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B-Open: art and politics?

November 22, 2006

Last Friday I was attending the seminar “Political?” at Landmark part of B-Open. Jeremy Welsh has already given an excellent summary of it at his blog and I don’t see any point in repeating any of his arguments so I’ll just add my two cents:

As part of B-Open a new journal was introduced as well: B-post. It is really positive that this (seminar and publication) is taking place in Bergen. In the last few years there have been much less of this kind of public debate and discourse within the arts in Bergen as compared to Oslo and it has no doubt contributed to a feeling of a centralization within fine arts in Norway: If something takes place in Oslo it is seen reviewed and debated outside Oslo it goes without notice. The only way to change this is for artists and art organizations outside Oslo to raise their voices and start writing and contribute to the debate.

Samir M’Kadmi raised the most precise and concise critique of the National Museum of Art Architecture and Design that I have encountered so far also pinpointing some of the fundamental problems of how nationality is (not) understood in Norway at the moment.

My understanding of the presentation by Tore Vagn Lid is quite different to Jeremy’s. I did not get the impression that he claimed that the consequences of 9/11 have no great significance for art and politics. Rather I got the impression that he suggested that if political art is now once again re-emerging it might be less because of 9/11 as an isolated event than due to the political schemes of international society and politics being inappropriate to understand and deal with the current situation. If so that was already emerging prior to 2001 but 9/11 has functioned as a catalyst accentuating it.

The absolute low-down was the critique raised by Lars Ramberg towards Samir M’Kadmi and later towards the support for art and new technology from The Art Council. I simply did not get the point of his critique against Samir and I am not convinced that he got it himself either. It seemed utterly inconsistent with his own art projects as presented earlier during the seminar.

The critique against art and new technology was depressingly tabloid and ignorant and I second every word of Jeremy on this. To me the most depressing thing about it was that it seemed to suggest a huge step back from one of the positive tendencies I have sensed the last two or three years:

Conceptualism arrived late in Norway with tendencies of gross over-simplifications. In the late 90s there seemed to be a misconception that the only thing that mattered was the concept while the material realization of the art work had little or nothing to say. While this attitude might sound charmingly punkish the result to often was poorly realized art works where the lack of craftsmanship undermined the conceptual idea of the work. Compared to e.g. the works of Joseph Kosuth the importance of the presentation seemed underestimated. Even if his works are highly conceptual a lot of time and effort has gone into how they are realized. There is obviously strong craftsmanship manifested in his works on a number of levels.

In the last few years this gradually seems to have improved. In Bergen there is a thriving environment for collaboration. I do not feel that the field of fine arts is threatened in any way instead specialized arts is more and more moving towards becoming integrated part of fine arts while the idea of specialized arts as pure craftsmanship is fading. Hopefully this could encourage a situation where relevance to contemporary discourse is matched with a firm understanding of the importance of craftsmanship. I do not subscribe for a second to the claim by George Morgenstern last spring that there is a continuous tendency towards de-skilling in the arts for the last 100 years rather I believe that the fields where skills are required have been in continuous drift.

If there is a new tendency towards political art in Norway at the moment I sincerely hope that it will not reinforce old misconceptions about the non-importance of the medium and realization. To me Rambergs critique just felt so much like yesterday’s paper.