August 19, 2014
Interview with Randi Grov Berger
Flag Stavanger is the third iteration of an ongoing public project by Norwegian curator Randi Grov Berger, currently on view daily outside of Kunsthall Stavanger. The ever-evolving exhibition has grown to include over 60 Norwegian and international artists, each addressing issues of citizenship, power, identity and nationality with a personally designed flag. Here Randi Grov Berger talks with us about the ideas behind her flag project, the founding of her gallery, Entrée, in Bergen, and the importance of naiveté.
In 2009 you teamed up with artist Cato Løland to found Entrée, an independent non-profit gallery in Bergen. What were you doing prior to opening Entrée and what was the drive to start your own gallery space in Bergen?
I had just finished a masters program in Art in Public Realm at Konstfack [University College of Arts, Crafts, and Design] in Stockholm under professor Marysia Lewandowska and was eager to come back to Bergen with some new ideas. Cato and I both got new studios in a collective that summer of 09, but we soon moved out to start our own thing that was more publicly available. The space we found was a typical storefront on a busy street with a large studio space behind it, which soon enough became the office for the gallery. We felt a great energy in the city at this time, like everything was possible. Bergen Kunsthall led the To Biennial or not to Biennial conference that fall, and I felt it was the right time to stay here and contribute to the local art scene. A new young exhibition platform was needed and luckily Cato and I were equally naïve to the workload in front of us. After Entrée was fortunate to receive three-year governmental funding in 2011, the ball just continued rolling.
Interesting that you bring up naiveté. Do you think that that kind of energy and excitement was an important part of setting the experimental tone of Entrée?
Yes, and the lack of commercial interest. I think that since we were never interested in the role of being “gallerists” as such, we were free from those strategies. We wanted to see if it was possible to combine an exhibition space with our own studio; something that failed and we became solely a gallery. We were from the beginning sort of a project room with the architectural framing of a white cube gallery.
You are now the sole artistic director of the gallery, and often invite emerging and mid-career artists to create new, exciting works specifically for the gallery space. You’ve commissioned projects from artists such as Terence Koh, André Tehrani, and Azar Alsharif. Is there any guiding curatorial philosophy for the projects you present?
In the beginning I used food-making as a metaphor for curating. Use good ingredients and just try not to mess it up. I like to make things minimal and simple, for the space to communicate the essence of the work. I invite artists that I’m curious about and want to work with; they often have research-led practices, resulting often in conceptual sculptures and installations. Entrée functions as a production site in-between exhibitions, where artist Dillan Marsh and I help build and install commissioned, site-specific work. It’s been an equal amount of Norwegian based and foreign artists, and in the last few years we have done more outside projects and collaborations. The artists are often experimental when doing their solo shows at Entrée – compared to one they would do in a commercial gallery. I try to be a good facilitator and my mission is to promote young artists to an international audience and help put Bergen on the map.
In 2012, you invited 10 artists to each design a unique flag, which were then collectively exhibited at Entrée. What was the impetus behind this original flag project, Flag Bergen?
I’m a vexillophile. I love flags, and I always look for and notice flags when traveling around. I started seeing empty flagpoles in Bergen on the tops of buildings in the city center, and the idea came to me to use this existing component for a more integrated public art project. So for the show you’re referring to, we had one copy of each flag around on different buildings in the city center at the same time as they hung united in the gallery where we handed out maps. The flag as a format is simple and strong at the same time – a flag can be so innocent but suddenly become very political and symbolize something new in a different setting. An image becomes a statement when you hoist it up on a pole in a public space. I was curious as to what the artists would come up with parallel to feeling I might have overstepped and become too involved in the artistic process when making such a very strict format for them to take on. I soon found out that getting those empty flagpoles is not easy. I politely asked for permission and got involved in long conversations and many failed attempts to convince flagpole owners, this really intensified last year when doing the project again in New York.
Again you acknowledge the importance of creative freedom for the artists that you work with. I’m curious about how they responded to the predetermined format of the flag.
They have responded by creating a multitude of different approaches to the flag format. Some have asked to break with the format like stitching the flag, embroidery, using found material to assemble a flag and I had one proposal that replaced the flag with a sound piece. But for the project to hang together, I have pushed for a standard format, that potentially could be mass-produced like any national flag or corporate flag can.
As you mentioned, a new iteration of the flag project was recently shown in New York as part of Performa 13, where you served as a curatorial fellow. The project has been shown in Bergen, Nesflaten in collaboration with L/R Residency, New York City, and is currently on view at Kunsthall Stavanger, each time changing and expanding to include new artists. How do the different environments shape the project, and what is your criteria for choosing new artists?
I want to have a combination of artists with different backgrounds and voices, with different relationships to the city were the project is taking place. I encourage them to work with existing themes from their practice when taking on the flag format. Different cities and countries have very different relations to the use of flags in public space, it absolutely shapes the meaning, and likewise does the area or building also create different narratives. An example is a white flag by Borghild Unneland with a simple small handwriting on it saying “Sorry, I didn’t mean to”. Is the artist saying sorry, is it the landlord of the building apologizing for something, the curator, the city? – who’s speaking and to whom? Thinking about this, it was very interesting to read recently about the art-activist bleached American flags on top of Brooklyn Bridge…I wish I had seen it. Did you?
It was incredible! And incited a wide variety of reactions from different parts of the city’s population. Your flag project behaves similarly as it appropriates pre-existing flag poles and effectively functions as an evolving international survey of current emerging and mid-career artists. Was this your intention?
No I never thought of it like that. I was lucky to get invited by Performa to make a new and larger edition of the project last year, and the chance to invite many more artists. It really made the project much more international and visible. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to secure that many flagpoles as I needed there, so I’m very glad I get to tour the project now, and add more artists along the way. Next year the project is invited to Tromsø Kunstforening and then we want to add in more artists from the region. After this I’m hoping to bring the project to yet another place abroad...
And finally, do you have any other upcoming exhibitions or projects in progress that you can share with us?
This minute I’m in the middle of installing a new project with Marit Følstad here in Bergen, who I’m totally in love with. It’s a large immersive installation with new video work, neon and also a sound collaboration with Svarte Greiner. I’m excited that the opening night is co-hosted with Landmark at Bergen Kunsthall where we’ll have a concert and artist-talk. Later this fall, I’ll run a small Entrée New York satellite gallery while I’m in the city for a curatorial residency at ISCP. Young curator Espen Johansen, who was also the main curator for the Terence Koh exhibition, will take care of Entrée Bergen in the meantime. Next year I’m looking forward to work together with Steinar Haga Kristensen, Lewis & Taggart, Øystein Klakegg and many more…
For more information about Flag Stavanger and to join in the flag raising every Sunday,visit the Kunsthall Stavanger website, here.