SUPERMARKET 2015 Independent Art Fair
Svarta Huset, Stockholm, 16.-20.04.2015
Stepping into a commercial art fair immerses one in an altogether upscale environment. The visual offerings lean toward being on the decorative side and, when something does offer the promise of being somewhat offbeat, that experience is usually short lived. Moreover, vases bursting with fresh cut flowers and stacks of weighty artist monograms contribute to the deliberate staidness. The sleek presentations may dazzle the eyes, but it does little for the artistic soul.
For the adventurous heart the far less polished provided a much more engaging experience. So much so, in fact, that the absence of a few glorious bouquets and door stopper sized books doesn’t even register in the mind. At Supermarket art isn’t merely presented, it is also made. From unusually attired individuals and the smell of savoury aromas that periodically waft through the space to sporadic chanting or clanking, the event defies prediction. There’s no way of telling what lies round the next corner.
Zig-zagging through the fair’s compact and maze-like layout not only creates an intimacy, it also sets up striking juxtapositions in methods of presentation, artistic styles, content and form. It, for example, featured long established centres, like Gatineau, Québec’s AXENÉ07, founded in 1983, and extremely young initiatives, such as Edinburgh’s interviewroom11, which began operation only in 2013. The fact that the artist-run organisations participating in the event hailed from nearly 30 countries also introduces viewers to a plethora of cultural distinctions.
Artist-run centres from Japan, Tanzania, Iran and Argentina were interspersed with the predominantly European contributors. Finland was particularly well represented in this mix. A total of six participants from four cities – MUU Galleria & Galleria Sculptor (Helsinki), Galleria Becker/NKF Nordic Art Association (Jyväskylä), Photographic Centre Peri & Titanik Gallery (Turku), and Filmverkstaden (Vaasa) – presented a dynamic cross section of artistic production.
A series of performances, seminars and the Supermarket magazine rounded out the program, with the theme of the latter two being “Invisibility – who represents who?” The publication explained the theme as follows:
“Through the concept of ‘invisibility’ we want to highlight conditions that in different contexts are made invisible and affect the artistic and institutional discourse. What is valued and why? How is the artist-run scene defined and perceived: how does one artist end up being visible whilst another remains in the shadows?” (Editorial, Supermarket 2015 artist-run art magazine, issue #5, p. 6.)
In addition to its focus on internationally sited artist-run centres, the theme also sought to examine the position of exhibiting artists lacking gallery representation, the role, place and in/visibility of women in art organisations, and equality and diversity in the artist-run scene.
Diversity, in fact, best describes the fair, for the artists prove that they continue to head in multiple directions. This can be seen in the significant number of artists employing craft-based or artisanal techniques. Some of the artists taking part in this year’s edition utilise clay, immerse themselves in food production and preservation, and make use of appliqué. At the same time viewers also encountered stereoscopic photos, projectors running film loops, zoetrope animations and artists banging away on typewriters, which reveals a fascination for outmoded or obsolete technologies, as well as a conviction that they serve present day strategies. Moreover, artists continue to examine environmental issues, engage in social and cultural analysis, and develop new ways of realising exhibitions. This heterogeneity, though, is rarely discrete. Disparate paths often intersect, which engenders new meanings and interpretations.
One of the fair’s highlights is that it enables viewers to speak to many of the artists. At Galleri Konstepidemin’s booth Elin Wikström talked candidly about our expectations of and the relationship to commercial food products while offering freshly toasted bread with samples of her own Orange Marmalade – Piracy Bastard Remix 2015. This product, which involves the blending and repacking of two popular brands, began with a 5-day long series of taste tests in a local restaurant. She then, like many of our mothers and grandmothers, faced the trials and tribulations of the home canning process. The gist of Wikström’s project is that riffs off the 1980s music remix phenomena. In its own modest way it also seeks to undermine the commercial apparatus that strives to sway opinion and establish brand identities.
Over at Romania’s Lateral Art Space, Gabriel Stoian also zeroes in on information deriving from commercial sources. By overlaying ‘do’ and ‘do not do’ types of images appropriated from Ikea assembly manuals, he produces confusing scenarios that sabotage their intended purpose. The impact of brands and their relationship to identity is communicated through the photographs of Bita Razavi. For the artist, who at one time worked as a cleaner in Helsinki, discovering the presence of Iittala glass products in virtually every apartment resulted in the photo essay An Observation on Inhabitants of a Utopia. Presented by Tehran’s Parkingallery, the objects’ ubiquity reminded her of the future societies encountered in many science fiction stories.
