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28 contemporary artists explore and challenge Öyvind Fahlström's ideas in exhibition at Moderna Museet
Installation view Manipulate the World - Activate Öyvind Fahlström, 2017. Photo: Åsa Lundén/Moderna Museet.

STOCKHOLM.- In Manipulate the World – Connecting Öyvind Fahlström, four historic works by Öyvind Fahlström define the playing field for the exhibition. 28 contemporary artists explore and challenge Fahlström’s ideas on manipulation and theatricality, two key concepts in his artistic practice. What do they mean to artists today, in our era of alternative facts, relative truths and fragmented narratives?

Öyvind Fahlström (1928–1976) was one of the most innovative and versatile artists of the 20th century. When he developed a series of paintings with variable parts in the 1960s, his intention was not merely to make the content of the painting moveable, but also to express an approach to society and politics. Fahlström was part of a Zeitgeist that wanted to do away with static and authoritarian narratives. He wanted to demonstrate that the world can be “manipulated” by anyone, and that it is shaped by participation and play. The exhibition Manipulate the World asks what manipulative potential art has today; it is set in three zones, located on both floors of Moderna Museet.

“Öyvind Fahlström was one of the most visionary post-war artists; the exhibition takes his most vital ideas and sets them in motion with the works of 28 contemporary artists," says the curator, Fredrik Liew.

The theatrical in motion
Dr. Schweitzer’s Last Mission from 1964-66 is shown on floor 4. This monumental installation comprises information and images in fragments that are combined into a scenographic tableau. This part of the exhibition correspondingly seeks to set theatricality in motion. It includes Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s work Earshot, in which he analyses sounds from a killing on the West Bank in a staged tribunal. Abu Hamdan’s investigation proves that the Israeli army shot the victims with live rounds, and not rubber bullets, as they claimed. The revelation made a splash in international media.

Dr Schweitzer’s Last Mission was named after the German-French theologian Albert Schweitzer, whose missionary medical work in Africa places the installation in a post-colonial discourse. Several pieces on this floor refer to ideas on power relations and historiography, including Candice Lin’s installation, where a liquid is boiled, distilled and coloured, before being pumped through a tube around the exhibition onto a fake marble floor, where it forms a blood-like stain. The liquid contains sugar, tea and cochineal, typical colonial goods, and the machine uses a statuette of the Scottish botanist Robert Fortune as a strainer. Fortune was enlisted by the British East India Company to perform industrial espionage regarding the valuable Chinese tea plant.

Actions in public space
Fahlström’s video Mao-Hope March from 1966 is shown in the stairs between the two floors. It is based on a march that Fahlström staged in New York, where all the protesters carried placards with pictures of the American comedian Bob Hope, except one, who instead had a portrait of Mao Zedong. Mao-Hope March acts as a catalyst for works that intervene and activate events in public spaces – streets and squares, and the space we share as visitors in a museum. Goldin+Senneby’s work Zero Magic, for instance, involves investing a portion of the Museum’s revenue. 10% of admission fees are ventured in a shorting attack on the financial market.

World Bank as centre of a hidden zone
In the windowless exhibition halls on floor 2, Fahlström’s World Bank from 1971 forms the centrepiece in a narrative about the distribution of money and power in the world. This narrative is pursued further in contemporary works that discuss the conditions of production, labour and extraction of natural resources. As part of his contribution to the exhibition, Pratchaya Phinthong went to northern Sweden in 2010 to pick berries together with other migrant workers from Thailand. The work shows how two months’ work and picking 549 kilos of berries earned him SEK 2,513. Katarina Pirak Sikkus’ work Gállok Kallak is based on protest marches against exploratory blasting for international mineral mining outside Jokkmokk. At a police intervention, she spread large geotextiles on the ground to document the occurrence in a contemporary frottage that reveals the memory of nature underground and the events above.

Through Fahlström’s installation, this part of the exhibition establishes a hidden zone, with stories and statements about the things that are underlying, hidden, forgotten or shielded from public view. Nüria Güell’s work responds to a Spanish bank that first evicted residents who had defaulted on their mortgages, and then bought their houses at a compulsory auction at 50% of the market value. In a counter-action, she had the front doors of the houses removed, making it legal to squat there.

Artists in the exhibition
Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Rossella Biscotti, Juan Castillo, Aslı Çavuşoğlu, Kajsa Dahlberg, Detanico Lain, Economic Space Agency, Róza El-Hassan, Harun Farocki, Öyvind Fahlström, Goldin+Senneby, Núria Güell, Candice Lin, Jill Magid, Ibrahim Mahama, Nicholas Mangan, Sirous Namazi, Rivane Neuenschwander, Otobong Nkanga, Sondra Perry, Pratchaya Phinthong, Katarina Pirak Sikku, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Jonas Staal, Hito Steyerl, Hanan Hilwé with Walid Raad, Thu Van Tran, Alexander Vaindorf, Wermke/Leinkauf.

The exhibition marks the culmination of Moderna Museet’s project on the artist Öyvind Fahlström, consisting of exhibitions, publications, research and events in 2014—2018. The title, Manipulate the World, is taken from a text Fahlström wrote about his variable paintings in Art and Literature No 3, 1964.

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