Sequences Real Time Art Festival
In a conversation published in this paper in late 2012, curator Markús ﬁór Andrésson spoke up for art which makes an emotional engagement, challenging the assumption that theory-based, academic critique is necessarily the most relevant art for politically turbulent times. “Abstract concepts are of course relevant to us,” he clarifies, “but they are somewhat limiting on a human level.” Now, as curator of the sixth Sequences Real Time Art Festival, returning to Reykjavík from April 5–14, he’ll have the opportunity to put his principles into practice. Sequences brings together Icelandic and international artists working in durational installation, performance and media art; this year’s mission statement proclaims that the art comprising Sequences VI “resists the surge of logic and reason into art by reflecting the constant uncertainties of the everyday.”
Markús explains that the artists he’s assembled are “sharing the experience of everyday life, by looking at how each individual is coming to grips with time passing.” The festival, with its overarching emphasis on time-based art, naturally wrestles with the common matter of living. More specifically, he says, many of the exhibitions and performances will examine “how you try to take charge of your own life, but there’s always something out there—the wheel of fortune, if you will—that you cannot control.”
The festival’s featured artist is Gretar Reynisson, whose show, ‘The Decade,’ at The Living Art Museum and the adjacent Artíma gallery, represents ten years of his life, presented in public for the first time. At the turn of the century, Markús says, Gretar made the decision to withdraw from exhibition and, in essence, live his life as a series of systematic, repetitive artistic gestures. The piece “52 Shirts” is a rack from which hang the identical white dress shirts Gretar wore every day for a year, switching out one for another every week. The approach, Markús says, “is rigorous and mathematical, but also physical—you see that the shirts are worn out, with sweat stains and smudges.”
It will be quite a challenge, Markús allows, to accurately represent ten years of work in a ten-day festival, but in a sense that gap, between life as lived and as documented, or even as remembered, promises to weigh heavily on the show. Memory is a key concept within “Kept but Forgotten,” a tableau of small-custom-built boxes—“it’s like a landscape, like looking onto Manhattan”—each containing an object, like a dead computer mouse or inkless pen, which had exhausted its function in Gretar’s life. “He says that he stops remembering what’s in each box,” Markús says.
LETTING LIFE IN
Gretar’s “cool, distant, calculated attitude” towards the passage of time is contrasted with a full spectrum of approaches. “The repetitive notion of the everyday,” as Markús describes it, will be fodder for structural discipline and humorous intervention. “Life always finds its way into the work, no matter how preplanned,” he continues: the festival will be, in short, “full of stories.”
To wit: the Dutch-born artist Guido van der Werve is showing a video, ‘nummer veertien, home,’ which documents him as he swims, bicycles, and runs the thousand miles from Warsaw, birthplace of Frédéric Chopin, to his gravesite in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery, accompanied by his own classical music composition. Markús describes the piece as a “grand, poetic gesture reflecting the self-inflicted strain of making art.”
A number of other media artists will play with the passage of time. Tumi Magnússon’s ‘Four Times to the Shop’ is a four-way split-screen video in which recordings of his regular grocery trip are sped up or slowed down to the same running time. Aging, and its technological sibling obsolescence, are the respective preoccupations of the American feminist artist Martha Wilson’s ‘I have become my own worst fear,’ which juxtaposes a video from the ‘70s with a recent self-portrait, and Rebekka Erin Moran’s ‘don’t stop now, cuz we’re havin’ a time,’ an installation inspired by the Spinning Wait Cursor.
THE POLITICS OF THE EVERYDAY
For his ‘Self portraits from room 413,’ Ragnar Kjartansson explains, “I checked myself into Room 413 at 3 o’clock on the 21st of March with five empty canvases and oil colours and a toothbrush. Then I checked myself out at two the next day with five self-portraits,” which will hang in the hotel’s gallery during the festival. Ragnar has done this sort of “performative painting” before—representing Iceland at the 2009 Venice Bienniale, he painted a friend, in public, every day for the duration—and describes the paintings that result as “documentations, in a way… The happening of the painting becomes omnipresent.” Over the course of time in which a painting, even a self-portrait, is being painted, the things surrounding it find their way in. Ragnar thinks the viewer will be able to see how his paintings grew out of the hotel’s “sort of ‘80s interior design, all that mahogany and gold and pale pink walls,” as well as its gallery, the most extensive survey of 20th century Icelandic painting on permanent view, including murals by Ragnar’s grandfather and namesake, the sculptor Ragnar Kjartansson.
Ragnar describes his all-nighter as “a daydream come true, to order Chablis, gravlax, and paint… a little holiday from my life.” He suggests that “to look at yourself is kind of escaping yourself.” But on the other hand, looking outwards at the world means looking from a specific place—“like the old painters used to say, every painting is a kind of self-portrait. Nobody has really anything new to say—but people have their personal point of view, and that can be fresh and new. I am a crazy art aficionado because I am interested in going into somebody’s personal world, whether it’s an artist or a writer or a musician. It’s all self-portraits, but what we are looking for is how they reflect on us.”
Similarly, Markús describes the art in the Sequences VI program as “generous”: the featured artists are making offerings of their experience. And it’s in this sense that he feels that the festival, though turning away from the academic, is not a retreat from the political. In the Grapevine conversation from late 2011, he rejected the notion that, in times of national crisis, art needed to force itself into political dialogue: “Emotional arguments for social or environmental affairs can be just as weighty and ‘concrete’ as ‘political’ ones.”
“We’re not dealing with issues that come from social structures, it’s about how you as an individual are dealing with the passing of time,” Markús says of this year’s programming. “It’s self-reflective, but not wallowing, self-pitying. We’re dealing with common issues, which takes us from the viewpoint of the individual to the social and communal, and in that sense the personal becomes political.”
Sequences takes place 5 April – 14 April. Visit www.sequences.is to see the whole programme of events