How Our Feelings Become the Target of the 10th Momentum Biennial

This year’s edition of the biennial in Moss, Norway, proves that it can trigger emotions but fails to show empathy

At the centre of Momentum Kunsthall stands a light box displaying a single, enlarged page of a book with all but one line of text painted over: ‘Who cares about politics,’ it reads, ‘when there are flames licking at your insides?’ As the opening work of the tenth edition of Momentum Biennial, Pre-text (2019) by André Alves acts as a red herring, suggesting a more combative and rage-filled exhibition than that which unfolds. Instead, this iteration of the biennial, subtitled ‘The Emotional Exhibition’, is a much more touchy-feely affair, with the curators looking to art to help us ‘maintain connection to the world at an emotional level’.

Guilt is the underlying emotion in Åsa Cederqvist’s multichannel video installation Mama Dada Gaga (2018), which she created after moving her family from Stockholm to Berlin to take part in a year-long artist residency. In the central film, Cederqvist’s internal struggle between the desire to have the time and space to make art and the desire to be a good mother emerges through roleplay and imagined future conversations between herself, her own mother and her daughter. One such scene sees Cederqvist, playing the role of her daughter as an adult, comforting her mother, who enacts the role of the artist: ‘It’s fine: you were strong when I was little and now you’re weak when I’m grown up.’ Part way through this dialogue, the camera cuts to footage of the artist crying as she watches the scene unfold on her laptop.

Åsa Cederqvist, Mama Dada Gaga, 2018, installation view, Momentum Kunsthall, Moss, 2019. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Vegard Kleven

Another of the exhibition’s most  intriguing works, Direct Approach (2012–ongoing), sees Danish artist Stine Marie Jacobsen adopt similar therapeutic methods to those employed by Cederqvist, but utilizing them on others instead. Taking its name from a process that Jacobsen developed with language psychologist Anne Uhrskov in an attempt to address the ‘taboo’ topic of violence, Direct Approach is an art project-cum-cinematic installation that involves participants recounting the most violent film scene they have ever witnessed then re-enacting it with a professional film crew. In an age of trigger warnings, debates about who can speak for whom and an emphasis on ethical practices when it comes to participatory art, asking people to act out instances of extreme violence (the killing of a mother and child in American Sniper, 2014, for example) feels incredibly risky. Yet, there is an impressive lightness – even humour – to Jacobsen’s films, which stems, to some extent, from the clear catharsis it offers the participants.

Fanny Olla, Mental Landscapes, 2018, installation view, Momentum Kunsthall, Moss, 2019. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Vegard Kleven

Elsewhere, Francesc Ruiz’s House of Fun – a temporary comic bookshop fittingly installed above an existing bookshop – also looked to art for release. Featuring physically impossible fetishes, sex with sharks and angle-shaped women, Ruiz’s self-drawn ’zines lightly prod his audience to recognize the limits of their own sexual imagination.

Stine Marie Jacobsen, Direct Approach, 2012–ongoing, installation view, Momentum Kunsthall, Moss, 2019. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Vegard Kleven

Of all the works on display, though, the one that most powerfully elicited my own emotions was A wall that is a song, that is a dream, that is a world (2019) by Pauline Fondevila. Comprising three whimsical sentences written in Norwegian (We will play with the fishes/ We will sing with the birds/ The wind is blowing), installed onto a massive wall of corrugated metal, the project seems initially innocuous. Commissioned by Bane NOR, the government agency that operates Norway’s rail network, and the Norwegian art institute Punkt Ø, which runs Momentum, the work’s significance shifts, however, when you discover that it was created to inaugurate a double-track railway line, set for completion in 2020, which resulted in local residents being displaced from their homes. Looking around at the empty space where a community used to be, I was left wondering what the former inhabitants would think of an artwork so indifferent to their loss. In a biennial dedicated to emotions, what a shame that empathy could be so sorely lacking.

Momentum 10 runs at Momentum Kunsthall & Galleri F 15, Moss, Norway, from 8 June to 9 October 2019.

Main image: André Alves, Pre-text, 2019, installation view, Momentum Kunsthall, Moss, 2019. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Vegard Kleven

Chloe Stead is a writer and critic based in Berlin.

Issue 206

First published in Issue 206

October 2019

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