Ane Hjort Guttu is the 2015 Bergen International Festival artist. This solo exhibition, her largest to date, presents a new body of work, commissioned by Bergen Kunsthall. Investigating issues of power, freedom, the role and responsibility of the artist, as well as the possibilities and limitations of political art, it includes the premiere of Guttu’s major new film, Time Passes (2015).
The title of the exhibition, “eating or opening a window or just walking dully along”, is taken from a poem by W. H. Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts (1938). In it, Auden describes a universally human state of disengagement from the suffering of others, using the motif of a painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (c. 1558) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. This painting is featured in the film, Time Passes, which takes up a challenging position amidst the current debate on the prohibition of begging in Norway and the authorities’ treatment of the Romanian Roma. The film also brings together a number of themes to which Guttu constantly returns in her works, including the use of and access to public space; the scope of action for art and artists in the face of a politically sensitive situation, and the Norwegian society’s relationship to visible poverty and inequality.
These themes are further explored through a number of other works in the exhibition, which investigate the way in which the visual space of the city is changing. The privatization and commercialization of public space is another current issue in Bergen, where the municipality has recently opened up for a significant increase in urban advertising. Set against the debate around begging, it highlights a contradictory and complex debate around the use of and rights to public space, and the way these different activities and demands also infringe on our personal space and psyche.
Each of the five works in the exhibition might be seen, in different ways, as representations of the figure of the artist. The artist as a person — a practitioner of a certain discipline which is validated and framed by various institutions, qualifications, critical and historical conventions — but also the artist as an idea, as a position of both freedom and limitation.
In Guttu’s new film Time Passes, shot on location in Bergen, we meet Damla, an art student who goes each day to beg on the streets alongside a Roma woman with whom she gradually develops a friendship. This action begins as a performative artwork, but soon develops into an existential crisis for the student, who struggles to justify to herself how she can continue to make art in the face of the social inequality and injustice that she encounters each day outside the privileged and controlled environment of the art school. Eventually the question of whether or not this action is ‘art’ becomes meaningless for her, and the ‘project’ is absorbed into her everyday life.
With Time Passes, Guttu continues her collaboration with the cinematographer Cecilie Semec and actor Damla Kilickiran, who also worked with Guttu on her recent piece This Place is Every Place (2014) which was shot in Tensta, a suburb outside of Stockholm. With the Arab Spring as a backdrop, This Place is Every Place linked global protest movements with the local reality of the Swedish suburbs. Just as that film might be perceived as a portrait of Tensta, Guttu’s new film is a portrait of Bergen. Both works meditate on the beauty and poetry of the city, while at the same time exposing social inequalities and problematic power relations. Time Passes underscores Guttu’s role as both observer and actor, occupying a conscious position in the borderland between documentary and fiction. This position is reflected in Guttu’s practice in general, where the practice of making art itself — the role of the artist and the potential of art — constantly finds itself in an ambivalent position: as an object of investigation and transcendental reverie, but at the same time rooted in an unshakable faith in art as a critical and political tool.
In another new work, Jason (2015), Guttu presents a sculpture modeled on the digital advertising screens found in malls and metro stations across the world. On one side we see various adverts. On the other side we read an e-mail correspondence between Guttu and an anonymous ‘infiltrator’, who works for a multinational advertising firm. Under the pseudonym ‘Jason’ he tells the artist how he attempts to subvert and counteract the various advertisements’ commercial messages, by incorporating hidden images into the commercials that he edits together for display. The method is inspired by so-called ‘subliminal marketing’ in the 1950s, in which single images carrying product advertisements were inserted into movies in order to influence the viewer’s subconscious, Jason carries out the same operation, but this time in reverse. It is the advertisements now that he tries to undermine with alternative images, the nature or purpose of which is never disclosed.
Sometimes I Feel Like I’m Almost Gone (2015) is a new series of prints based on found images, each depicting a person alone in an empty room while performing some kind of action. The images are all drawn from art historical documentation photographs, either showing the performance of an artwork taking place inside of a gallery, or the artist performing inside his or her own studio, with no other witness than the camera. Being alone, mostly without any props or objects, the act of artistic creation is laid bare and cut to its very essence.
Also in this room is the audio work, Charlotte and Pierre (2014-15), which takes the form of a dialogue between a woman and a man, where the conversation turns around one of the protagonists feelings of alienation and disconnection towards her environment. She describes how she once could see the world with ‘clear’ eyes, and how this way of perceiving now is lost. A state that the French writer Marcel Proust believed was available only to children, convalescents and artists.
As in Jason, the proliferation and imposition of contemporary advertising in public space, as well as its highly developed visual languages and codes, are also explored in the two channel video installation The Adults (2014). Confronted with the inescapable and saturating urban advertising on an ordinary Oslo metro station, two young boys are at first transfixed by the digital adverts, before slowly attempting to respond and even interact with them. The commercial videos roll inexorably on while the two boys try to engage with the one-way communication through a subtle, apparently spontaneous pattern of action, beyond all expected logic or the conventions of ‘appropriate’ behaviour in public space.
Curated by Steinar Sekkingstad and Martin Clark. Ane Hjort Guttu’s new film will be presented at South London Gallery from 26 June – 13 September 2015.