On August 29, the exhibition TRUST opened its doors on the occasion of Copenhagen Art Festival 2015. This joint exhibition gathers together five of Copenhagen’s biggest art venues (Den Frie Udstillingsbygning, Kunstforeningen GL STRAND, Kunsthal Charlottenburg, Nikolaj Kunsthal and Overgaden – Institut for Samtidskunst) together with several off-spaces. Through October 25, the works of 41 participating artists and a rich programme of poetic statements and performative experiments fill the cityscape of Copenhagen. During my recent stay in the city, I had the pleasure to meet Sonia Dermience, the curator behind the exhibition, who told me about this year’s edition, a megalomaniac show whose focus is on collaborative processes.
When did you start working on the exhibition? Involving Copenhagen’s five major art institutions together with 41 artists must have been a somewhat challenging project?
Everything started more than a year ago: in May 2014 me and two other curators got a request by the Copenhagen Art Festival to make a proposal for the event. Each of us were invited to stay here in Copenhagen for a few days to take a look at places and venues, to explore the city landscape, and then to make a proposal based on this experience. I sent mine around mid-July, and when I got selected I started working on the project in September. This was perfect timewise, leaving me one year to work on it.
What kind of proposal did you come up with in the first place?
The first concept I proposed has remained almost unchanged until the present day. After my first visit in Copenhagen I had this idea of working on five major kunsthalles of Copenhagen, and to add a layer of fiction on the overall project by renaming them. I guess that my proposal was completely megalomaniac – I wanted to use the whole city as a context for the exhibition. Especially this city, Copenhagen, has a strong aesthetics of a classical, occidental city with its palaces and churches – a city where you can find all the traditional places and symbols of power.
I wanted to approach the curatorial process through a historical and aesthetic reworking of the places. For example Nikolaj Kunsthal, a historical church, was rebaptized as The Temple. For me a church, or in this case, The Temple, stands for meditation, no matter what is the religious orientation. What is particularly interesting in this case is that the venue is located in a middle of a busy shopping district, leaving us two antagonistic activities: consumption and contemplation. For this space, I asked three collectives to work on these aspects, consumption and entertainment. When working on the history and the aesthetics of The Temple, I had several questions in my mind: what are our everyday collective rituals, new forms of cothinking and coproduction?
Overgaden Institut for Samtidskunst was named as The Exchange: in our capitalist society, the exchanged goods can also be immaterial ones – exchanging thoughts and gestures. This is the recreated identity of Overgaden Institut for Samtidskunst, which is a typical post-industrial factory-style warehouse that has been converted into an art center. For this particular place, the idea was to invite artists to collaborate together: to produce a piece together, which would develop into a collective show inside a collective show. When inviting artists I gave them some key words or some sort of a story in the beginning, a fictional basis. That’s to avoid too heavy, thematic shows where we are intended to talk about a specific topic.
Then there is The Salon (Kunstforeningen GL STRAND), which is the model image of a bourgeois house. In this exhibition, the idea is to enter in a house where the habitants don’t live anymore. What is left are the objects, a testimony of their past domestic life, which finally become the characters on the stage. There are seven rooms all in all, and for each of them I asked the artists to recreate something reminiscent of an artist studio: the visitor goes from one room to another, where you can find solo shows in a continuous series. It questions the idea of an artist studio today, and as we know, the image of this is quite nomadic today: it is more about the artist’s inner landscape.
The Palace (Kunsthal Charlottenburg) stands for the palace of culture: it’s relevant to our understanding on democratization of art. This idea derives from the royal palace: for example Louvre was the palace of the king before it was transformed into a museum. All these objects together aim to give an understanding of our surroundings, it is a sort of a curiosity cabinet, where our knowledge of the world is constructed through objects we see. Later, these palaces were opened to the public. For this kunsthalle, I requested artists particularly to work on this idea of collecting, which constitutes some sort of a repetitive pattern.
What about the title of the show?
In my first proposal I hadn’t changed the names of the places, but since the beginning I was looking for a way to link all the different venues together. I started to search for a connecting verb or a word, and finally I came up with Trust. The initial point was to make an institutional critique. For example, the idea that we’re not sure if we should trust the institutions today: most of the time when we go to see an exhibition at an art institution, we don’t know what to expect – this reflects the idea on trusting the institution and the location. What is interesting, is that the connotation of this verb is inherently positive, however implying immediately its negation: Trust – Don’t Trust.
