Copenhagen based curator and art critic Toke Lykkeberg has curated some fifty exhibitions in Denmark, USA, France, Holland, and Vietnam. His most recent projects include the group exhibition L’embarras at Toves (Copenhagen, 2014), Branding as Branding: The Making of Superflex at Kunsthal Charlottenborg (Copenhagen, 2013) and the group exhibition Rematerialized at New Galerie (Paris/New York, 2013).
In our first Momentum 8 curator interview, Toke Lykkeberg gives us an inside look into the workings of this year’s biennial. Read why he thinks Momentum 8 is not what you might be expecting!
What is the theme of this year’s edition, and how did you arrive at the idea?
The master concept is tunnel vision, which has both contemporary and historical dimensions. It designates a specific attitude and condition that has been discussed recently in relation to the innumerable disconnects caused by our current state of hyper-connectivity. Although the Internet has given birth to so-called social media, it has also sparked its opposite, a new kind of social atomization. Algorithms are personalizing our search queries, leaving users spinning in “you loops,” as Eli Pariser has suggested in his book The Filter Bubble. The Internet is an excellent incubator for private enterprises as well as highly eccentric worldviews. It’s the perfect tool for disparate groups — extremists, religious fanatics, cutters, anorectics etc. — to link up in communities that affirm specific ideas and ideals. This is interesting in the context of art, because historically we have tended to cherish such eccentric worldviews. Since the 19th century, we’ve valued artists as bohemians and dandies who cultivate and inhabit another world beyond or above mainstream society. When the author Virginia Woolf said that women need a room of their own in order to create, she invoked solitude as the precondition for artistic practice. So although tunnel vision is most often used pejoratively, it designates a state of mind that we both reject and accept. While we think that the public sphere is enriched by alternative worldviews, we’re also afraid that they undermine it.
As curators, we arrived at this theme after having discussed our various interests and their overlaps. While meeting up in Moss for the first time, we also visited the mansion where Edvard Munch lived for a period of four years. He became a recurrent figure in our conversations, and I’ve talked with quite a few Norwegian artists for whom he’s still the ultimate Norwegian artist. I think he is a typical artist, because he’s atypical. To a certain extent he serves as a reminder that someone who suffers from tunnel vision might also be described as endowed with tunnel vision. Many of his ideas still circulate today, but ultimately his work is so eclectic that it must be seen on its own terms. And it was this aspect of art making in general that we wanted to explore. In some ways, Munch represents what we still tend to expect from individual artists — and maybe even all individuals today.
Information overload is something that we all experience on a daily basis. Is this limiting or extending our range of perception?
About ten years ago, a sociological study in France concluded that we take in more news than ever, but the news reports are also shorter. As a result, we often consume the same short story many times a day, but we may still not entirely “get” it. First we hear it on the radio, then we see it on television, and then we read about it in the paper or online. We know something is happening but not necessarily what. So, yes, there’s an overload of data that both informs and distorts our perception of the world. Maybe this problem plays a role in the increasing amount of conspiracy theories circulating these days. After the Charlie Hebdo killing, which immediately became a focus of various conspiracy theories, some journalists discussed how almost every event is now accompanied by a conspiracy theory. Normally such theories are formed by a patchwork of various bits of info, yet they tend to be monocausal. One cause suddenly ends up explaining the workings of the entire world. In one sense this narrows our perception, but in another it also expands it, because these theories enable us to grasp and get a hold of everything. For instance, if you believe aliens or reptiles are taking over the world, you just have to merge two Apple logos and suddenly you see the head of the beast. This kind of result is simultaneously a sign of great perceptive power and a lack thereof. When certain doors of perception open, others doors of perception close.
How are the four curators working together in terms of the communication and selection process?
Very early on we decided upon a theme that would work on many levels; a place where our different insights could complement each other rather than cancel each other out. To begin with, we had a few meetings in what Cyperpunk speak once called “meatspace,” and since then we have been holding regular Skype meetings on an almost weekly basis, and we email pretty much daily.
So, we’ve worked together on the overall theme and lineup of artists, but divided the various tasks between us. We’ve each had our group of artists to dialogue with and then we’ve been reporting back to the curatorial team about the direction that the various projects are taking — in order to achieve a coherent whole. So it’s been organic, I would say. The first press release, for instance, was written as an intense email exchange that lasted about a week.
What excites you the most about this year’s edition?
Apart from some artistic contributions that are still too premature to talk about, I’ve been excited by how we are working on some formats that are not very biennial-like, such as a soundtrack, a trailer, and so on. To my surprise, none of us felt the need to make a classical biennial. We even talked a bit about what that would mean — in order to avoid it. For instance, the obsession with spectacular quantities that have long defined the profiles of events like documenta — with its “100 events” and “100 books” and so on—is of course totally impossible for our small Momentum to live up to. So we’ve chosen to do the opposite. We have included fewer artists than previous editions of Momentum. Hopefully, this will result in a more focused show. Let’s see.
This does not necessarily mean that Momentum 8 will be completely different from other biennial-like events. The fact that we are four people from four different places, who feel that a certain well-known biennial format has run its course, is probably just a sign that certain things are already changing. Yet, the art world keeps surprising me. The 19th century idea — successfully popularized by Marcel Duchamp in the 20th century — that anything can be art is often hailed and dismissed by the same people. I like the story that Jeffrey Deitch’s idea to make a show about disco became his coup de grâce at the helm of MOCA LA. Brilliant Duchampians like John Baldessari, who was on the MOCA board, apparently thought this was way too low to go. However, I think it’s fair to say that this kind of pop culture, which we all know from the inside, could certainly serve as the object of aesthetic contemplation in an art context. So many artists have dealt with disco culture. Of course, it might be more convenient to do yet another show about the downside of capitalism, or for instance the experience economy, in which clubbing would be an object of critical analysis, as an example and a symptom of our decadent culture industry and its zombified followers. But Momentum 8 is not about this monster. We all know that story. We now all have the zombie app. So who knows, maybe we will also end up taking on disco culture or something like that.
Interview: Victoria Trunova