Following months of preparation, weeks of wall painting and street intervening, two days of discussions, the long expected Nuart 2016 exhibition opened at last. In a rugged tunnel, just behind the Tou Scene, where Nuart HQ is, participating artists have left their temporary mark in the form of site-specific installations and wall paintings in line with this year’s topics of the festival. Striving to present the idea of Nutopia, artists Eron, Add Fuel, Evol, Fintan Magee, Robert Montgomery, KennardPhillips, Nipper, SpY, Jaune, Jeff Gillette and Henrik Uldalen created pieces that reflect their own practice in this particular context of a street art festival.
Although visually and even conceptually quite diverse, all of the installations presented corresponded with the key topics of Nuart 2016, as the curatorial shines more strongly than ever. Utopian and dadaistic elements are easily detected in the exhibited works, emphasized by the pairing of artists and by their collaborative work.
The works presented were also designated to present the new movement, street art that coexists with studio practice and different modes of engagement with the audience, which was suggested to be entitled Post-Street Art, a term discussed extensively at Nuart Plus conference.
Entering the foyer of the venue, before the tunnel, we encounter a piece by Eron on the back wall. Semi-transparent and unimposing, the smokey work emerges from a corner in a rather shy manner, while the visual content of the piece becomes clear only at a second glance. Representing his typical birds, Eron evokes the contact with nature that now appears to be lost. There is something distant in his misty imagery, as well as something primordial in the sepia-like coloring, which reminisces of the ancient cave paintings, alluding to the current distance between the fragile nature and the contemporary man.
Moving away from Eron’s work and the first room of the Tou Scene exhibition space, we enter the actual tunnel with lateral chambers in which artists have made their works, some in couples. The first chamber was given to Add Fuel and Evol to depict their vision of the city. Evol’s concrete blocks made into buildings in combination with the bright blue ornamentation painted by Add Fuel give out an interesting vision of the imaginary city, a place where people are equal, where boredom of the grey concrete is cut by the liveliness of the visual profusion. Even though the collaboration was realized on the spot, these two distinct expressions converse well, as they stand in a harmony with each other.
Next chamber was given to Fintan Magee, the master of large scale murals, whose painterly approach illuminates the deep, black room. Vividly executed, over-sized fruits and flowers surround the walls of an improvised dinner table, which is also decorated with the same imagery. Once the first impression passes, and the viewer is relieved of the overwhelming sense of style, one cannot but notice the skill of the bold stroke, which gives out a rather realistic effect. In this immersive allegory about the fictitious abundance of contemporary life, we read the influence of the baroque Dutch still life masters, classical arts as well as an extension of Fintan’s aestheticised outdoor practice.
Walking through the dark corridor, a chamber with a two installation emerges again. Nipper and KennardPhillips exhibit side by side, seemingly unrelated pieces, which do however share a common theme in the invitation to participate. Nippers abstract installation possesses a clear conceptual note, as the audience is encouraged to take the matter into their hands, the matter being pens, markers, paper and other drawing material, and leave their mark right then and there. The work of KennardPhillips continues their known socially engaged work, here addressing the burning problems of immigration and war through their known, strong imagery achieved by photo-montage.
Another collaboration, perhaps the most successful one if viewed as a joined effort, belongs to Jaune and Jeff Gillette, whose exhibition is currently on view at the newly named Nuart Gallery. Both of the artists work very directly in the urban environment, both strive to address the matters of neglect and to ironize the deliberate ignorance through the use of popular culture iconography. Jaune’s workers are here positioned in an installed piles of (real) garbage, where they conduct their little unimportant lives, as the debris piles on. Jaune’s work occupies most of the floor space of the show, while a little, curvy path runs through it, for the visitors to approach the crown in the form of Jeff Gillete’s SLUM! Piece. Again, rendering the topic of Disneyland as the “happiest place on Earth”, Gillette created a wooden barrier, a form of iconostasis in this anti-church of consumerist culture. The barrier resembles the silhouette of Disneyland, while allowing the visitors to glance upon a large poster - a reproduction of the artist’s work SLUM!, a commentary on the global inequality and the disparate distribution of wealth.
Walking to the end exhibition room, we can see a bleak vision created by Henrik Uldalen. Contemplating the topics of despair, hopelessness and utter pessimism, Uldalen might represent the dystopian end of current human condition. The representational painting he utilizes transmits his vision in a relatable way, where each of the visitors can find a piece of themselves in his numb characters. The painting on the Nuart exhibition wall shows a blurry, beautiful face, lost in the shattered hopes and dreams, materialized in the actual broken glass that covers the floor of the room.
Daring and energetic, the practice of Robert Montgomery flows beyond traditional enclosures of an exhibition space, into the streets and lives of everyday people. Just like in advertising he fights directly against, Montgomery’s language is clear and his message is easily read, while the printed words keep echoing in the observer’s mind. For Nuart 2016, Montgomery painted a political mural and busted several ads in Stavanger, while the exhibition hosts one of his neon pieces, which again, mock the tradition of lit advertisements.
Somewhere in the middle, one of the chambers is closed off by a thick brick wall and the name beside it is - SpY. Still, light streaks are visible from within the room and people are peeking through the narrow creases between the bricks. After a while, it becomes apparent that the back wall of the room contains a writing, which is really hard to read. Why put a message on the wall and block it from view, at the very place people are supposed to see it? Later, I find out that the message says “Image not available”. No other installation has puzzled or involved the audience so much, provoking our inner curiosity, disallowing us to see the truth, as the dadaistic parable about the utopia we often dare to dream about.
Crowned by the show of ephemeral works, Nuart 2016 was officially opened on Saturday, September 10 in Stavanger, Norway.
All images by the author
Stavanger , Norway