Exhibition Catalog (Text: Fredrik Svensk)
Annica Karlsson Rixon and Anna Viola Hallberg participate in the exhibition with a presentation of their research within the framework of Rixon’s post-graduate studies at the Department of Photography at Gothenburg University.
The presentation is in the form of a public lecture, which is documented and will be available at the exhibition, together with films, images and other documentation included in the project. The lecture describes how the artists’ methodology and process relates to the work of art and the results of their research, the photo, audio and video installation State of Mind. They will also discuss how their artistic process was influenced by the academic context which the new discipline of artistic research entailed for them.
State of Mind deals primarily with lesbian and bisexual women’s living conditions in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and is the second part of a trilogy that started with Resonance and will end with Code of Silence. The research project focuses on issues of family and love, their relationship to the power structures surrounding gender, ethnicity, sexuality and class, and the construction of a sense of belonging, security or alienation. In their exploration of how ethical notions and legislation influence expectations on life for LGBTQ people in St Petersburg, the artists have mainly used personal conversations and portraits.
In the conversations, different approaches and thoughts on the role of love and sexuality in relation to politics and recognition are discussed, and it emerges that the dominating western European and American notion of the necessity of “coming out” is far from unproblematic, nor can it be applied to individuals whom Annica Karlsson Rixon and Anna Viola Hallberg have been working with. State of Mind can thus be said to introduce an intercultural approach to the potential and dilemmas of identity politics. In connection with the presentation of the work, the artists have often complemented the installation with a workshop dealing with the issues that it visualizes./FS
Annica Karlsson Rixon held a lecture on October 24th (2 pm) was filmed and added to the archive together with the making of the installation State of Mind and the film State of Mind - Prologue. The workstation presents the film and the installation as two as interactive installation views and process descriptions with a timeline and documentation photographs. The hall holding the discursive projects, among them some artistic research projects, was located centrally in the exhibition space and the design of the hall was made by the curators as a context for the various projects presented in the kiosks/workstations.
(State of Mind Archive, Installation view with State of Mind - Prologue, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden)
(State of Mind Archive, Installation view, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden)
(Lecture space with a timeline where everything that happens in the lecture space is posted, Installation view, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden)
(Lecture space with along the back wall the individual projects are presented in workstations all with the same design on the interface , Installation view, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Sweden)
About the Exhibition (Text exerpt: Moderna Museet)
The Moderna Exhibition 2010 features 54 artists, who have made a strong impact on the Swedish art scene. The Moderna Exhibition is held every four years and is intended as an overview of Swedish contemporary art. The Moderna Exhibition, its recurring inventory of the most interesting recent developments in Swedish contemporary art. The 2010 edition acknowledges that the heterogeneity of our era is also reflected in art.
Curator: Fredrik Liew with Gertrud Sandqvist, Lisa Rosendahl
Assistant curator: Jo Widoff
Process text from the kiosk presentation (Text: Karlsson Rixon/Hallberg)
Making State of Mind
In June 2006 we spent our first week in St Petersburg, Russia, shooting State of Mind – Prologue, a five-minute film based on a yearlong email conversation with a lesbian couple. The foundation of the on location research was, facilitated through an art residency in the fall of the same year. It gave us the opportunity to interact with the city for two months and get to know the contemporary art scene and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) spheres. At the time there was no registered LGBT or queer organizations in St Petersburg, but several informal groups existed. For this reason we are leaning on the word “spheres”, also used by the communities themselves for describing active groups lacking recognition from authorities in the form of official registration. We perceived that the effort was focused on maintaining the entourage rather then striving for common activist goals. Leaders and groups were coming and going, and some remaining in position. It was noticeable that there was an obvious tension between the spheres. To negotiate this a reception at the Swedish General Consulate was set up, and it became an opportunity to present our work and to reach out to people we had identified as interesting for the project State of Mind. We invited everyone to participate and to extend the call to people they could think of.