Hybrid forms that merge performance with more traditional modes of art production formed another concurrence. While Hans-Peter Schütt and I collaborated on a large chromatic painting in MUU Galleria’s booth that reflected and extended aspects of installations by Marjo Levlin and Leevi Lehtinen, and the MUU for Ears 13 CD, more than 15 artists from Stockholm’s ID:i Galleri kept themselves busy with a massive sheet of paper. Taking turns working individually and in small groups, they drew, reworked areas, erased and redrew to create a constantly evolving set of relationships. In some ways Linjära övertagningar reminded me of a city, a place that remains familiar despite ongoing change. The final example concerns Tallinn’s GRAFODROOM printmaking studio and their performance GRAFOROTIKA. Wearing red dancing shoes fitted with printing ink rollers, Hannah Harkes and Mari Prekup roller skated their way across printmaking plates to the sound of raucous live music.
The experimental nature of the projects also extends to the galleries themselves. Take Brussels’ Various Artists‘ presentation of Bureau of Untitled, a work by Lima Drib, n.e.b.u.s.i., and various others.
“The Bureau of Untitled, or BoU, represents an arbitrary group of artists, critics, and art lovers who develop in committee various concepts and ideas for commercially viable artists. After valuation, and processing, the ideas were offered for purchase at the Supermarket art fair to the artists, and from the second day on, to the public.” (Supermarket 2015 Exhibition Catalogue, p. 60)
Fictive identity also surfaces with Axel Obiger‘s presence. The gallery has confused people by exhibiting work said to be from his collection. In Berlin the distinctly Austrian name stands out, especially as the city boasts about 160 artist-run spaces. In actuality the moniker stems from an anagram of the gallery’s original name as a means of establishing a unique identity. They also seem to enjoy taking different tangents. At Supermarket they presented a large shelf unit holding an assortment of art work and bric-a-brac. The installation represents the storage space in the gallery’s back room.
Some of the other galleries included here have sidestepped the idea of having a permanent location. One exponent of this phenomenon is PARAZIT. Founded in St. Petersburg, Russia, it has no employees or gallery space. The exhibitions it produces take place at various sites – with or without the site owners’ permission. Poland’s Galeria Silverado creates projects that focus on the process more than the final product. Based in Poznań, they often work with people from outside the visual arts community to create events not bound by time restrictions or to a specific location. Their popular Modern Art Desserts toyed with ideas related to art production, desire and consumption, and left many craving a chance to taste what was on offer. Giving up their space Damascus, Syria, in 2012 to help refugee families, AllArtNow began functioning as a nomadic space. Today they produce events, promote Syrian art and engage in exchanges through artist residencies and workshops on an international basis.
Other notable contributions range from Andres Basurto‘s occultish mosaic skulls (Antena Estudio, Mexico City) to Yanik Potvin’s humorous, yet very contradictory hybrids that merge ceramic figures and electric toasters (Bang Art Now Centre, Saguenay, Quebec). Add to this Shana Moulton’s strangely seductive musings on the human body and the relief of stress (1646, The Hague), the starkly captivating scenarios of Dragos Badita’s paintings (Lateral Art Space, Cluj-Napoca) and Exctr, an absorbing sound installation by Samy Kramer and Jari Suominen comprised of an overarching web of multiple interconnected synthesizers (Titanik Gallery, Turku). Last, but not least, the introduction of young initiatives such as Albania’s Miza and and Dar es Salaam’s Nafasi Art Space further enhanced the fair’s exploratory nature.
The great thing about Supermarket is that it presents art that is about as far away as one can get from what is shown in museums. As The Art Newspaper reported just a couple of weeks before this year’s edition of Supermarket opened, artists from 5 galleries dominate museum shows in the USA. So, at a time when Louise Bourgeois’ spiders seem to function as a veritable ‘golden arches’ of the art world, it’s refreshing to see art that is energetic, unpredictable, contemplative, imperfect, thought provoking, striving to takes risks, disparate, enlightening, bordering on the absurd, honest, intelligent, densely arrayed and – well, when it’s all added up – a lot of fun.
This text could not have been written without the support of Timo Soppela, Curator and Director of Artists’ Association MUU and Hanna Uusi-Seppä, MUU’s Production Co-ordinator. Thanks are also extended to the artists/galleries that supplied images and/or information. Unless credited otherwise, all photos by John Gayer.