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In an Exceptional Time / The Curator's Words

By Ariane Müller, guest teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts, Umeå University, and main tutor for the student at the Masters programme in Fine Arts. In an Exceptional Time is the title of the Master degree exhibition of 2021.

So, what did we learn in these last two years — and alas, what did we do? This question regards me, the guest professor of this Master class, as well as anyone who has been within the programme as a student. Learning is mutual to an extent, and adding to that, we were about to find out that we were quite equal in experiencing a somewhat special, unforeseen, time in these years.

In the beginning of the course there was a coming and going, a movement of teachers and students. The class went to Istanbul to see the Biennial. Exhibitions were planned like the Röbäck Biennale, which then somehow filiated into the Kåddis Konsthall. It was the mushroom season, mushrooms springing up everywhere, the visible effects of a hidden underground mycelium, when the forests around Umeå turn into a fairytale place. Then the season changes fast here. Snow sets in, and the winter starts, the river freezes, and looking out from the school windows over its frozen surface you may sometimes feel as if nothing is moving anymore, as if all life is hidden somewhere, giving an image of perfect stillness in shades of white and grey.

But in the year to come, instead of changing again from winter into another spring, we somehow stayed in this stillness. Around March, the school, like all places pretty much around the world, went into lockdown. The studios, the workshops, closed, some students returned to their homes, some stayed in Umeå.  We stared at each other in zoom windows, wondering if we should concentrate on the benefits of virtual dissemination and connectivity of art, or concentrate on our immediate surroundings and find our inspirations in the walls and surfaces of our houses.

The workshops and the studio spaces are two of the privileges of the Master of Art at the Umeå academy, which, contrary to other master programmes invites all media, and is designed for interdisciplinary discourse between students engaged in painting, sculpting but also conceptual practices and the use of media for documentation. The main aim is to widen the individual practice, research into material but overall to experience an artistic community, feedback by professionals, and in the end to position oneself into a heteronomy, which art with its embeddedness into social processes is.

Since the studio and workshops closed, students during this time turned to media easier useable in smaller spaces and with less resources. A reflection on this move is visible in Charlotte Ostrich’s practice. In the confinement of her house, she started to turn everyday objects into proto-machines, using a monger for printing, a makeshift wood structure for weaving. This is structured by a sort of notation system in the form of neural drawings mapping her thoughts.  In these description systems, or imaging systems, dimensionality is discarded but additional “foreign” information gained through the materials used.

Discussing works through the lens of the special situation of the pandemic shouldn’t be seen as limiting the works here. If I wish to trace it, it is more to show a certain innuendo of separation one can trace in the writer of this text as well. Entering Rakel Bergman Fröberg’s studio space for example is a different experience than seeing her works on zoom. It is a sensual not only spatial experience, dealing with transgressing borders between the outside world, often the wilderness bordering inhabited spaces, entered into a sort of inner space — the studio — and affects, and in these a constant crossing between being embedded into a world and lost to the estrangement of the gaze.

Judit Kristensen's new works that she will be presenting at the final show even bear the title Corona series. She gives this time a colour, the bluish, greenish glow of electronic devices lighting up rooms.  In her paintings, she looks at the strange intimacy of your own skin, the uncanny folds of the blanket, in opposition to its former design as your protective cover.

Emma Hjelm externalises these uncanny thoughts by turning them into stories. It is a way of banning thoughts by making them into stories, and humouring strange redundancies by turning them into forms without organs, caught within the confinements of their bodies as well as between the walls of their imagined habitats.

In Hannah Brännström’s work there are ghosts at work—spectres of former activities, felt movements. It is research into the uncanny, citing our depiction of ghosts (the blanket, the skeleton) but turning them into a discussion of sculpture, its authoritative gesture in space, its quality to de-contextualise an object by a shift in materiality.

The inherent conflict between a shifting essentiality of life — maybe a person’s soul — and the possibility of grasping it within an exterior material — an old task in art — is also the main aim in André Fisher's sculptures. This concentration process of the artist results in very condensed and alas small-scaled portrait sculptures, that mirror in size the touch of his fingertips as a sensual instrument.

