At Bergen Assembly, A Return To The Visceral Art Experience

At Bergen Assembly, A Return To The Visceral Art Experience

V arts correspondant Nadja Sayej reports from this year's Bergen Assembly

V arts correspondant Nadja Sayej reports from this year's Bergen Assembly

Text: Nadja Sayej

Those who only understand the art world through Frieze Art Fair and the Venice Biennale need to dig a little deeper. The 2nd Bergen Assembly opened this weekend in the coastal city of Bergen, which proved to be a fascinating look into the latest crop of rule-breaking contemporary art. This month-long triennial features over 50 artworks from 25 artists in various venues across the city, from city hall to an underground parking tunnel and an abandoned swimming pool.

Tarek Atoui & Council, WITHIN/ Infinite EarProduction Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016, Sentralbadet, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.

Co-curated by Paris-based artist Tarek Atoui, Berlin duo Praxes and the freethought art collective, Bergen Assembly was first launched in 2013 as a contemporary art event that takes it cues from Madonna—it constantly reinvents itself. Even though it’s only in its second edition, it’s gaining fast credit for its ground-breaking exhibitions, screenings, concerts and performances that are basically non-commercial to the core. In other words, it brings art back to what it should be; a purely visceral experience.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Bat Opera, 2014, Oil on paper; 15.5 x 20.5 centimeters. Courtesy Massimo De Carlo, Milano/London/Hong Kong. Photo: Alessandro Zambianchi.
Lynda Benglis, Head, 2015, Double Albatross, Installation View (Kunstgarasjen), Bergen Assembly 2016. Photo: Kobie Nel.

Atoui launched the opening weekend with a series of sound art concerts in an abandoned public swimming pool at the center of the city. The artist and a team of musicians played handcrafted musical instruments made from wood, felt and steel that, when played, echoed throughout the acoustic, hollow pool. It’s a continuation from Atoui’s 2008 project called WITHIN, where he collaborated with deaf students for music concertos that operate on vibrations, as well as sounds. Here, he proves that music is essentially for everyone—not just for those who can hear.

Tarek Atoui/ WITHIN I, Sentralbadet, Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.
Tarek Atoui/ WITHIN I, Sentralbadet, Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.

Glasgow-based artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd really brought the party with her romp of a mobile performance art piece and exhibition at the Kunstgarasjen. Armed with her latex and paper-maché sculptures of monsters and turtles, the artist is the daughter of Oscar-winning production designer Luciana Arrighi. Here, one can certainly see those roots. Dressing her dancers in pink gorilla-masks, her performance troupe all sang a cover of ‘Hey ya!’ by OutKast after trotting through an underground parking tunnel. They did strange rituals like chant phases in foreign tongues and carry a giant, artist-made caterpillar, which they seemed to worship. But the real prize was truly the D.I.Y. outfits; some performers wore Caribbean carnival-style wings made of gold and silver emergency blankets, while others (including Chetwynd herself) wore handmade shirts reading “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.”

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, The Cell Group (Episode Two), Documentation Shot, Bergen Assembly 2016, St. Jørgens Shelter, Bergen. Photo: Thor Brødreskift.

But can art in 2016 be understood beyond pop culture references and instant gratification? The more process-driven work included an experimental comedy theatre piece by Berlin artist Clément Layes. The piece, which opened at the BIT Teatergarasjen, is called “The things that surround us,” which used readymade pieces like tables, chairs and broomsticks to call out our dependency on the things we own (which end up owning us). The audience were each given face masks, as sparkly sand was thrown around the stage, causing clouds of smoke in the theatre, a truly unique experience.

Public in Private / Clément Layes, Things that surround us, Performance, Bergen Assembly 2016. Photo: Jonas Boström.

But the real show stealer is a short film by London artist Phil Collins, who creates a manga masterpiece for his latest piece, “Delete Beach.” The film, which was made in collaboration with a Japanese animation studio, is a futuristic fairy tale that follows one Norwegian schoolgirl who joins an anti-capitalist resistance group where oil is their only protection. It almost suggests what could happen to Norway after the end of its most precious resource. But even if this Nordic country lost everything, they’d still have its art, which is still more valuable. Not because of its market value, but as Bergen Assembly suggests, because of what we can learn about ourselves.

Phil Collins, Delete Beach, 2016, HD animation; colour, sound; 6 min. 32 sec. Courtesy Shady Lane Productions, Berlin.

Bergen Assembly runs until October 1 at various venues in Bergen, Norway,


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