24 December 2019

What were the most memorable art events of 2019? Kunstkritikk's Norwegian editor, Stian Gabrielsen, gives his bid.

Albert Jærn, Why Matters Matter Vol. 1. Photo: Øysten Thorvaldsen.

Albert Jærn, Why Matters Matter Vol. 1, Galleri 222T, Oslo

The opening of artists Marit Følstad and Ole Jørgen Ness’s gallery 222T was one of the more promising events on the Norwegian art scene in 2019. Their exhibition featuring the Norwegian printmaker and draughtsman Albert Jærn (1893–1949) was curated by the artist’s great-granddaughter, Kristine Jærn Pilgaard, and centred on one hundred or so printing plates from a series of woodcuts he made to adorn his private correspondence during the Second World War – ‘snapshots’ from everyday life in Nazi-occupied Norway. The plates not included in a deliberately untidy arrangement on a single wall were stacked on the floor. A brief school essay on Jærn written by the artist’s great-great grandchild was reproduced directly on another wall in pencil, opposite a selection of Jærn’s ex libris works displayed on two shelves. The didactic framing dampened the impetus to lose oneself in the expressive aura of the wooden blocks, and instead foregrounded the exhibition format’s potential for supporting historical recollection.

Jorunn Myklebust Syversen, Disco, still. Photo: Jørgen Nordby.

Jorunn Myklebust Syversen, Disco, Mer Film

Interpreting it as mainly a derisive portrayal of charismatic Christianity, the critical reception of Jorunn Myklebust Syversen’s second feature film Disco reveals a popular assumption: that religion is our era’s main threat to individual integrity. Syversen’s perceptive juxtaposition of low church practices tainted with the profane adoration of personal success and the extreme physical expressiveness of disco dance accurately diagnoses a society in which even ecstasy has become a sport. How hard can you surrender? In the absence of a secular means to curb performance culture’s incessant pursuit of the supernormal, where all resistance is a “portal to your potential,” as one energised preacher in the film puts it, the young protagonist’s (played by Josefine Frida) search for escape takes her invariably inward, away from the world.

Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Liten skandinavisk teori, 2019, detail. Photo: Petter Buhagen/Noplace.

Henrik Plenge Jakobsen, Liten skandinavisk teori, Noplace, Oslo

Henrik Plenge Jakobsen’s Liten skandinavisk teori (Little Scandinavian Theory) at Noplace this October presented a diverse array of materials, including mammoth figurines, crystals, glass spheres, architectural models, taxidermied birds, and mirror glass, all spread out on a long table covered in white sequin cloth. The panorama underwent an unexpectedly savage activation when the artist attacked it with a chain whip. Swinging a censer from one hand, he then paced the room half-chanting, half-shouting the exhibition title, occasionally blurting out arbitrary words and scrawling them on selected objects with a black marker: “Neolith!” “Anxiety!” “Million-dollar programme!” Considered against the geological perspective that the exhibition invoked, human life resembles a psychotic spasm lodged between two ice ages. Plenge Jakobsen’s primitive ritualistic theatre injected the empty homogeneous time that has become life’s default mode with an acute sense of now.