Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Centre, Athens
25.05. — 22.07.06
Participating artists: Jakob Boeskov, Chamber of Public Secrets, FOS, Thierry Geoffroy/Colonel, Jens Haaning, Lise Harlev, Henrik Plenge Jacobsen, Maryam Jafri, Jakob Kolding, Lars Mathisen, Jørgen Michaelsen, Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen, Kirstine Roepstorff, Katya Sander, Superflex
The great success of the social democratic welfare state was at first more visible in the Nordic countries. Possibly as a consequence of being at the front of these developments the quick demise of the welfare state in the last decade also occurred firstly in Scandinavia. Increasing unemployment, the problem of an aging population, and a growing number of immigrants and political refugees raised issues the social democratic welfare-state could no longer handle. In retrospect one can say it faltered in poverty relief, wealth redistribution, education and the enhancement of social cohesion, not to mention social integration and that troubled times lay ahead as a result.
One of the more important concerns of certain artists today is the question of how to deal with these kinds of problems. How to improve our relationships with each other as people with different interests, cultures and ideologies in a globalized economy where more and more people are now rightly demanding their fair share of welfare, wealth, health, culture, education and social representation.
A number of artists from Denmark or artists who may not be of Danish nationality but who maintain relationships with Denmark have - over the last 10 years or so - been consistently approaching these questions in many different ways and with the use of various media, techniques and strategies. For the most part, they are using very direct means of reaching out into reality, for example by way of social, political or economical interventions or, on a more individual level, by using their own or other people’s personal histories or experiences and the desire for change as a source of inspiration, critique, or commentary.
Certain areas of Danish contemporary art practice seem to be characterised by a serious growing concern with world-wide economical and socio-cultural problems, such as poor local economies versus multi-nationals who are making profits without putting much back in society and questions of social integration or social cohesion. Generally speaking, society in Europe is increasingly bearing witness to unstable social relationships between locals and immigrants, poor housing, the lack of good and easy accessible education and – as a result – job opportunities or opportunities for a better life.
Denmark is also one of the countries now facing these increasingly encroaching problems. Perhaps these problems seem more pronounced in countries such as Denmark (and other neighbouring countries) because these were always archetypally considered as paradigmatic social models (especially by people, like myself, from the less socially ‘developed’ Southern and South Eastern parts of Europe). The demise of this social model has widespread disheartening political implications not to mention very real effects on the lives of large numbers of people.
The artists in this exhibition all share an interest in such socio-political questions, whether they are more particular to the Danish situation or of a more ecumenical nature. ‘Regarding Denmark’ will predominantly look at these issues from a Danish perspective but will also include work whose sociological scope exceeds the border of the country. It will look at the changes that have been wrought in the social sphere as Denmark has shifted politically to the right, with xenophobia on the rise, and the welfare state under increasing attack. The recent furore with the cartoons further raised burning issues not only about the limits of free speech but about the ‘us’ and ‘them’ cultural and religious divide, ‘us’ being the western Christian world and ‘them’ being the Islamic.
As most ‘national’ group shows are de facto problematic and restrictive, this show will not opt to provide a general picture of the ‘Danish art scene’ but, instead will aim to shed light on a specific area of focus: one that is grounded in an expanded analysis of social space and an interest in the public arena and current affairs. The artists in the show all approach these problems and issues with a critical eye regardless of the media they work in. Some are concerned with the creation of sites and spaces that can have an effect on social attitudes between people and with works that might even positively influence social welfare. Some generate social events and projects in public space and try to reinforce social coherence in the public domain. Others may work more privately or modestly in more traditional ‘art’ media such as sculpture, installation drawing or collage but are still dedicated to the enhancement of critical consciousness by posing questions in relation to all these issues.
In general, a number of Danish artists seem to demonstrate an often subversive rejection of the present-day dominant hegemonic structures (commerce, the media, TV, government) and a counter-reaction to the stereotype of ‘Nordic’ culture and citizenship as models for social harmony. The reality of transmutations and exchanges of contemporary identity/identities, the deconstruction of stereotypical, ‘fixed’ ideologies of the national state, cultural and social segregation (whether by choice or imposed), the problematics of implementing real social cohesion, the demise of the optimistic social aspirations as well as direct effects of the welfare state, these are all questions underlying this exhibition. It will include artists whose work is grounded in a social discourse that stems from a basic humanistic approach to society which challenges dominant neo-liberal capitalist attitudes and values. It will include artists whose work seriously, irreverently, or even humorously challenge these attitudes and values; artists who may propose alternative ways of dealing with societies and economies, artists who propose original solutions or visions on how to deal with today’s market-driven, consumer oriented and increasingly polarised world, or artists who simply want to pose questions for the viewer without positing definitive answers.