Moss, Norway

Momentum 2004

Various Venues

The third edition of Momentum, the biannual Nordic festival of contemporary art in the southern Norwegian town of Moss, had to be postponed a few years. The announcement that it was back on track was therefore welcome news. Momentum has become an important showcase for new developments in Nordic art, and at the moment there is no other festival, institution, or journal that could provide such an overview. The long period of preparation for this year’s exhibition both raised and lowered expectations. The curators, Caroline Corbetta from Italy and Per Gunnar Tverbakk from Norway, wanted Momentum to address social conditions and question Nordic stereotypes (including cultural homogeneity and the welfare-state model). The catalogue essays note that notions of what is Nordic are changing, diversifying, and expanding geographically to include the Baltic states. This change, however, was not really reflected in the exhibition, which kept within the usual borders of Nordic geography and identification. Another relevant issue is how the specificity of the individual Nordic countries relates to a unified view of the region. To help illuminate these new and productive uncertainties, the curators could have invited artists from “expanded Nordic” or non-Nordic countries to contribute their points of view.

The main exhibition venue, the new Moss Brewery Exhibition Hall, left a vibrant overall impression, inviting us to explore quite a few attractive and intriguing works by promising artists. Interestingly, the exhibition highlighted an ongoing generational shift, since it featured a number of artists born in the mid-to-late ’70s rather than the already established names of ’90s Nordic art. Among these, Natalie Djurberg showed some animated video sketches that combine childlike naïveté and disturbing imagery; Christian Anderrson created an illusionistic, pictorially arresting installation of a flying brick frozen in midair as it penetrates the gallery wall; and in two videos, Jesper Just challenged stereotypes of how male gender is performed. It was, however, hard not to notice the predominance of male artists (thirty out of thirty-nine).

Momentum is a venue both for addressing the specific interests and preoccupations of the Nordic scene and also for some self-reflection and self-criticism with future developments in mind. In this sense the emphasis on emergent artists and how they deal with their own contexts is important. Citing difficulties caused by restrictions of time and space, the curators consciously refrained from including an important strand of current Nordic art: namely, community-based and activist work. The exhibition would have benefited from representing the tension, very much in evidence at the opening conference, between the beautiful, the participatory, and the politically discursive.

At the conference, some outstanding papers were delivered; the catalogue, too, contains interesting analytical texts. By comparison, the exhibition itself lacked theoretical engagement. There was, for example, a rather too generous display of landscape photography. This genre coexists with other developments in Nordic art and is not without interest, but it can have traditionalist or escapist overtones. Also, noting the artists’ countries of origin suggests some interesting differences that indirectly put the supposed homogeneity of the region in question. One of the few works that toyed ironically with the unified view of Nordic identity was by the Icelander Ragnar Kjartansson. In his video installation with wall drawings, he played an eighteenth-century Icelandic peasant being abused by his Danish master. Their looped choreographed struggle hardly promoted the notion of Nordic harmony. It is a good thing for a region to have such a forum, in which dominant conceptions of its realities can be tested. Momentum is a developing organism that should be able to adapt to this ever-changing field.

Liutauras Psibilskis