The first step was an informal meeting at some public venue and the second a video interview with a facilitator from the community. The interview sessions began in a similar ways: we got invited to homes, and upon our arrival offered a drink and some snacks before the work. Hospitality and kindness embraced each session. It was a mutual discovery-process, an exchange, of what life is like from our different experiences. Since we do not speak Russian we were dependent on a facilitator helping us with the language, as many of the interviewees did not speak English. Most often this was a friend, who later on in the same evening also got interviewed.
After months we returned to the material and we realized that it did not quite reflect the impression we had from the city, it was lacking a sense of directness. We revised the work method, returned to St Petersburg and did more then twenty interviews in July- August 2007. This time we were lucky to get to borrow a private apartment, we had almost no commute time to work, it was right there in the center of the city. The interviews were made outdoor at various locations special to the person in front of the camera. During this time we also did the eleven large format group portraits. The work on location became a queer intervention by claiming public space for the project.
During this stay we met Polina Savchenko who had just moved back to St Petersburg and wanted to get involved in activist work. She spent 14 years in Chicago as her family went in exile from the Soviet Union. Now we had someone helping us with language, cultural and LGBTQ specific issues for both United States and Russia. In the fall of 2007 Polina came to our studio on Brännö to continue the work with translations. To validate the translations she consulted a Russian friend in San Francisco, checking the language. We had quite short time for this process, so the workflow had to be very efficient. The subtitles were once more checked and validated via yet another translator who went through the material. I June 2008 we went back to St Petersburg again to film the backdrop for the installation, and to ones again make a presentation at the Swedish Consulate, this time as part of a bench marking meeting for Swedish and east European LQBTQ organizations.
State of Mind is based on a selection method of snowballing, where we looked for a broad span of people as it comes to age and occupation, and that LGBTQ issues of daily life should be addressed from the perspective of women. The visual language of the installation delivers a sense of being in St Petersburg, forming a merge between “here” and “there” (“us” and “them”). The local communities and/or the general visitor can read the 7 monitors, with “talking heads”, as an ever-changing group portrait against a backdrop of the river Neva. The video installation requires an active participation where the visitor steps aside from the position of the spectator and engages in the stories, and by this becoming physically present to others as silhouettes towards the view of the river. One is drawn in by a lingering poetic documentary sound of the city with whispering voices, leaking from the headphones. The concept of portraiture introduced by group photographs leading the way into the video installation.
The more than 3 hours of stories, embodies a challenge; should the visitor listen to closely to a few people or hear bits and peaces from a larger group? On what grounds are the selections made, why approaching a specific individual? The photographs are delivering empowering portraits of some of the groups posing in the urban landscape. The videos in the black box talks, intimately, about the personal sphere as well as political issues. Re-visiting the photographic works, after spending time in the black box, they are then informed by the specific stories and the urban landscapes come to life. The photographs are mounted on midnight-blue walls, a recollection of the white nights with its deep blue sky. It also sends off associations to the tarps at construction sites, this is also where the scaffolding pipes used for holding the video monitors fit in. If they are not put into the context of the verticals used by pole-dancers. Together they call up on a reference to the expanding city driven by the new economy.
We wanted to provide a palpable art installation, bringing up these issues and by that participate in the development by encouraging people to take a second look of the politics of everyday. If one has the same obligations, should there not at least be a path towards similar treatment including that of fellow citizens and legal rights or at least not to fear the use of existing laws?
Touring State of Mind
The art installation State of Mind opened for the first time in Stockholm in July 2008 in connection to two festivals, Europride 08 and Stockholm Culture Days. In September the same year, the Swedish General Consulate inaugurated the exhibition in St Petersburg. They were relieved; there were no demonstrations or any attacks against the exhibition. The mere fact of having this pointed out as a not unlikely scenario, sets the framework for the society in which State of Mind was introduced. As a precaution for the exhibition in St Petersburg in 2008, State of Mind was presented with our first collaboration, Resonance - this to defuse the tension of the topic and put emphasis on the importance of networks. Looking at a glance on the work it might not seem provocative at all. However, the content of the installation can be perceived as challenging and quite political, to discover this the spectator needs to spend time with the stories. State of Mind provides a vivid benchmark, an indication on how life in St Petersburg was at the time. It also indicates expectations of the future – here it is possible to detect that some things have changed.
In the pre-exhibition visits to the cities where we had a gallery wanting to work with us, we gained a more solid ground and in person contact with the ones that would live with the consequences of the exhibition after our departure - we simply worked with the local sphere to reach a point where also they could stand behind the exhibition and be ready to take the local discussions. At these contact trips we met up with not only activists, but also artists and academics. They became both focus groups and stakeholders in the local presentation and an important vehicle activating the viral effects of the exhibition in social media, but also in local and national media.
Exhibiting at the galleries in Kharkiv (Ukraine) and St Petersburg (Russia) was in one sense the biggest achievements since they both are state run institutions. In these former totalitarian regimes it seemed almost impossible for people to understand how we made it into those institutions with an exhibition on queers. Many of the visitors asked us how we could get permission to exhibit there. They got truly astonished over our response; “We were invited”. At Rosphoto the exhibition got reviewed by a delegation from the Culture Ministry in Moscow who showed up late and unannounced just after the reception and were given a special tour of the exhibition by Anna Viola and a translator from the queer sphere (the official translators had left). The exhibition remained open and the visitor numbers increased with 60% compared to the average statistics of that specific institution. In Kharkiv at the Municipal Gallery the director got an official call from the local Culture Administration regarding the content of the exhibition. They expressed the uncertainty of approval of the content and was recommending the director of the gallery to not have such an exhibition. However, before the end of the call she invited them to the gallery to look at the work and further discuss the case. They never arrived to the gallery and the exhibition could continue to be open. Also in Kharkiv the staff at the gallery noticed a great increase of visitors. The path in and out of institutions has at times slightly altered the visualization but never interfered with the integrity of the narrative. Slowly handing over the exhibition to the local curators and allowing the communities to take ownership has been a format explored in order to establish a connection between the local source community, the gallery, artists, activists, academics, stakeholders and a general audience.
In order to excel the effect of the exhibition two supporting formats has been developed; Lezzie Think Tank and Leaving Your Traces. The core of the Lezzie Think Tank (LTT) consists of a relay of questions passed on from one city to the next – a way of reflecting upon the local situation of queer life. It follows a preset format of one plus one hour and focuses on issues in every day life for bisexual and lesbian women. Using State of Mind as a point of departure, it is a traveling think tank on issues of community, activism, based on local needs infused with pan-national experience, forming coalitions between organizations and individuals. With the art scene as a platform LLT is arranged together with local activists and academics. The LTT itself is held in the local language, starting with an introduction by us in English, and then after working in several smaller groups summarized and discussed in a bilingual mode. The outcome is later on integrated on our website.
Leaving Your Traces (LYT) was introduced for the exhibition in Kharkiv and was held in a park directly after the LTT. It is an interview based video documentation on the queer sphere in the city where we exhibit. The questions are the same brought up in State of Mind but reflecting the local conditions rather then focusing on St Petersburg. LYT becomes both a time-document and an opportunity to be outspoken about the state of queer life in the home city. In Kiev, the collaborate partner wanted the LTT to take place where the general public could access it. The LTT was then held next to the State of Mind installation at Gogol Fest 09, a two week festival taking place in a 20 000 square meter arsenal in the center of the city. The organizers counted on at least ten thousand of visitors each weekend day. Instead of doing the LYT video workshop most of the LTT session in Kiev was filmed. The notes taken down by the participants were kept on a notice board by the installation. The shipping crates were painted in the same blue as the walls the photographs were hung on, so it created an entity with additional strands of local thoughts up on LGBTQ issues covering questions from Kharkiv and the responses from Kiev.
In Minsk the exhibition was held in a private gallery, or rather a “kunsthalle”, run by two admirable women professionally navigating through a challenging political system in a country considered having the least democratic system in Europe. Due to the cold winter conditions, the LYT was held in the exhibition space during normal gallery hours and so was the LTT. For the first time a mixed group of gay men, bisexuals, lesbians and transvestites participated in both LYT and LTT. By 2010 the LTT has been held in Stockholm, St Petersburg, Gothenburg, Kharkiv, Kiev and Minsk.
State of Mind has been exhibited at:
Y Gallery for Contemporary Art, Minsk, Belarus, March 2010
The Kharkov Municipal Art Gallery, Kharkiv, Ukraine, July-August 2009
Art Arsenal/Gogol Fest 09, Kiev, Ukraine, September 2009
Gothenburg Art Museum, Sweden September-November 2008
ROSPHOTO, St Petersburg, Russia, September-October 2008
Kulturhuset, Stockholm, Sweden, July-August 2008
Situating the work
The foundation of the work on site was made in a time when the Russian journalist and activist Anna Politkovskaya was murdered. Xenophobia and orthodox extremists claimed their presence in the streets, and through this also in media. It was a drawback in the efforts towards an open society. NGOs were limited in their ways of acting and international funding largely came to a halt due to governmental decisions. The space for activists and journalists to express their opinions diminished.
The interviews in State of Mind deliver some nuances of life in St Petersburg; it accentuates the conflict between people thinking about LGBTQ education of the general public and how it should be done. Strong voices in Moscow want Pride Parades while others stress that the Russian society is not ready for such activities yet. There is, and should perhaps not be, a unison model for the activist work. But the people taking the consequences of the actions should be able to feel confident about the strategic plans and aims for the local activities. In addition, St Petersburg has a history of provocations. For instance, someone from the outside announcing that a parade is to happen while the local LGBTQ groups knows nothing about it. Such a story gets written up in media and homophobia as well as xenophobia escalates without anyone being there to respond from the community. Looking at the situation on a more personal level, some people express that their life is in many ways more spontaneous and by this open for interventions and affairs in comparison for instance to Sweden.
Throughout the research process we have been reviewing our work and thoughts with a number of people with experience in specific areas in order for us to achieve both a broad and in depth understanding. This knowledge has then been channelized into the process of making State of Mind. Translating between cultures and languages, especially dealing with non-mainstream cultures, one approaches the well know risk of “exporting” not only good intentions but also a new set of problems. We hope we have contributed to opening up a dialogue or to spark an understanding of shared space, places of interaction.
(Installation views, Art Arsenal/Gogol Fest 09, Kiev, Ukraine)
Artwork/installation views State of Mind view photographs >>>
Excerpts from the video installation>>>
Documentation videos of installation>>>
Documentation slideshow of installation in Kiev>>>
Sample installation sound, listen (mp3)>>>
List of works (pdf) >>>
Lezzie Think Tank/Leaving Your Traces>>>
From Sweden, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine (print/video/radio/web) >>>
Polina; Language Facilitator & translator (RU-ENG, ENG-RU) Nadya; Language Facilitator (RU-ENG, ENG-RU) Lilliana; Language Facilitator (RU-SWE, SWE-RU) Tanja; Language Facilitator (RU-ENG, ENG-RU) Irena; Language Supervision (RU) Therese; Language Supervision (RU)
Annica Karlsson Rixon and Anna Viola Hallberg are lens based artist working with conceptual art and installations. They are collaborating on a an installation trilogy Resonance, State of Mind and Code of Silence dealing with socially and culturally constructed identity- based groups in contemporary society. >>>
Karlsson Rixon & Hallberg collaborate in art installations, curatorial projects and lectures/workshops among them the LTT Project and Public Projections Gothenburg, often in the constellation Aview Nomad Gallery >>>