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Tuesday-Sunday 11-17
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40 min from
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13. oktober – 25. november 2022

Cyprien Gaillard: Real Remnants of Fictive Wars V, 2004 © Cyprien Gaillard. Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers

THE PUBLIC MOMENT is the first exhibition in a series of PUBLIC ART SCREENINGS, in which KØS presents video works and documentaries about some of the most influential and innovative international public art projects of the recent decades. This art historical journey via film begins in the early ‘00s with the works of three of the international art scene’s most prominent visual artists and their central contributions to understanding how art can capture, stage and create significant moments that help to shape our public conversation.

Jeremy Deller: The Battle of Orgreave
We begin on a June day in the small English mining town of Orgreave, where the lazy summer day is broken up by the shouts of hundreds of miners being chased up a hill and through the village. The scene originally took place on 18 June 1984, and has become synonymous with the 1984-85 British coal miners’ strike, which took place across the country in protest at government plans to close mines, and the unemployment that the closures would cause.

As a young man, British artist Jeremy Deller saw the clash on TV, and the sight of thousands of striking miners being chased by police burned its way into his consciousness like a war scene rather than a labour dispute. He began to dream of bringing this event from the recent past into the light and re-enacting it as ‘living history’ – like a performative memorial. In 1998, he applied for and won an open call from Artangel, a renowned British public art agency, inviting artists to submit ideas that could not be realised elsewhere. The re-enactment of the ‘battle’ of Orgreave took place in June 2001 and involved nearly 1,000 participants with around 800 historical re-enactment societies and 200 local citizens, including former miners and a few former police officers who had been part of the original conflict.

With the re-enactment, Deller wanted to find out exactly what happened that day, but above all to revive and illuminate a significant moment in British history, the miners’ strike of 1984-85, which according to Deller had a decisive impact on British society: “It would not be an exaggeration to say that the strike, like a civil war, had a traumatically divisive effect at all levels of life in the UK,” he has said.

By engaging different social groups and communities and living through the traumatic event with them, Deller realised one of the great potentials of art in public spaces, since through the performative work, dialogue and encounters between people were created across time and views of society. A moment that helped to shape, not just history, but also the public debate in British society was brought to life as a living memorial. In the film The Battle of Orgreave, which documents the re-enactment, Deller says: “This isn’t about healing wounds; it’s going to take more than an art project to heal wounds. But it is definitely about confronting something; to look at it again and discuss it.”

Cyprien Gaillard: Real Remnants of Fictive Wars V
The historical moment is also the focal point of the 2004 film Real Remnants of Fictive Wars V by the French artist Cyprien Gaillard. While Jeremy Deller quite literally battles with a real historical moment through the fictional element of the re-enactment and the documentary, Gaillard takes a more poetic and philosophical approach. In the series Real Remnants of Fictive Wars I-VI, of which we are showing number five in this exhibition, Gaillard ‘documents’ a completely different type of battle scene. By pointing to the potentially fictional element in all history writing, the film becomes a reminder that our understanding of a given moment is always dependent on the eye that sees. In this way, the film has a clear link with Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave, which also points out how historiography is always dependent on the context and the sender and can thus always potentially be rewritten. By comparison, Gaillard’s work represents a more low-key wrestling match with the fictional element of historiography and the public debate, of which historiography is both a part and a co-creator.

Like often in Gaillard’s art, Real Remnants of Fictive Wars V also has an intense relationship with art history and its categorisations, which he challenges and examines by working across periods and genres, and by connecting multiple sites and media in his works, creating hitherto unseen links across art history. Like a kind of cinematic painting, Real Remnants of Fictive Wars V sends a clear visual nod to Romantic landscape painting, and Gaillard has often referred to the 18th-century French landscape painter Hubert Robert, with whom he shares an interest with ruins and the picturesque. But above all, Gaillard’s art plays out in a sustained artistic conversation with one of the great pioneers of public art: the American land artist Robert Smithson. Like Smithson, Gaillard is preoccupied with decay, decomposition, disorder, and unpredictability, and in Real Remnants of Fictive Wars V – which can be described as a work of land art – this is manifested by invading the landscape at a dilapidated French chateau with white smoke. The smoke attempts to reshape the landscape by erasing it. By vandalising or even violating the landscape, it disappears, but as the smoke is gradually absorbed and incorporated into its surroundings, the landscape stands out even more clearly, and our attention to its beauty is heightened. The war-like scenes in The Battle of Orgreave are thus counterbalanced by Gaillard’s work in the quiet, slow but very intense drama of Real Remnants of Fictive Wars V.
Alfredo Jaar: Skoghall Konsthall
The third room of the exhibition is dedicated to a documentary film about the Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar’s landmark public art project from 2000, Skoghall Konsthall. Jaar has created more than 70 public art projects around the world, and the reason this project in the small Swedish town of Skoghall has been so important is that it raises important questions about the social role of art.

When towns and communities initiate new public art projects, they sometimes do so on the basis of a desire to infuse the town with cultural capital, move it from the periphery to the centre of national consciousness, ameliorate a lack of cultural life and act as a symbol of a progressive urban centre that is able to compete with the capital. This was also the case in 2000, when the small Swedish town of Skoghall invited the Chilean-born, internationally renowned artist Alfredo Jaar to create a new work there.

When Alfredo Jaar first visited the town, he noticed two things in particular: the lack of cultural platforms, and the role of the multinational paper manufacturing company Stora Enso as the town’s biggest employer. He then set out to have his project financed by Stora Enso rather than by the local council, and he managed to convince both parties to commit to the Skoghall Konsthall project.

In September 2000, the mayor could cut the ribbon to open a new art gallery – a simple but beautiful structure made entirely of paper. Locals and visitors flocked to see the gallery. Then, precisely 24 hours after the inauguration, the building was emptied of people, the fire brigade set fire to the building, and the structure was burnt to the ground. The flames ate through the paper walls with astonishing speed before the eyes of the audience, and in a short time the whole building had collapsed. The artist says of the project that he “wanted to offer a glimpse of what contemporary art is and what it can do in a community. Then by ‘disappearing’ it in such a spectacular way, I hoped to reveal its absence.”

In negotiations with the municipality over the art project, it was initially proposed that the art gallery should not be burned, but simply dismantled, in order to save materials. However, the spectacular conflagration was essential to Jaar because he knew it would resonate deeper and further in the town’s collective consciousness, as well as attracting attention far beyond the town’s borders: the very effects they sought to achieve by inviting the well-known artist in the first place. What at first glance appeared destructive thus pointed to the importance of the temporary in terms of a unique moment that brought the community together and asked what was needed in the town. It also showed that in order to create cultural capital and, not least, community and common concerns, it was not enough simply to invite an international star artist like Alfredo Jaar to the town if the local commitment and political will to invest in culture was not present. With this state of shock and the revelation of the absence of cultural life in Skoghall, a movement was set in train that a single work of art, such as a sculpture, would probably not have been able to bring about.

Seven years after the ceremonial burning, Jaar was invited back to the town to design a permanent Skoghall Konsthall.