“Abstract Possible” Addendum

To ’pick’ an exhibition to highlight for Artforum does not translate into my tacit approval of Maria Lind’s decision to associate with Bukowski’s Auction House which is in turn associated with Lundin Petroleum which is in turn associated with unruly business practices and abuses abroad such as shady agreements with dictatorships, further exacerbations of poverty and violence brought to attention by NGO’s, human rights organizations and articles herehere and here, for instance. The unethical flow of funds from A to B to C should not ignored; to pick is not to condone. From my American perspective, this cultural debate is, under most circumstances, currently accessible to Sweden, and at best: Scandinavia. For the English-speaking audience, many will not find themselves immediately acquainted with Tensta Konsthall’s culture debate because they are not consuming Swedish media and may not be associated with these overlapping Nordic spheres. Yet, Lind is considered to be an international curator, recently contributing to politically conscious exhibitions such as Nato Thompson’s “Living as Form” (NYC) and was previously the director of both Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies Graduate Program (Hudson) and IASPIS (Stockholm).

Regarding my responsibility as a Swedish resident and critic, I temporarily found myself in a stalemate, embedded between options: (1) to not respond as a critic on Artforum (forfeiting the opportunity to address this exhibition’s existence and concerns for a more universal audience) thereby falling into a category of comfortable criticism for art and exhibitions which are not politically charged, (2) to respond only on my blog which lacks substantial readership compared to Artforum and similar venues, (3) to respond on Artforum yet from the position of a critic who is not using the ’critics’ picks’ allotted 300± word count to overtly force my own position but instead: to allude to it, addressing specific works in “Abstract Possible: Stockholm Synergies” serving as entry points into the larger “economic abstraction” concern whilst encouraging readers to investigate the “Abstract Possible: Stockholm Synergies” debate further on their own, or (4) to respond on Artforum as well as additional outlets such as this one. Artforum appears to be an efficient way to reach the target audience. These above options only include text responses—not other methods, ranging from attending debates to initiating both public and private discussions.

Artforum stands as an intersection to discuss and analyze art, where socio-political concerns and related controversies suture the exhibition’s actual artworks—regarding the ’critics’ pick’ section. Not enough room is given to devote entire ’critics’ pick’ grafs to the political atmosphere revolving around a pick. Therefore, this addendum was created. To say nothing was not an option; to imply the existence of the concern to a more diverse audience was the chosen route. The beauty of living in a democracy is that everyone is ostensibly allowed to form opinions and evaluate any given scenario on their own accord, using their own tools and modes of investigation.

Tensta Konsthall has found itself awkwardly positioned—purposefully so. Lind’s rhetoric in the “Abstract Possible: Stockholm Synergies” press release appears synonymous with that of a politician being pushed and pulled by too many forces to justify one’s platform. The following phrases were appropriated from the “Abstract Possible: Stockholm Synergies” press release (English translation provided by Tensta Konsthall). These phrases are unclear, lacking tangible references, perhaps, supporting my aforementioned sentiments—or confirming that I’m still, after more than a decade of higher education, unable to fit my key into this door. It’s like playing Mad Libs; feel free to replace the underlined words with those of your own:

» Economic abstraction concerns art and economy, taking up the genuine abstract value of money.

» This work often seems to buy into the idea of unproblematic aesthetic enjoyment, ultra-subjectivity and certain visual codes which are taken at face value, as style rather than structure and ideology. But in addition to the many cases in which geometric abstraction in art and design today becomes a lifestyle indicator, artists contemplate and engage with the legacy of modernist abstraction, also formally, as the result of highly specific artistic and ideological trajectories.

» All this is happening within a culture and an economy in which we literally “live under abstraction,” although the economic recession has more recently called such abstraction into relief. In that case we have to acknowledge abstraction as omnipresent, not unlike the ideal of transparency in liberal democracies. What then is the potential of abstraction in such a contested territory?

» Perhaps we can begin to think of these abstract and opaque strategies and tactics as an indication of a different critical paradigm challenging the enlightenment paradigm based on transparency?

