Moss

Sonja Bäumel in collaboration with Jason Cook, Being Encounter, 2017, glass, chrome foil, mirror, rubber flooring, stones, gelatin, glycerin, water, salt, motors, sensors, 5' 1/4“ x 14' 5 1/4” x 14' 5 1/4". From Momentum 9.

Sonja Bäumel in collaboration with Jason Cook, Being Encounter, 2017, glass, chrome foil, mirror, rubber flooring, stones, gelatin, glycerin, water, salt, motors, sensors, 5' 1/4“ x 14' 5 1/4” x 14' 5 1/4". From Momentum 9.

Momentum 9

Momentum Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art

Sonja Bäumel in collaboration with Jason Cook, Being Encounter, 2017, glass, chrome foil, mirror, rubber flooring, stones, gelatin, glycerin, water, salt, motors, sensors, 5' 1/4“ x 14' 5 1/4” x 14' 5 1/4". From Momentum 9.

“Alienation” was the stated theme for Momentum 9: The Nordic Biennial of Contemporary Art. Organized by five curators––Ulrika Flink, Ilari Laamanen, Jacob Lillemose, Gunhild Moe, and Jón B. K. Ransu––each from a different Nordic country, the biennial aimed to respond to what theorist Lisa Blackman calls the “‘inhumanism of the human’ as well as the ‘humanism of the inhuman’” through three thematic groupings: “bodies, objects and technologies,” “ecology,” and “structures and societies.” In its exploration of past, present, and possible future modalities of the alien, the exhibition sought to understand, if not embrace, alienation as subject and object, as that which operates and is operated through.

 With historical and contemporary works by Nordic and international artists, and taking place in several sites around the industrial town of Moss, Norway, the exhibition entertained fantastic, mundane, speculative and tangible manifestations of alienation. One of the show’s more visible (and most photographed) works, situated in one of the two main biennial venues, Galleri F 15, was Patricia Piccinini’s sculpture Atlas, 2012. Made of silicone, fiberglass, human hair, and auto paint, the work images part of a corpulent white human body fused with a portion of a car body, the result an unwieldy hybrid that suggests a monolithic cyborg future in which a deeply negative and unimaginative notion of whiteness endures. The sculpture’s simple binary of flesh and plastic restricts the possibilities of prosthesis with a thankfully already-dated proto-accelerationist aesthetic. That it was the only piece shown by Piccinini was a disservice both to the show’s theme and to the artist’s sustained engagement with biotechnical speculation.

Counterbalancing this version of alienation was the large-scale installation Museum of Nonhumanity, 2017, presented at the Momentum Kunsthall. The ongoing collaboration between Laura Gustafsson and Terike Haapoja presents a history of the systematic othering of several beings, from vermin to hunted animals to subjugated and enslaved humans. With its dense mediation, pedagogical videos, and taxidermied animals, the work is necessarily didactic and straightforward. In its rigorousness and earnestness, it was a critical rebuttal to the facile cyborgian optimism seen elsewhere in the show.

Taking a projective turn, Pinar Yoldas’s Ecosystem of Excess, 2014/ 2017, shown at the Momentum Kunsthall, features the bodies of imagined new species that engulf and metabolize oceanic plastics. Accompanied by texts explaining the genesis of these creatures and the environments that sustain them, the work takes off from the real-world discovery of new bacteria living off plastic sea trash and imagines the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as a new ecological frontier, one that soon enough may exist in a world without people. Upstairs at the Kunsthall, Sonja Bäumel’s Being Encounter, 2017, made in collaboration with Jason Cook, offered a more pragmatic engagement with potential organisms of the future. In light of recent scientific discoveries revealing the influence that microbes have on the human body and mind, Bäumel installed a large dome under which visitors could handle and lie beside large, blobby, microbial models. The idea seemed to be that interacting with a schematic version of the things within might help connect us to other systems inside and out, reducing the alienation we feel from our physical selves.

Other works touched upon several literal (and, as in the case of a selection of chairs by H. R. Giger, sometimes too literal) and metaphorical instances of the alien among us, and included elements as disparate as mysterious personal artifacts (Johannes Heldén, New New Hampshire, 2017), illuminated dust (Serina Erfjord, Among Stars, 2009/2014), synthetic bees (Mediated Matter, Synthetic Apiary, 2016), insect energy bars made using an on-site composting system (Búi Aðalsteinsson, Fly Factory, 2014), and part of a meteorite that fell near Moss in 2006. These many iterations of the alien covered what seemed like all possible interpretations on the theme, and yet the show could have been a lot more alienating than it was. Instead, with so many potential iterations of alienation, posthumanism, and postlife on view, one was able to view the exhibition as an experiential essay on human relations to human existence in the present.

Rachael Rakes