We've just arrived at the EU Capital of Culture in Umeå, Northern Sweden and heard that our work has been featured on the cover of International Arts Manager magazine this month with the South Iceland Chamber Choir and Jack White's ongoing collaboration project. Perfect timing as we'll be introducing the choir to their next collaborator Emil Råberg who is the composer in residence for the International Choir Festival and is creating new work for the SICC as they return as a host ensemble for Collaborative Compositions 2014.
In the North Atlantic Pavilion we present three artists from West Nordic region: Hanni Bjartalid from the Faroe Islands, Sigurdur Gudjonsson from Iceland and Jessie Kleemann from Greenland - each representing a city as part of City States that, though small in population, is fierce in their strength of identity.
In small nations the experience of the city differs drastically from the image of the sprawling metropolis that readily springs to mind with the notion of the urban. In Tórshavn, Reykjavík and Nuuk the edge of town is never too far away, the idea of community not lost in a mythologised past.
In these cities hospitality plays a central role, not just in the shared personal lives of their inhabitants but also in the building of the nation. Each city sits on the coast, each with a long history of welcoming visitors. But with any unknown visitor, particularly one backed by a greater power, there’s an inherent anxiety, a desire to impress and yet a necessity to keep a distance until intentions and allegiances are known.
The rituals and acts of hospitality are like a dance revealing the culture and expectations of the host whilst creating an environment to encounter the hosted on home turf. The notion of hospitality is inherently a welcoming gesture but it creates and maintains a barrier between those inside and those out.
In extending hospitality to another a host-guest relationship is created, a power relationship. However, the context is crucial - where hospitality is extended inherently one party is on unfamiliar ground and so, within this limiting context, existing power relationships of the wider world can be negotiated, played with and subverted – at least for a time.
Focusing on work that raises questions about surface appearances of hospitality, the exhibition explores this tension between host and hosted.
A common theme running throughout the work is the creation of space that welcomes audiences. Each artist creates their own stage for the encounter of hospitality to take shape, within which duration and experience beyond the visual is key – whether considering that experience through stasis, anticipation or degradation.
In this accompanying film the artists reflect on their works. It is our aim to reveal a little more about how the encounters can be read from an insiders perspective in order to create an environment where relationships might go beyond the initial surface encounter to create deeper, lasting connections.
The North Atlantic Pavilion is supported by the Kulturekontakt Nord Culture and Art Programme, the Nordic Culture Fund and Arts Council England’s grants for the arts. Special thanks are also due to Samskip and the Embassy of Iceland in the UK. City States is presented by Liverpool Biennial in partnership with Liverpool John Moores University.
For more information on Curated Place and our ongoing international residency programme visit www.curatedplace.com
The North Atlantic Pavilion is open until the 25th November 2012 as part of Liverpool Biennial's City States in the Old Sorting Office, Copperas Hill, L3 1AA.
Sassuma Arnaa was performed by Jessie Kleeman at the North Atlantic Pavilion, part of City States, Liverpool Biennial 2012. Vocal by Iben Mondrup and sound by Niels Lyngsø. September 14 2012.
Part of Inuit mythical canon the story of the Mother of the Sea is told throughout the Arctic. Though variations exist at the tale's heart lies the story of a young woman taken out to sea only to be betrayed by her family and cast to the bottom of the ocean where she now lies presiding over her domain.
Common in each version is her brutal demise. Whether known as Sedna, Arnaqquassaaq, Nuliajuk or Satsuma Arnaa she always meets her watery fate clinging to the side of her father's fishing boat only to have him sever her fingers one by one to save his own life.
Legend has it that each of her severed fingers became one of the great sea mammals that sustain inuit life, with her now ruling over them all from ocean floor. A vengeful goddess she commands the creatures that are the very lifeblood of all Inuit people, demanding that hunters pray to her to release her creatures from the ocean depths and seeing them make offerings to placate her fiery temper.
Even when customs are followed and taboos observed sometimes the hunt may continually fail. When this happens a shaman must transform themselves into a fish to visit Sassuma Arnaa, soothing her anger by cleaning and braiding her hair - something she cannot do herself having had her hands so violently and horribly disfigured.
Accompanying her installation Jessie Kleeman performed live at the launch of the North Atlantic Pavilion seeking to explore the spirt of Sassuma Arnaa allowing her body to become both shamanic vessel and an embodiment of the Mother of the Sea. For her the performance is not narrative driven, that exists elsewhere, it is rather an attempt to connect with archaic and deep-seated notions of space, place, community and nature that seem so central to the human condition yet increasingly illusive in their expression and reverence.
We're extremely chuffed to see one of our favourite art critics saying good things about our Nordic artists. In last weekend's Sunday Times Waldemar Januszczak cast his eye over the Liverpool Biennial giving a nod to our North Atlantic Pavilion and had this to say about Jessie Kleemann:
I had never previously heard of Makhacheva or Kleemann. These are not your typical biennale artists, whose names are embossed on busy Airmiles reward cards and who are sure to pop up soon at the Serpentine Gallery. These are international discoveries from unfamiliar places, true international artists whose work feels tangibly of its place, who take some searching out and who do not yet speak the ubiquitous art Esperanto that makes so many contributions to so many biennales feel so interchangeable.
Later this week we'll be publishing the video of Jessie's performance that accompanies her installation.
Based in Reykjavik Sigurður is the only one of our artists that still resides in the city he is representing as part of the exhibition. A telling fact given that so many of the City States exhibitors are tackling the topic of Globalisation through the lens of our theme - Hospitality.
Prelude depicts a naked man in an apparently empty apartment seemingly in a state of anxiety... Here Sigurður explains a little more.