Jonatan Habib Engqvist on the joys of collaboration
In a country where the most treasured work of literature is a novel called ‘Independent People’ and centres on a man obsessed with self-sufficiency, it is pretty daring to present a show called ‘(I)ndependent People,’ and have it be about the opposite of independence. But Swedish curator Jonatan Habib Engqvist is doing just that: his multi-venue exhibition, which makes up the visual arts component of this year’s Reykjavík Art Festival, focuses on collaboration, or putting the “I” in parentheses. In an interview, he told us more about the philosophy behind the exhibition, the artwork that will be on view, and how he sees this year’s show in relation to previous large-scale exhibitions in Iceland.
Why focus on collaboration?
Well, this particular project has been a collaborative project from the beginning because there are so many institutions involved. Stepping in as curator, I had two options: to work through the tough process of trying to make things happen by accommodating different desires and contracts, or I could turn that into the concept itself. It’s a way of surviving.
But I also think what is interesting about the Icelandic art scene is the fact that it is very dependent on the artist’s initiative and collaborative practice. Abroad, Kling & Bang and The Living Art Museum are what people know about the Icelandic art scene. So it also made sense to focus on collaboration here, because it is so deeply rooted
Are the artist-run spaces involved in the creative process?
Yes…if you look at Kling & Bang, for example, they are actively participating in the artistic processes of the works that they’re exhibiting; it’s not just that they have a venue, and an artist comes and puts on their show.
What kind of artists will be featured?
The artists I have invited are all artists who are interested in day-to-day politics—in what’s going on around them, in how what they are doing relates to what people are thinking in general, and to what they, themselves, are thinking. And this is also part of, how should I put it, not having the artist genius, but instead creating situations where we’re working together, producing knowledge for the sake of sharing it with others, rather than owning it.
Is the Nordic emphasis of the show tied to the funding, or is there another motivation behind it?
It’s because of the funding… I was originally just as reserved about it as anyone else; I thought, ‘Nordic, what’s that? We live in a global art world; there’s no such thing as geographically-marked artistic production today.’ Then I thought, rather than trying to show Nordic collaboration, we should create Nordic collaboration. We could collaborate in looking at our common history, which is the idea behind the seminar that is taking place.
What are your goals for the show?
One thing that is important to me …it’s like a relay race; in 2005 Jessica Morgan and Björn Roth did the visual art focus, with this big show on Dieter Roth, flying people across the country; there was champagne everywhere. Then in 2008, it was Hans Ulrich Obrist and Ólafur Elíasson who did this Experiment Marathon, parachuting superstars, brain surgeons and whatnot into the museum. I think one task was to connect this big art exhibition to the local art scene and make something that also matters to the artists here.