Diminished Borders: Europe, Europe at Astrup Fearnley Museet

Camille Henrot, The Descendants of Pirogues, 2013. Courtesy of Kamel Mennour.

Artists from across Europe are the focus of a new show which opened last week at Oslo's Astrup Fearnley Museet. Appropriately called Europe, Europe, the exhibition includes forty artists from eight European cities, celebrating the diversity of the close-knit continent. Curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Thomas Boutoux and Gunnar B. Kvaran, the exhibition features artists under the age of 35 from Oslo, Berlin, Brussels, Paris, London, Zürich, Prague and Lisbon/Porto. In addition to a presence at the Astrup Fearnley Museet, the exhibition will have satellite spaces in collaboration with other museums and presenting institutions from the eight European cities, subsequently covering the continent by the end of the three-year project.

For the last decade, the privately owned Astrup Fearnley Museet has created an innovative artistic program that has included exhibitions highlighting various regions around the globe and giving the artists and art scenes in each country exposure in Norway. The newest exhibition focuses on Europe and gathers the expertise of three world-renowned curators to contemplate a changing Europe.  Despite the culturally rich continent packed with diverse nations speaking a multitude of languages, the unification of the European Union has served to blur these lines, enabling easier mobility by citizens, namely artists. With this access, artists may now establish themselves in new countries and new cities, absorbing new cultural influences without immigration red tape. This new polycentrism, coupled with the effects of the Bologna Agreement that reformed European art schools to concentrate on research-based education, the continent is producing artists with a wide range of international influences, as well as intellectual backgrounds.

Europe, Europe explores this mobility and fluidity of artists from country to country, honing in on artists who may not have artistic allegiance to their home countries or the structured rules that once dictated the art world. Along with choosing artists whose work satisfy these open-minded criteria, the curators have chosen to execute the exhibition with an "organic curatorial model," allowing the exhibition to change over time, just as Europe has. After three years of research, the exhibition opened at Astrup Fearnley, before branching off into its alternative spaces including the New Theater in Berlin (opens September 25), Abilene in Belgium (opens October 9), A Certain Lack of Coherence in Porto (opens October 23), Arcadia Missa in London (opens November 6), 1857 Norway in Oslo (open November 20), Treize in Paris (opens December 4), ETC Gallery in Prague (opens January 8) and HA-CIE-ND-A in Zürich (opens January 22, 2015.)

Aside from creating a program that goes beyond the museum's walls, the three curators have also used an innovative process for selecting artists. In addition to the artists that Obrist, Boutoux and Kvaran have chosen, the trio has appointed a local expert/correspondent from each of the eight cities as an advisor. These correspondents have in turn chosen two additional artists for the exhibition from their respective districts, as well as contributed personal insight to a publication on the exhibition put out by the museum. This well-rounded approach has allowed for elements from each featured city to infiltrate the main exhibition in Oslo.

Camille Henrot, Living Underwater, 2013. Courtesy of Kamel Mennour.

Many of the artists selected by the curators blend old and new media to create a commentary on the past and present, and additionally to cross cultural influences. One such artist is Camille Henrot, from Paris. Working in video, sculpture, drawing and photographs, Henrot explores symbols and myths from history, reinterpreted and recontextualised into modernity with the presence of her images displayed on computer screens. For Europe, Europe, the curators have chosen two of Henrot's works. Living Underwater features a 41-second video of a swimmer underwater in a pool, the screen hidden in an old fashioned easel, which references the tradition of painting coupled with the new media of video art. The Descendants of Pirogues explores Henrot's anthropological and allegorical side, with a sculptural installation of a boat that seems to push through the middle of the gallery wall.

Ed Atkins,Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths, 2013. Courtesy of Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi and Cabinet Gallery London.

Exploring new media and video further is Ed Atkins' Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths, a computer generated digital animation piece that confronts the new medium itself. In the video, Atkins' protagonist is submerged in water at the bottom of the ocean. Atkins shows the character's flaws by revealing the flaws in digital animation, which is often categorized by the rendering of hair. Atkins' character fluctuates between perfection (which reads as eerily realistic) to flawed -- giving away the unreal nature of the character.  The line between real and unreal allows the viewer to contemplate not only his narrative, but the nature of digital animation as an accepted art form itself.

André Romão, Europa, 2014. Courtesy of Astrup Fearnley Museet.

Portuguese artist André Romão's work also references myths and historical tales, often with an undercurrent of violence. His piece Europa draws on the ancient Greek myth of the powerful woman for which the continent was named. The piece shows Zeus, as a bull, tricking Europa into jumping on his back, before he abducts her and brings her to Crete. The tale ends with Europa falling in love with Zeus and becoming Queen of Crete. The curators use this piece as a parallel between Europa's story and the displacement and migration of artists throughout Europe, who often begrudgingly leave their homes due to economic or creative reasons in order to pursue happiness and success in foreign places.

Simon Denny, New Management, installation view, 2014. Courtesy of Galerie Buchholz Berlin/Cologne.
Simon Denny, New Management, 2014. Courtesy of Galerie Buchholz Berlin/Cologne.

While Romão looks to the past, Simon Denny's New Management looks to the present issues surrounding business and bureaucracy.  The installation refers specifically to a meeting of Samsung executives and investors that took place in Frankfurt in 1993; preceding the company's dominance in mobile and TV production in Korea and then into Europe. Denny pinpoints this board meeting as the catalyst that introduced the South Korean company to the western world. The installation acts as an homage and memorial to an unauthorized point in history that to Denny transformed the business model between South Korea and Europe.

Europe, Europe's initial impact will resound as the satellite installations open with fresh new work across the continent. The exhibition at Astrup Fearnley Museet itself will continue to influence the audience in Oslo, with a Performance Weekend November 1-2, and a Film Weekend focusing on video artists on November 15 and 16.