“IMAGINE BEING HERE NOW” was the title of the sixth Momentum Biennial in Moss, Norway. Given that many international art-world aficionados had hightailed it home after Art Basel, the show’s name was unusually apropos. I arrived from Berlin last Saturday—too late for the dinner hosted for the artists the night prior, I was sad to discover. But after hearing all about it over breakfast from several hungover curators and artists who were experiencing the consequences of the local drinks—with such appetizing names as “Brown Cow” and “Blow Job”—my remorse quickly turned to happy relief.
The biennial originally began as a strictly Nordic affair, but the 2011 edition consists of artists from all over the world (though a large percentage still originate in the region). The fifty contributors were brought together by a team of five young curators, one from each of the Scandinavian countries: Markús Thór Andrésson (Iceland), Christian Skovbjerg Jensen (Denmark), Theodor Ringborg (Sweden), Aura Seikkula (Finland), and Marianne Zamecznik (Norway). The little town of Moss, situated in a beautiful rural landscape (which is also, due to the city’s cellulose factory, known for a rather horrid smell), had a rare moment in the spotlight in the country’s largest morning paper, Aftenposten, with one headline going so far as to claim that “Moss Beats Venice”—something about the former being more “interesting.” This headline was, of course, picked up by both the local mayor and the Norwegian minister of culture, Anniken Huitfeldt, who couldn’t help but boast about it in their respective opening speeches at Galleri F15, one of the three venues of the biennial, much to the amusement of the more jaded (ahem) art audience.
Ringborg advised us to “come back in 2061,” when the time capsules made by Raqs Media Collective are expected to be exhumed. This proleptic teaser served as a reminder that we also had to use our imagination to “see” other works included in the exhibition: There was, for example, the Danish art group Wooloo, who proposed to leave the garden at Galleri F15 untouched for two years. Their request for an “anti-intervention” was denied by the local politicians, who feared an invasion of adders and ticks, and in fact prompted a new local law requiring that all communal lawns in Moss be cut every Friday afternoon.
Then there was Katarina Löfström’s contribution, which called for one large firework “bomb” to be lit at midnight of the opening day. The local police dismissed the proposal: “The sleep of the inhabitants of Moss is far more important than a single piece of art,” they (perhaps reasonably) decided. “Who cannot but concur with the police’s conclusion?” Löfström asked with a hint of mirth. The most exclusive work must have been the one belonging to the artist group Sex Tags. It was so “secret” that only five or six people had the opportunity to actually see the space: a room, connected to the main exhibition hall, which is not technically allowed to be used because of fire code. Performance pieces by Prinz Gholam, Roi Vaara, and Singaporean artist Heman Chong also made an impact.
But the most intriguing curatorial intervention involved the spatial experience of the main venue, Kunsthalle Momentum. Norwegian artist Øystein Aasan and curator Zamecznik collaborated on an architectural labyrinth wherein works are presented in thirty small white cubes, so that the viewer is only able to see one artist’s work at a time. The layout was supposedly meant to imitate the intimacy of the encounter with work in an artist’s studio. Trying to find my way around, I felt like a mouse trapped in a maze. The clean hang within the little cubes didn’t do much to simulate the artist’s studio, though, where production is emphasized over result, and I instead found myself looking for the kind of geographical info tags you find in booths at fairs. But as curator Carson Chan points out in the title for his article in the Momentum reader, “Space, Not Art, Is the Curator’s Primary Material.” One can see the advantages a smaller, peripheral biennial has over a more central exhibition: The degree of playful experimentation can be higher—unless the local police put a halt to it, that is.