Den Frie, Kunstforeningen, GL STRAND, Kunsthal Charlottenborg and Nikolaj Kunsthal og Overgadan, Copenhagen

Copenhagen Art Festival 2015: TRUST

Den Frie, Kunstforeningen, GL STRAND, Kunsthal Charlottenborg and Nikolaj Kunsthal og Overgadan, Copenhagen

29 August - 25 October

Review by Pieter Vermeulen

TRUST is the name of this year’s Copenhagen Art Festival, a large-scale contemporary art event that, on its website, mostly seems to enjoy the safety in numbers (the 2012 edition had 12 curated exhibitions, 50 performances, 40 workshops, 106 film screenings, 39,477 visitors and so on). The overall whiff of city marketing and its unmistakable rhetoric rarely make this kind of urban festivals stand out. Equally, the pricey media campaigns rarely justify the long wanders through town, assisted by a map or app, in order to mark one or two pieces on your checklist. We know this story all too well by now, so what’s next?

In spite of this weary format, TRUST is viewable and refreshing. Spread over five venues, the festival falls into different curated shows, connected by a predominantly aesthetic sensibility. The curator appointed for this edition is Sonia Dermience, who also came up with the new title. To better understand her approach, it is worthwhile to say a few words about her past experience. Dermience founded the Brussels-based collective Komplot in 2002, one of the most vibrant project spaces in Belgium’s thriving artistic capital. Composed of several artist studios and an exhibition space, collaboration and experiment are key to its mission. Over the years, Komplot has come to represent a contemporary art scene that is hard to define, yet easy to identify. Not surprisingly then, Dermience has conducted research into post-1968 collectives in Belgium, under the name of Catherine Vertige.

Dermience’s background definitely seeps through to the general outline of TRUST, which basically appears as a reconceptualisation of the art festival format. To do this, the curator has a few convincing tricks up her sleeve. Five important art venues in the city (and Copenhagen has surprisingly many for its size) have been relabeled with fictional titles such as The Temple, The Salon or The Palace, based on bourgeois archetypes. This narrative layer added to the urban fabric is realised in collaboration with the Belgian design office Überknackig, who manage to give TRUST an overall edgy look. In fact, this open-ended use of narratives is reminiscent of what Jacob Fabricius, the current director of Kunsthal Charlottenborg (one of TRUST’s venues), did for the Contour Biennial in Mechelen, Belgium (2013). Also the inclusion of a newspaper for the show, ‘Good Times & Nocturnal News’ by Carl Palm, is a remarkable similarity.

Dermience’s general approach becomes clear in the surprising selection of artists, which stays far from easy name-dropping and contains a large number of collectives and collaborative practices. Imported from Belgium, for instance, is Jessica Baxter, an occasional artist collective that has created a large-scale installation in Nikolaj Kunsthal (aka The Temple) with puzzling references to nightlife, consumers and tuning culture. A similar, unsettling combination of secular religiosity and drone sounds was present in the opening performance by We Are The Painters. In Kunsthal Charlottenborg, The After Lucy Experiment is showing a monumental bricolage with a nod to Copenhagen’s little mermaid and, more generally, the female sirens that supposedly caused countless ships to sink. Other instances of collaboration in TRUST include Cel Crabeels & Douglas Park, who are presenting an amusing video work as the outcome of an artistic pas de deux, and Loïc Vanderstichelen & Jean-Paul Jacquet, with their wonderfully absurd video piece ‘Every woman should have the tools to take control of her life’. A Belgian fascination with the surrealist and absurdist character of objects is apparent from Jos De Gruyter & Harald Thys’s great photo series ‘Objects as Friends’. Next to deeply poetic contributions by Sophie Haesaerts and Atalay Yavuz, a special mention goes to the talented Steinar Haga Kristensen, whose gloomy opera (shown as a video) could have left no one untouched.

Despite a couple of faux pas regarding the interference of different pieces, TRUST should ultimately be considered as a way of putting collaboration at the heart of curatorial tactics, feverishly searching for the meaning of a genuine symbolic exchange[ii]. All or nothing, it’s worth the risk.

The video documentaries are available on the website of Le Salon:

[ii] A good read in this regard is ‘Prognosis on Collaboration’ by philosopher and contemporary art theoretician Bojana Kunst, available on her website

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