along the southern part of the island of Jeløya, connecting several temporary art installation (https://www.stirworld.com/tags-art-installation).

Still from Arctic Hysteria | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Pia Arke | STIRworld
Still from Arctic Hysteria by Pia Arke Image: Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

This widening in scope represents a transition from instrumentally supporting the inhabitants of Moss to gentrify their town and its buildings, which are no longer being used for industrial purposes, to exploring the vast outdoor public spaces of the island. In real terms, it has marked a shift from working with city planners, real estate developers, entrepreneurs and cultural enterprises to collaborating with governmental representatives, scientists and academics responsible for heritage preservation, environmental protection and nature conservation. In poetic terms, it could be a transition from narrow cobbled streets and alleys, concrete and brick buildings to fjords, fields, and forests, from night skies illuminated by city lights to clear views of bright constellations and northern lights.

Cylinder Pavilion | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | S-AR | STIRworld
Cylinder Pavilion by S-AR Image: Eivind Lauritzen, Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

RK: Finally, please talk about the partnerships with local and global agencies that have been significant in developing this edition.

DS: M11 is situated in Moss which is positioned in the middle of the Oslo fjord. Across the fjord run five ferries per hour between the two cities of Moss and Horten. The passengers, cars and big trucks take a short cut with the ferry, saving the time it would take to go further north before travelling further east into Sweden or west towards the coast of Norway. The ferry is known across Norway and by everyone who regularly travels on it as, “the highway across the Oslo fjord.”
These boats, known as the world's largest all-electric ferries, cross the fjord so quietly and smoothly with the calm weather in the summer that we wanted to bring a performance artist on board. While we tried to accomplish this earlier, we were not able to capture the attention of the owners of Bastø-Fosen. However, the management at the ferry company are eager now to make it happen and they have reserved time for the concert/performance with Charlemagne Palestine on a busy Friday just around 4-5 pm, when most of the travellers are families driving off for the weekend and the ferry will be packed with people. Those passengers without a car travel for free.  

RK: Finally, please talk about the partnerships with local and global agencies that have been significant in developing this edition.

DS: M11 is situated in Moss which is positioned in the middle of the Oslo fjord. Across the fjord run five ferries per hour between the two cities of Moss and Horten. The passengers, cars and big trucks take a short cut with the ferry, saving the time it would take to go further north before travelling further east into Sweden or west towards the coast of Norway. The ferry is known across Norway and by everyone who regularly travels on it as, “the highway across the Oslo fjord.”
These boats, known as the world's largest all-electric ferries, cross the fjord so quietly and smoothly with the calm weather in the summer that we wanted to bring a performance artist on board. While we tried to accomplish this earlier, we were not able to capture the attention of the owners of Bastø-Fosen. However, the management at the ferry company are eager now to make it happen and they have reserved time for the concert/performance with Charlemagne Palestine on a busy Friday just around 4-5 pm, when most of the travellers are families driving off for the weekend and the ferry will be packed with people. Those passengers without a car travel for free.  

Untitled | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Camilo Godoy | STIRworld
Untitled by Camilo Godoy Image: Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

A unique grand piano, a Bösendorfer with its special x-factor (sustain), will be lifted up onto the outdoor deck and placed there for the performance by an old Norwegian family business called Aspheim Flygel. They will tune the grand piano with its special resonant tone wood (similar to that of a violin or a cello) before the transport, and deliver the delicate instrument ready for the outdoor performance. Due to the scale of the grand piano and the limited space in the elevators inside the ferry, the Bösendorfer will have to be lifted from the truck with a crane directly to the ferry's outdoor deck. The duration of the concert will last as long as the back and forth of a crossing of the Oslo fjord. 

Imagine being able to experience Charlemagne Palestine's performance on the ferry outside on a magnificent summer day with the shifts in the Bösendorfers sound register reverberating with the body of the ferry as it moves along its path across the fjord, with everyone aboard taking part in the same movement. The performance by Charlemagne Palestine for MOMENTUM 11 - HOUSE OF COMMONS connects with the theme, resonating with its optimistic and joyful vibe.

Women with hose | MOMENTUM 11, House of Commons | Trinh T. Minh-ha | STIRworld
Women with hose by Trinh T Minh-ha Image: Courtesy of MOMENTUM 11 and the artist

* (1): https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVk_Ps7tjWWlzhLKkiZN1WLf4c4bkgCnY.

Also watch long version exhibition film of the Momentum 11 biennale here.

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