Originating from the Bergen Biennial Conference in 2009 and its critical thinking around the biennial format, the Bergen Assembly seeks to devise alternative timeframes, densities, and relational economies of public presentation and perception today. Pointing to the multitude of practices in contemporary art and the research surrounding it, while experimenting with the need for an overall thematic coherence across the event, the 2016 edition offers three distinct propositions, expanded and developed in different temporal registers by the artistic directors: PRAXES, Tarek Atoui, and freethought. Exhibitions, live events, and publications are continually introduced and produced throughout the year, with a convergence of activities taking place from 1st September – 1st October 2016.
At PRAXES Center for Contemporary Art in Berlin 2013–15, Rhea Dall and Kristine Siegel presented half-year cycles of consecutive exhibitions, publications, and events, revolving around two unassociated artistic practices. For the Bergen Assembly, PRAXES expand the modular investigations to a full year and episodically inhabit a variety of sites throughout Bergen in an itinerant material discussion around the practices of Lynda Benglis and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd.
Lynda Benglis (b. 1941, US) was first recognized in the sixties with her poured latex and foam works, a precise retort to her minimalist contemporaries. Continuing her pioneering practice, vibrant biomorphic shapes in a bold range of materials express a deep concern with the physicality of form and how it affects the viewer. In Bergen, Benglis’s prolific production is distilled into single-work installations, reconstructions, group shows, and one-night screenings.
Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (b. 1973, UK) celebrates popular culture. She has adopted elements from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Miyazaki’s Catbus, and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in exuberant collective performances and films merging irreverence and joie de vivre. In Bergen, Chetwynd will create a new work presented in installments throughout the year, while a series of exhibitions-events probe her long-term involvement with social anthropology, humor, and performance traditions.
In March 2013, artist and composer Tarek Atoui presented WITHIN as a three-month long composition for the Sharjah Biennial 11, developed out of the conversations and collaboration between Atoui, Paris based curators Gregory Castéra and Sandra Terdjman (Council), and the teachers and students of Al Amal School for the Deaf.
For Bergen Assembly 2016, Atoui is continuing WITHIN with the intention of learning from the deaf to re-visit established and conventional ways of experiencing sound, holding concerts, writing, and conducting performances. The project will materialize in several forms, from imagining and constructing musical instruments that address both deaf and hearing persons, to rethinking concert situations and their architectural components, to working on new techniques of field recording and discerning sonic environments.
In collaboration with fifteen institutions from Bergen, Atoui will be hosting a series of performances and concerts that will put these instruments into action, as well as the knowledge and the know-how generated by this process. Approaching profound deafness as both an ability and a starting point, Council will gather a collection of pluridisciplinary objects and practices that extend the notion of hearing beyond audition, presenting an exhibition that functions as an alternative to the modern conception of hearing.
freethought (Irit Rogoff, Stefano Harney, Adrian Heathfield, Massimiliano Mollona, Nora Sternfeld, Louis Moreno) is a collective working in public research and in curating concepts of urgency.
freethought will focus on its current collective interest: infrastructure. By looking at many different understandings of this key word—from legacies of colonial and early capitalist systems of governance to current conditions of the financialization of the cultural field to the subversive possibilities of thinking and working with infrastructures as sites of affect and contradiction—”infrastructure” emerges as the invisible force which constitutes culture today. This large-scale investigation aims to wrest the term away from the language of planners and technocrats and put it to creative and critical use within the cultural sphere.
Throughout 2015–2016 freethought is leading a programme of public seminars, invited guest lectures, artists, and independent research in Bergen with the intention of developing a collective body of research and insights. This research, an interrogation of infrastructure on a local and global scale of ecology, finance, administration, labour, communication, hospitality, and acts of assembling, will culminate in a programme of exhibitions, discursive platforms, publications, and artistic commissions for the Bergen Assembly, opening September 1st, 2016.