Mrah Gazi’s work in the museum hints at a narrative structure, placing Alice in Wonderlands rabbit outside the exhibition (“I am too late”, says the rabbit, gazing at his watch, in Mrah Gazi’s detournement looking at a phone). But similar to Alice, who only meets the rabbit inside the hole, once she has fallen into it, we meet his work in a way inside, in an environment.  The shift to the virtual — the phone, not the watch — indicates the placement of the space he discusses, the analogy to the rabbit’s stress about time, hints to its constrainments.

Joel Danielsson and Louise Öhman’s work is a reflection on images, in their manifold qualities as an archive of memories, in their function to inform, in their accepted reduction of vision to two-dimensionality, and therefore their ability to discard information via abstraction. But it is also always story-telling, a film in the becoming as a puzzle of images. It gets a pulsating quality between memorising and forgetting, hinting at psychological elements of being affected via images, individual, yet, as we know, also structural.

Erica Giacomazzi’s work also presents itself as a film in the becoming, in the way it becomes a narrative for the viewers putting it together out of scenes. Her images stem from a journey, a visit to a community outside of Umeå. While they look observant, they would not have, one notices, been possible without her interaction, her becoming part, albeit for a time, in a social process. Here the gaze is also a sort of touch between two movements, like a tangential line meeting a circular structure resulting in a kind of recurring simultaneity in the work.

In my mind, I wander through this exhibition that we have planned and which does not exist yet. I stand and wonder at Georgios Lazaridis’ tower-scaffolding-structure, which I have not yet seen. I know him as a painter, as someone very interested in directing observations, making them go back and forth between poles of openness and extreme reduction, understood as energy or non-energy fields. His work therefore is not serial, he creates single forms, each beholding one element, then to be seen as a spatial assembly and therefore in a way as one image.

In my sort of inner walk, Per Nenzelius’ work seems to be at the border of the field of vision. This is because he always places it somewhere far out, in a sort of unsettled gesture like a nomad within an institutional set-up. Where does the desert start is one of the questions that resonate through this work? Is it an image? How to survive in it? He uses found objects, which place him in a geographical space; they are far or less familiar, depending on the place we live in.

So, and to an even bigger extend, are the objects Sandra Wasara-Hammare uses in her sculptures. She knows about these objects, they are in a way inscribed in her body, and so are the memories of other people, to whom, and to whose eyes, these objects have been realities. Sandra Wasara-Hammare takes up the risky task of telling a story to someone, us, the public, who do not know.  We will have to follow her to places deeply hidden below the surface of Swedish society.

Tekla Bergmann Fröberg's work is about healing. I could say I had placed it here nearly at the end of this text-walk to give everything a sort of harmonious ending. But her work reaches further than that. She reminds us of the embeddedness of healing into a vast anarchistic field of destruction and mindlessness. You can see her working at putting together chaotic pieces, trying to make sense, which is a way we can interpret her approach to healing. There is a great sense of humour in this, but also a controlled form of high, nearly dangerous, energy, which also made us decide to have one work of her, a video at the entrance as a sort of introductory piece for the exhibition.

So instead, this text ends with Jonatan Pihlgren. He will show painting at the exhibition. For me, this is always embedded in a sort of performative gesture of his, an activation of an image, but this is maybe because I came to know him like this. The activation may also be a sound — instruments are often playing a part in the paintings. Senses, and impairment of senses — blindness — are themes. They have various narrative starting points, art history is one, maybe even a sort of felt loneliness of the individuals having found their destiny in a painting. So, between narration and a joy in painterly solutions and in colour, his paintings have this quality of making us stay and see.

Individualised I have now presented this 2021 Master class of the Umeå Academy of Fine Arts.  This is the way they are presented in the exhibition, works stand there where there have been people for these two years. What strange times we have been going through together! I won’t see the show at Bildmuseet — we still don’t travel — but fortunately it will open to the public. I am envious. I wish you will be happy with it!