Choice of particular words and their use play a major role in the construction of fiction. As a curator, if you do a deliberate show on a particular theme, it can easily be a straightforward demonstration against something and thus, get a political agenda. However, when working through a more poetic approach, it is easier to share the work between the curator and the artists. I give my personal reflection of the places – these places of power – and subsequently the artists have the freedom to do something else, not only by commenting.
Besides the classical venues the exhibition includes also several off-space locations, for example Torben Ribe’s installation in a pizzeria. Could you tell more about this?
By working on off-space locations, I wanted to approach the city landscape from a different point of view. In the beginning I wanted to work on generic places, for example on a parking lot or in a supermarket, and put them on the same level as the classical art institutions, the institutional places of power.
How familiar were you with the city beforehand?
It was very good that they asked me to come already in May last year to visit the city so I had the chance to take a look around before drafting my proposal. But of course in this kind of context you behave like a tourist, and accept the fact of not knowing all the small details and subtle differences. The city was like a postcard in the beginning for me, and actually, I somehow wanted to stay on that level, to follow the printed image of the postcard: what is generic here and how the city is represents occident, classical Europe. I wanted to do a proposition on this landscape, from my point of view as a tourist.
In 2012 you founded Komplot, where the focus is strongly on nomadic practices. I guess this background is also to be found in your proposal?
Totally, my personal curatorial practice is very nomadic. All the artists I invited to take part in the project couldn’t make it here, so they had to imagine the context and to rely on my storytelling of it. In the exhibition, we also have a lot of local artists, who obviously have a different kind of knowledge and sensibility towards the city. Here, also the idea of hospitality comes along: how do you welcome newcomers, how does a local artist position itself next to an artist coming from abroad? Along the way, some sort of a movement, a story emerged: most of the artists already knew each other beforehand and were invited to participate in the show in the very beginning, so they knew that they were taking part in something together. I see the role of the curator to create the context for the artists to work within, to give them a stimulus which they need to react to. Even with an existing piece, the artists should be able to project and imagine it in a new context, in a new framework. So all this process has been like a story, a play which has been shaping throughout the year. When starting something like this, you can never know what the outcome is.
Sonia Dermience (Belgium) founded Komplot in Brussels in 2002, a curatorial collective concerned with nomadic creative practices. Under the name of Catherine Vertige, she conducted extensive research into post ’68 collaborative art practices in Belgium with seminars and the two documentary films Sad In Country. In 2009 Komplot founded The Public School Brussels. Since 2010 Komplot is located in a converted warehouse dedicated to exhibitions, residencies and studios. Komplot published three issues of YEAR magazine between 2011 and 2013. Recently, Sonia Dermience re-initiated an individual curatorial practice with this exhibition, TRUST taking place in five kunsthals in Copenhagen.
Together with: Martin Erik Andersen (Denmark), Felicia Atkinson (France), Jakup Auce (Belgium), Elena Bajo (Spain), Jessica Baxter (Belgium), Nina Beier (Denmark), Maiken Bent (Denmark), Ellen Cantor (USA), Mikkel Carl (Denmark), Cel Crabeels (Belgium), Nanna Debois Buhl (Denmark), Vava Dudu (France), Sophie Dupont (Denmark), FOS (Denmark), Ditte Gantriis (Denmark), Sofie Haesaerts (Belgium), Steinar Haga Christensen (Norway), Maj Hasager (Denmark), Pernille Kapper Williams (Denmark), Ilja Karilampi (Sweden), A Kassen (Denmark), Seyran Kirmizitoprak (Belgium), Egle Kulbokaite (Sweden) Emmanuelle Lainé (France), Adriana Lara (Mexico), Jacopo Miliani (Italy), Cécile Noguès (France), Officin (Denmark), Carl Palm (Sweden), Douglas Park (UK), Angelo Plessas (Greece), Laure Prouvost (UK/France), Torben Ribe (Denmark), Ebbe Stub Wittrup (Denmark), Zin Taylor (Canada/Belgium), The After Lucy Experiment (Belgium), Harald Thys & Jos De Gruyter (Belgium), Benjamin Valenza (France/Switzerland), Loic Vanderstichelen & Jean-Paul Jacquet (Belgium), We Are The Painters (France), Atalay Yavuz (Turkey).