PRINT May 1998

Northern Lights


MOSS (POPULATION 25,000) does not earn pride of place in Baedeker's Norway. Visitors know the industrial city, a forty-five-minute drive from Oslo, mainly as a hub for ferry-boat traffic; locally, the noxious odors that waft from a nearby paper factory may be the town's biggest claim to fame.

Now Moss hopes to redefine itself—as Kassel, Germany, another northern-European backwater, did long ago—by launching Momentum, a biennial of contemporary art that will focus on the transformations technology has brought to the visual arts and the work of young artists in the realm of popular culture. The inaugural installation, “Pakkhus,”opens May 23 and will remain on view until June 21. The title comes from the main exhibition space, a three-story warehouse (pakhus, in modern spelling) in downtown Moss. Works by forty-one artists from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland culled by a trio of curators—Danish critic Lars Bang Larsen, gallerist Atle Gerhardsen of Norway, and Swedish curator and critic Daniel Birnbaum—will appear in the decrepit building which, in many instances, the artists will directly engage. Aleksandra Mir will take over a derelict theater for her piece, Cinema for the Unemployed—Hollywood Disaster Movies, which will screen films weekdays during office hours. Down-and-out seems to be a running theme: Peter Land will offer Resting Place for Drunkards, Abandoned Lovers, and Other Lost Souls Wandering at Night in Moss, a shack housing a telescope for those in need of cosmic guidance. Other keywords, according to the organizers, “are rationality, ecstasy, urbanity, sex, and unemployment.”

Working within a total budget of 1.7 million Norwegian kroner ($222,000), the curators commissioned twenty-two artists to create new pieces, and selected the remaining work during a year of studio visits. But how did small, smelly Moss decide to join a game already crowded with larger players? “A board of seven to ten civic and business leaders in the city came up with the idea,” explains co-curator Birnbaum. “It was also their idea that the first biennial be pan-Nordic, although in the future it will probably be more international. We haven't tried to do a historical show. Most of the artists were born in the '60s or '70s.”

William Harris is a writer and editor based in New York.