I write in Artforum: “Logic often usurps metarhetorics,” referring to Lind’s metarhetorical delivery in her press release, in public debates and her rebuttal to Sinziana Ravini’s DN critique. It is in bad form to avoid both heuristics and connections between ethics and art. There is no time like the present to accept responsibility for how one affects the other, and vice versa. One step further: it is even more questionable to claim a position (one which surfaces in Selected Maria Lind Writing, Sternberg Press) and then when it no longer aligns with one’s personal aims to advance, to abandon said position. If one wishes to change position, one should declare intentions to shift before following through—especially when holding public service occupations because such individuals are trusted by the masses to maintain a level of integrity which is, oftentimes, gauged by previous judgments. Indeed, the craft of curating and critical writing benefits from experimentation and toying with new possibilities, but a hard lesson awaits for the misguided believing to be unaffected by the same sensical constructs known as the nuts and bolts of humanity. Examine the life and works of 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger for an example of historical malfunction. Once held in high esteem, now most conclude that he was no philosopher at all due to his affiliations with Nazism, once shamelessly describing the Holocaust as just another manifestation of modern technology—like irrigation.

I find similarities between Lind’s curatorial strategy and those who find themselves at war with forces difficult to harness or control—making an ill-conceived move because one feels trapped by their plight, either unable or unwilling to construct a better option from available resources, opting as a last resort to either escape or attract attention. Consider the concept of a decoy: “usually a person, device or event meant as a distraction, to conceal what an individual or a group might be looking for. They have been used for centuries most notably in game hunting, but also in wartime and in the committing or resolving of crimes” (Wikipedia). However, Lind is public regarding associations with Bukowski’s. The decoy may be interpreted as the entire exhibition—a constructed sacrifice for the sake of future exhibitions which aspire to be genuinely grounded in and motivated by ethics, fairly declining to be yet another product of this “dirty money” phenomenon, in contrast to Tensta Konsthall’s “Abstract Possible: Stockholm Synergies”—or this decoy could be interpreted as Lind’s hazy choice of words which impedes others from reaching a goal because they cannot pinpoint her exact location on the map. Refer to Aesop’s Fable The Birds, the Beasts and the Bat for a moral to this story: ”[S]he that is neither one thing nor the other has no friends.”

Regard the reality of Tensta Konsthall in relation to its surrounding environment. In this instance, it is unwise to conduct one’s curatorial practice in such a manner that it ignores a given exhibition space’s demographics. If the rhetoric used in “Abstract Possible: Stockholm Synergies” is inaccessible to those who deem themselves to be positioned in the creative class, where does that leave the Tensta inhabitants: immigrants, working class and Swedish-citizens-in-the-making? An obvious ideological friction exists; for some, art serves as a medium equipped to trump forces such as one’s external environment and its reality, but this perspective is not always warranted when many find themselves directly affected by a decision to avoid connections between artistic and curatorial practice as they apply to the real world—one which is concrete, not abstract. We tend to care about what surrounds us, what our city can offer, what individuals of specific locations are interested in and, in turn, contribute to their environment. Out of sight, out of mind? Most harbor some notion of what a civil society should encompass, whether or not they choose to reject, embrace or reform it. Some quotes:

» And with regard to moderation, courage, high-mindedness, and all the other parts of virtue, it is also important to distinguish the illegitimate from the legitimate, for when either a city or an individual doesn’t know how to do this, it unwittingly employs the lame and illegitimate as friends or rulers for whatever services it wants done. (Republic, Plato)

» There is no body of theory or significant body of relevant information, beyond the comprehension of the layman, which makes policy immune from criticism. To the extent that ”expert knowledge” is applied to world affairs, it is surely appropriate—for a person of any integrity, quite necessary—to question its quality and the goals that it serves. (”The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Noam Chomsky)

» Corruption and perversion are more pernicious, and at the same time more likely to occur, in an egalitarian republic than in any other form of government. Schematically speaking, they come to pass when private interests invade the public domain, that is, they spring from below and not above … Where the rift between ruler and ruled has been closed, it is always possible that the dividing line between public and private may become blurred and, eventually, obliterated. (On Revolution, Hannah Arendt)

» Say what you say plainly, and then take responsibility for it. (Ai Weiwei)

