To Assert Trends
On March 19, 2016, Tendenser (Trends) will open for the 42nd time. The exhibition series has been showing at the Norwegian institution Gallery F15 in Moss since 1971. With few exceptions, each year the public could visit Gallery F15 to view the works representing development and changes within crafts. Gjertrud Steinsvåg has been chosen as the curator of Tendenser (Trends) 2016 and examines in the Nordic issue of the magazine Kunsthåndverk (issue 3/ 2015) whether the exhibition has a relevant place in the Nordic counciousness. Norwegian Crafts Magazine republish the article in full here.
«Tendenser has played a central role in displaying craft ever since its inception in 1971»Dag Aak Sveinar
When NRK's art critic Mona Pahl Bjerke wrote about Tendenser in 2014, she concluded that «craft is in» and that «craft is what everyone will be doing.» With this she vindicated what we all (in the crafts field, that is) know: that craft’s qualities – the materiality, the tactility, the hand-made, the unique – is all of great value. And cool.
It is not just Pahle Bjerke who believes this. It seems that a common census with regards to the field of crafts, characterized by knowledge, technique and tradition, has had a recurrence in the wide field of art in recent years. I enjoy working with crafts, and am looking at this comeback as interesting and entirely appropriate as a kind of post-digital, natural response. This commitment can sometimes cause me to go on a rampage with allegations that craft exhibitions do not take context seriously. Curating and communication expertise are underdeveloped. And so, as I have been commissioned to create the 42nd Tendenser, it has become clear that I am sitting in a glass house. Clearly I have respect for history, and am afraid of being perceived as history-less. Of course I am afraid that I will miss the mark for Tendenser 2016 and that history will show that my exhibition was dull and uninteresting.
Tendenser for over 44 years
Most people seem to agree that the exhibition series is and has been an important viewing arena for craftspeople and the development of the field. Not least the organizers themselves. Dag Aak Sveinar, director of Punkt Ø, of which Gallery F15 is a part, is proud to still work with Tendenser.
– Tendenser has played a central role in displaying craft ever since its inception in 1971. When the exhibition was shown at Gallery F15 for the first time, the applied art was appropriate. The exhibition was on display in summertime and exceptionally well attended. The exhibition in which we, compared with the 1970’s, see exhibition concepts that to a great degree mix with contemporary art’s visual forms and themes, is still very popular.
«Tendenser is an intellectually driven exhibition which manages to place the individual artistic creation in a serious frame»Anders Ruhwald
I, (who was born in 1978), also have the impression that the change from applied art to craft characterized the development of artistic practices, and I realize why Sveinar emphasized this. Nevertheless, it is important to note that VG in 1972 wrote about the applied art exhibition Tendenser in 1972 at Jeløya under the title, «Crafts appeal to new audiences: 50,000 people look at applied art at Jeløya» and Lars Brandstrup at Gallery F15 says something which seems strangely relevant in 2015: «There are people here who have never set foot in an exhibition before, and I think crafts have actually served as a kind of bridge to new art forms. The new Norwegian ceramics is getting more and more attracted to the visual arts.» Tone Vigeland, one of our biggest stars I would say, was one of those who participated several times in the 70’s. She told me about the start of Tendenser in 1971, with regards to how Lars Brandstrup and his brother Niels started the project with energy and motivation. Vigeland also mentions how Gallery F15 drew an outrageously large audience, of course, because at this time there were not as many Norwegian exhibition halls as there are today, and especially not for the field of crafts. Since then, artists such as Yngvild Fagerheim, Sigurd Bronger, Søren Ubisch, Mia E. Göransson, Caroline Slotte and Anders Ruhwald have been showing works at Tendenser. The latter was participating in the exhibition in 2010. He portrays Tendenser as a serious and respected exhibition and therefore important for the individual artist.
– Crafts get lost too often in superficial reading of the work, which damages understanding of the individual artist’s ideas. Tendenser is an intellectually driven exhibition which manages to place the individual artistic creation in a serious frame which brings new opinions to the artist’s work and the context in which it is placed. Additionally, the gallery context is fantastic and provides good opportunities to introduce individual artists thoroughly and succinctly, explains Ruhwald.
Not only is Tendenser an important arena for the individual artist, but during the past few years there has also been an increasing focus on the exhibition concept and Ruhwald believes that Tendenser is primarily one of the few exhibits that continually tries to show the exciting works within contemporary Nordic crafts.
– The exhibition is ambitious and is always seeking to show that prospectively forward overview. This is an important facet because it gives the curator the possibility to expand the exhibit with edge and attitude, which dares to take a stand that can be discussed and debated. That said, Tendenser is not just a very important exhibition in the time in which it is shown, but also an important document covering the important developments within contemporary crafts that year, concludes Ruhwald.
«Constant changes with inspiring participants make the exhibit unpredictable and hit the audience at the nerves»Heidi Bjørgan
Heidi Bjørgan is an artist, but has established herself as one of the most important Nordic curators. She has participated in Tendenser both as an artist and curator, and completely agrees with Ruhwald’s beliefs.
