C, one of the three voices in Samuel Beckett's play whose title we borrow for the short duration of our project, proclaims: “Never the same after that never quite the same but that was nothing new.”
The second iteration of Cycle Music and Art Festival and the exhibition That Time is guided by an interest in music in the context of thinking about and making art—understanding music as a means to structure and manipulate time. Music exists only when it is played: Its presence relies on repetitions and iterations both in the process of rehearsing and performing as well as in the act of listening. Each repetition in itself is singular, and with each iteration the listener or performer becomes or is addressed as a slightly different being.
Iteration can therefore be understood as a transformative, perhaps even utopian idea, the insistence of the potentiality of another world always on the horizon. Many of the works in the exhibition at Gerđarsafn, Salurinn, Café Catalina, the Kópavogur swimming pool, the Natural History Museum, and other locations and institutions in the centre of Kópavogur resist the urge to become inert and complete but instead seem to acknowledge the possibility of their own change through time and context: such as the ever new generations of witches created within Johannes Paul Raether's cosmology, the ‘soft relaunch’ of Adam Gibbons & boyleANDshaw's collaboration, the characters and costumes of Rachel de Joode's Surface Unit, constantly shifting between the virtual and the real, and the actors in David Levine's Sepulchral Cities, who repeat their performances time and again, using their presence within the quintessential cultural and communal institutions of the municipality of Kópavogur as pointers towards the fabric of present-day Iceland.
Other works deal more immediately with time as their subject matter and material: Dorothy Iannone's Dear Dieter is a recording of a spoken letter to a former lover right before meeting him again for the first time after the couple's separation. Marguerite Humeau's FOXP2 condenses geological deep time and the evolution of human language into an unseen choir lasting just a few minutes.
One of the most frequent instruments employed by the artists in the exhibition is, however, the construction of an alternate time or reality altogether: In Strata (technicolor), Kapwani Kiwanga projects a retro-perspective in which the continents of Europe and Africa have never parted: a present day Pangaea. Strewn across the floor of the museum, Alvaro Urbano's metal leaves for He would always leave a window open, even at night introduce a kind of surplus, the debris of a parallel reality carried into the here and now by a strong wind. Kristín Anna Valtysdóttir's Howl is the result of her own psychomagic, performed in the otherworld of the Californian desert.
Iteration and repetition are also the fodder with which we nurture the algorithms that determine our (digital) environment. They continue to produce an echo chamber, bubbles of self-sameness, leading us deeper into the alienation of a post-truth society: where it is possible for Melania Trump's speech writers to stage a re-enactment of the words of Michelle Obama in a perverse inversion of Borges' famous tale of difference and repetition in ‘Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote.’ Works such as Caitlin Berrigan’s Treatise on Imaginary Explosions Vol. II gleefully imagine this bubble bursting, while Larry Achiampong and David Blandy’s Finding Fanon 2 acknowledges that there is no ‘outside’ to the virtual fantasies of the echo chamber and its inherited realities, but doesn’t give up on the rallying cry for emancipation.
This much is clear: Other worlds are a matter of urgency, detours to a different present are necessary, even if they lead us into outer space on the way—much like Sun Ra, the 20th century musician and writer and one of Kiwanga's subjects—who presented himself as an alien from planet Saturn in order to be seen and heard in a world that would otherwise deny his existence. Coinciding with Iceland’s early elections in October 2016, sparked by the revelations of the so-called Panama Papers, Cycle Festival chaperones its participants and visitors into visions of near and distant constitutions. “I was the future once,” said David Cameron as he resigned. “We bring to you the mathematics of an alter-destiny,” promises Sun Ra.
The exhibition assembles divergent practices into indeterminate associations and plural singularities. Together, they help determine each other and create a setting that allows for difference and shared movements that are akin to dancing, playing music, or listening and talking.
We hope you enjoy the festival and the exhibition, with its promise of swift encounters and disparate voices, for as long as it is present. Take heed of C's lament: “come and gone was that it something like that come and gone come and gone no one come and gone in no time gone in no time,” but also listen to Bertolt Brecht: “So much might yet happen.”
National Gallery of Iceland
Fríkirkjuvegur 7 / +3545159600 / listasafn.is Tue - Sun 11am to 5pm
National Gallery of Iceland presents exhibitions and collections of modern and contemporary art. Please contact museum for more information.