In theory, Tensta Konsthall hopes to include incoming individuals and ethnic groups residing in Tensta, but this recent exhibition falls short in fulfilling this aspiration. Yet Tensta Konsthall provides related information in three languages: English, Swedish and Arabic. Admittedly, Tensta Konsthall tries harder than other spaces of its caliber; this linguistic step seems closer to inclusion than exclusion, which is commendable for a country battling homogeneity, even evident in Sweden’s last general election results, making room—for the first time—for the nationalist Sweden Democrats into parliament, receiving almost 6% of the votes. For those carrying notions that Sweden is a utopia of island hopping and blueberry picking, remove the blinders.

Many konsthalls in Sweden do not appear interested enough in including others who are not predictably categorized as Swedish—this is evident by visiting their websites, which oftentimes, do not include alternative translations of content. This is also evident by the art exhibited, which is usually produced by Swedish (or Scandinavian) artists and communicated only in Swedish; international artists and curators are underrepresented. This translation and artistic content issue may be related to economics, or it could be a gesture stemming from social atrophy and conformity. History has proven: if people think that they can get away with it, oftentimes, they will try to get away with it. I am disappointed by an observed unwillingness or glossy pretense to integrate others from diverse backgrounds in one of the most fundamental ways: communication. When I speak to others about this concern, like a broken record, I hear: ”It’s always been this way” or ”But you live in Sweden now.”

I grapple to visualize a division between the politics and art of Sweden, and stemming from that: any division between its various konsthalls and museums and the flow of funding from Sweden’s controlled cultural sources under their government’s umbrella. It is strongly suggested that Sweden and its creative-minded make more of an effort to take artistic and curatorial production into their own hands. There is more room for patron-based art organizations which are instead supported by flexible, progressive individuals or groups—not by closed bureaucracies, committees or boards. Generosity, resourcefulness and ingenuity are unavoidable factors in this equation.

I continue to observe this trend: those who are given positions of authority continue to inherit them and are rarely removed—even if they are not doing their job. It is, arguably, The Swedish Way: hard to hire, hard to fire. This phenomenon is both a comfort and concern. Many committees in Sweden which administer konsthalls, arts organizations and museums place their faith in those whom I refer to as ’safe bets.’ And one must inquire, “how do individuals acquire positions of authority in the first place?” The answer is slippery—ranging from hard work, to privilege, to earned or self-constructed reputation, to nepotism, to subtle nuance.

In short, I grow tired of seeing the same ornamental figures shifted gracefully from one arts entity to another, as if there are only a handful of qualified leaders who deserve these limited roles. My discontent also lies in the fact that I am one of many immigrants left standing in this crude variant of Musical Chairs. There are times when politics proves to be just as significant as art (or more)—when the two should meet, mingle and breed like wild foxes. In Sweden, I am not alone in experiencing a cold draft from the slamming of doors—quickly, harshly, from all cardinal directions.

My strategy was to highlight a flawed exhibition, in hopes that others will be inclined to join the conversation. Imagine residing in the last, windowless room of a 4th floor railway apartment. There is a raging fire in the middle room and on the rest of the floor; you must go through this room to reach the fire escape. What do you do? Hold your breath, run through the flames—blue skies are worth a few second degree burns.

For additional views, these links are entry points from gallerists, critics and curators (including Maria Lind’s rebuttal)—some of which can be haphazardly interpreted here:

» Cilene Andréhn + Ben Loveless: ”Oljepengar skakar om Konststockholm”
» Franz Joseph Peterson: ”Kritisk kollaps på Tensta konsthall”
» Sinziana Ravini: ”Säg nej till blodspengarna”
» Sinziana Ravini: ”Ta bladet från munnen. Maria Linds praktik är höljd i dimma”
» Robert Stasinski: ”Maria Linds version av Tensta konsthall—Marknadskritik som inte biter på Bukowskis”
» tsnoK: ”Det är ett systemfel att hon samarbetar med kapitalet.”
» Maria Lind: ”Ambitionen är att stimulera debatt om konst och pengar”

For the exhibition guide (in English) including descriptions of works, go here.

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