– The Nordic art scene has lost important gallerists in the field of contemporary crafts. Inger Molin, Copenhagen Ceramics, Drud & Koppe Gallery and not least Gallery Nordsu have closed down. Tendenser, therefore, is an even more important project venue in which to showcase Nordic crafts.
She believes the selection of the Tendenser curator is very important.
– Here, Punkt Ø has dared to back curators, both established and newly established, from home and abroad. This ensures that both the chosen curator and the exhibition design are never repeated. It is not possible to predict which trends or which Nordic artists to expect. Constant changes with inspiring participants make the exhibit unpredictable and hit the audience at the nerves, says Bjørgan.
It strikes me that Tendenser has to be the most specific name of an exhibition series/biennial. For isn’t it exactly what each and every returning exhibit should do: assert trends that reflect the times in which we live?
Going from «applied art exhibition» to being «crafts exhibition.» From being a presentation of Norwegian craftspeople to show the Nordic scene. And now also the organizers, Punkt Ø, develop the international relevance of the exhibition by including any country. From being an exhibition based on, (as I understand the 70’s scene), a common project, until now, as it should, to being a curated exhibition. On the list of curators are museum curators Love Jönsson, Glenn Adamson and Knut Astrup Bull, writers and curators Jorunn Veiteberg and Louize Mazanti and artist curators Lars Sture, Irene Nordli and already mentioned, Heidi Bjørgan.
– Using a curator made it possible to sharpen an exhibition theme and to more clearly assert a trend. The curator is free to choose one concept, which he or she feels is a relevant point of departure. Punkt Ø / Gallery F15 is a relatively small institution that shows contemporary art. We are not large enough to have a curatorial staff, but we work closely with external curators in all our projects. Such an organizational model allows our employees to acquire expertise and dedicated project managers. This gives us flexibility and great dynamism. It is imperative to fulfill our role as an innovative exhibition institution, says Sveinar.
«Using a curator made it possible to sharpen an exhibition theme and to more clearly assert a trend»Dag Aak Sveinar
«I feel it gets its importance from being everything the Annual Exhibition is not: Curated, with Nordic and/or international participation, affiliated to a particular institution and indiscriminant of the artists own organizations.»Jorunn Veiteberg
Jorunn Veiteberg was Tendenser's first curator in 1998, with the exhibition Welcome home! Veiteberg is also one of the driving forces behind curator studies at Bergen Academy of Arts and Design. She describes the nuances in the role of the curator.
– The use of the word curator was first common in Norway during the 90’s, but that does not mean that exhibits were not curated before that time! From the first Tendenser exhibition held in the 70’s, the exhibition manager at Gallery F15 acted as curator. I was even the intendant, as it was called at the time, at the F15 in 1987-89, and participated in selecting craft artists for Tendenser. When I was invited to curate the exhibition in 1998, I didn’t think at the time about the fact that I was the first freelance curator to receive the task. I was more concerned with the fact that I had worked in the buildings before, which was a huge advantage. I knew I wanted to work with the character of the place and not against it.
From here onwards?
Contextualization plays a crucial role, and the potential here is huge. This is where I come in. If I ask Veiteberg about the future, she wants to strengthen the actualization of the crafts field through communication.
– With its long history, Tendenser has been one of the most important venues for crafts besides the Annual Exhibition for Norwegian crafts. It is great for F15 that they have upheld this tradition, and as for me, I feel it gets its importance from being everything the Annual Exhibition is not: Curated, with Nordic and/or international participation, affiliated to a particular institution and indiscriminant of the artists own organizations. I cannot see that the curators have changed the exhibition in any radical way, but the contents of Tendenser have obviously changed in line with the way craft has changed. My wish for the future is that Tendenser looks for funds for a proper publication in print or online format, and that they have arrangements in conjunction with the exhibition that can bring people together and start up debate.
That is an important point for me as well. A catalogue is a very important document that tells the future about the past. I have now stated that Tendenser is an important Nordic platform. Now it is just a matter of rolling up the shirtsleeves, initiating and asserting some trends while simultaneously contributing to future development.
My basic point will be precisely this dialogue between 1971 and 2016. It feels specifically that this «crafts are in»-wave has some of the same energy and confidence that characterized the 70’s, when the crafts term was established. Also visually one can associate contemporary crafts with clay, brown, glaze, flowerpot, textiles, yarn, analog, handmade, with an almost romantic aura to it, as seen in the works of the german artist Sarah Pschorn. I will connect these cool New Kids on the Block-people (born after 1985) with The Grand Old Ladies (born before 1940). But a lot are happening with the groups that are born between 1940 and 1985, so I have to include some of these as well.
But a span in age is not enough; there is also something that «is allowed» in the span of artistic practices. It seems to me in fact that the crafts term (or field) is over the midlife crisis. In an inner-Zen-calm-mindfulness-like manner. It is equally valid to make a ceramic cup as a site specific installation or to research glaze and clay. As long as you do it well. Then people will speak clearly and well about it. And a curator will include you in an exhibition.
«Curating and communication expertise are underdeveloped in relation to craft»
Gjertrud Steinsvåg is a freelance curator and writer, as well as programme coordinator at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts.