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In Sweden, 30 International Artists Are Coming Together to Remake History

With curator Elvira Dyangani Ose at the helm, the 2015 Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art promises to shake things up.
Santiago Cirugeda / recetas urbanas. Sketch of House of Words (2015).

At this year's Göteborg International Biennial for Contemporary Art (GIBCA) in Sweden, the meaning and production of history will be questioned, torn open, and made available to all. The GIBCA opens September 12 under the theme "A Story Within a Story," a phrase taken from Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot's writings about the sideline actors in the production of history—those who, alongside the authority of professional historians, add several degrees of complexity to the big picture. In this context, complexity begets openness, mobility, and opportunities for new participants. It stands in opposition to order and power—the very notions that the eighth edition of GIBCA seeks to disrupt by reformatting history as an open work: "In 1962, Italian philosopher Umberto Eco coined the term open work to describe aesthetic practices where authors arrange their work so that the audience is exposed not to a single definitive order, but to a myriad of possibilities: an 'unfinished' work which they are invited to complete," offers the GIBCA website.


Bouchra Khalili, Still from Foreign Office (2015). Courtesy of Bouchra Khalili

Within this conceptual framework, curator Elvira Dyangani Ose has invited artists who seek to interfere with history-making through socially engaged projects. "I have always assured my commitment to artists and artworks that inscribe certain events, individuals and communities into history. In the cases that I consider most successful and daring," Dyangani Ose writes, "the emphasis is on questioning the systems of power that effectively silence, marginalize and remove certain individuals, communities and events from the historical equation in the first place." Her personal history has informed her viewpoint: "Being myself part of such community—as a Black scholar and curator, post-colonial subject and African—made me fully aware, at a certain point in my career, of the power implicit in this binary narrative."

A number of participatory activities will revolve around House of Words (HoW), a project devised by architect Santiago Cirugeda in collaboration with artist Loulou Cherinet, which refers to a traditional meeting place commonly found in African societies. HoW was constructed throughout the summer with a number of public volunteers, and will function as a site of exchange and story-telling.

benandsebastian, Stored (Museum of Nothing), 2014. Photo: Frederik Petersen. Courtesy of benandsebastian

Visual artist duo benandsebastian are also on the roster. Last year, they installed Museum of Nothing in Copenhagen, a work that points to historical incompleteness by presenting empty display cabinets, frames and sculpture stands.


Visitors will see work by Moroccan-French artist Bouchra Khalili, who recently mapped Algiers' "Foreign Offices" at the Palais de Tokyo, with photos and a documentary video exploring the physical spaces that formerly served as satellite homes for revolutionary movements like the Black Panthers, the African National Congress, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Isabel Lewis (2014). Photo: Joanna Seitz. Courtesy of Isabel Lewis

On Sunday afternoon, September 13, Isabel Lewis will perform what she calls an "Occasion," a kind of multi-sensory salon where she DJs and offers visitors food, drink, perfume vials, and above all, a sense of community. Her involvement promises to bring a lighter touch to the curator's ambitions: "It is from the vantage point of togetherness, from the desire of imagining history as a participatory experience, that I would like for GIBCA 2015 to explore and challenge history writing," concludes Dyangani Ose.

Over 30 international artists will participate in total. GIBCA runs through November 22—learn more here.


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