Arr/Dep (catalogue): "Imagining Tingvoll"

erlendtondo



Inbetween specific non-sites and non-specific places
For a few months, during 2007, an old post office on Nordmøre hosted Tingvoll kunsthall. This small town on the north eastern coast of Norway temporarily became the surroundings of what actually felt like one of the most important art events in Norway in 2007. At least to some of those very few people who heard about it. I never went to Tingvoll kunsthall and now that it's closed I'll never be able to. I wanted to go, but Tingvoll is a difficult place to get to. You have to fly to Kristiansund airport, to which the only available flights are by SAS. Given this monopoly situation tickets are always expensive. If you're in Oslo or Bergen it's easier and cheaper to go to London or Berlin. So I never went. During the period Tingvoll kunsthall existed I went to New York, Berlin, Seoul, Kassel, Münster, Lyon, Istanbul, Stockholm, Miami, but I never made it to Tingvoll.

Arrivals/ departures
is an exhibition that seems to locate itself in between two of the most excessively used terms in recent art theory: the site-specific and non-place. The site-specific artwork grew out of a desire to break free of the conventional gallery space and the limitations of its imagined objectivity; the idea that anything placed here, within this pure space, was related to something on the outside only by the relative power of the imagination of (first) its creator and (later) its spectator. This idea made way for lots of interesting representational art, and even more interesting non-representational art, but it became a problem when artists started wanting to do something a little more context-driven, something that could exist for a certain period of time in a certain geographical space. The idea was that the artist would be able to highlight how any particular artwork always exists within one particular framework of potential meaning, and the site-specific always draws attention to this framework.

Thus the work will have one particular set of limitations and possibilities that is intimately connected to the when and where of its presentation. Artists began to create works that explicitly referred to this when and where. Today this is so commonplace that you also see it in commercial settings where the primary goal is to sell art. Works that attempt to criticise the situation in which they are presented, such as works that intentionally draw attention to the fact that the works are being shown in a commercial gallery or at an art fair, are examples of what is usually referred to as institutional critique. Art that attempts to reveal certain aspects of the artworld, such as power structures that are inherent in the relationships between artist, gallery, museum, collector and spectator is one kind of site-specific work, where the specific site is the artworld.

Tingvoll kunsthall, and Arrivals/ departures, on the other hand, are different kinds of site-specific work. They are also motivated by the desire to inject a specific meaning into a particular situation, but their way of doing so is only partially based on a critical desire. Here we find a critique only insofar as the exhibitions present an alternative to what already exists in this situation. It is not the situation that is important, but how this new addition can open up for something different. New ways of reflection, new ways of understanding. In the case of Tingvoll kunsthall it is perhaps as simple as the distinction between absence and presence. Before the kunsthall there was little to none contemporary art practice in Tingvoll. During the existence of the space, however, there has been a kind of activity that usually is only found in bigger cities. Of course there is always "art" in these areas, but it is always art of a variety that doesn't really relate to the contemporary art discourse as it is practiced elsewhere. The meaning of the project thereby comes from where it is carried out more than from exactly what it is doing there.

This is what has been important about the space; the existence in this place of a social practice of the kind that we know as contemporary art, the presence of forms of discourse that would otherwise have remained absent from this particular place. Whatever art has been shown there has, at least to some extent, been incidental to this, and the project as a whole seems much more important than the sum of its parts.

The artspace in the middle of nowhere
Because Tingvoll truly is a kind of non-place. There are many such places, of course, and they are non-places only in the sense that they are places that don't really exist because no one goes there. Within the art-world, Tingvoll, is such a place. It could even be argued that Norway as a whole is such a place. But the non-place is usually talked about in connection with spaces such as airports, waiting areas, different kinds of semi-public spaces in which we sometimes spend time that is frustratingly non-productive and pointless, so it actually really means something very different. As such, I?m sure, Tingvoll is in many ways the complete opposite. Small places, places "off the beaten path" (as travel guides love to call them) are usually places that have exactly the opposite qualities of non-places; they are not devoid of special character at all. They do in fact have so much character that anything that happens there can't help but be coloured by the qualities of the surroundings. This is what makes it so easy to label anything that happens in such a place as "site-specific", like I did just a few paragraphs ago. Because we are so used to things happening within the relatively well-behaved spaces of galleries, or big cities, anything that takes place elsewhere becomes a novelty, "site-specific".

But this is not what is important about either Tingvoll kunsthall or Arrivals/ departures. There has been, and continues to be a great deal of discourse into the question of "periphery" in the parts of the artworld where there is interest in theory. Periphery can most easily be understood as anything that is not close to a centre, or not part of the mainstream. The importance that is now placed on what we might call "periphery awareness" can perhaps be traced to feminist theory and later, more commonly, via Edward Said's work on Orientalism, what became known as post-colonial theory. Inherent in all this theoretical work is the idea that the consensus-based culture brought forth by the European Enlightenment, over the years consistently contributed to the exclusion of minor voices from the public conversation. The first to react to this were the workers in France, then women followed, then the non-Western world. Feminst theory, post-colonial theory and queer theory are all based on the philosophically similar idea of creating the understanding of variety where the commonly held theories had previously only found many examples of the same. It is a call for the appreciation of complexity where one had attempted to claim simplicity. This is important because it has often been misapplied when used in attempts at heightened periphery-awareness. Perhaps particularly in Norway.

"Look to Lillehammer"
Norwegians are a funny people. The closest thing we have to a national opus (our Hamlet, perhaps, and please note that the content of this parenthesis is a clever kind of telling by showing) is a story that was intended to parody our national identity, 'the uncreated conscience of our race' if you will. Norwegians love nothing more than attention from the outside world. Whenever something important happens abroad, the Norwegian angle is sought, at all costs. Did you, for example, know that the Titanic carried a large container of Norwegian toys, on its way to poor American children? "Ship sinks, Norwegian goodwill thwarted". This is counterproductive. The periphery doesn't need attention from the centre. The periphery needs the balls so say, simply, this is our centre. That is what Tingvoll kunsthall did. It's not really important if anyone from Oslo or Bergen every flew in to see the space, or if they will fly in to see this exhibition in Molde. It's not important that I'm sitting in Berlin writing about it. This is where people too often get the importance of post-colonial theory etc wrong. People too often get caught up in the idea that getting attention ("being seen") is important enough to be a goal in itself, when clearly what is really at stake is always simply people?s freedom to not get screwed out of the possibility of doing whatever it is they want to do. This is what's wrong with all the little backwater-places that want "biennials" so that they can become, for a short period of time, the "centre of attention". This is what made Tingvoll kunsthall different. It wasn't about getting people from other parts of Norway to come to Tingvoll, it was about creating a self-sufficient local practice. And then paradoxically, what always happens if a project like that is successful, people start showing up. If you build it, they will come. But attention from the outside world is never the goal. What's important when it comes to the question of "global" and "local" is that local activity does not have to be globally recognised to have value. Tingvoll kunsthall was intended to function like this. First and foremost as a place where people who are normally far removed from the contemporary art world could get a taste of another kind of life. The project attempted to create a social context in which particular kinds of behaviour could take place. The question was primarily what it would entail to enter into this kind of life practice, and the space was simply an experiment into making it happen. This is what I think Tingvoll kunsthall, ever so briefly, offered Nordmøre. May a thousand flowers bloom.

Erlend Hammer (art historian and critic)

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