Tuesday 22nd February 2005
Cafe Mir, Toftes gt 69, Oslo
NB: Free entrance. Free dinner at 18.00!

Arranged/produced by: Atelier Nord
Initiator/project director: Per Platou

A Comedy in 3 Acts

Every Tuesday between 17.00 - 19.00 a homemade meal is served at Torshov Frivillighetssentral. "Tuesday Dinner" is described as a meeting place for those in need of company, such as those undergoing psychiatric treatment, or those who lack a social network and want to meet new people. From what I can gather the emphasis is less on feeding the hungry, but rather to provide a venue for social comparison - either you can compare yourself with those who are better off who may be able to inspire you or help you out of a crisis, or you can meet people in a worse state than yourself and feel better about your own situation. The dinner seems to provide a safe ritual in which to converse.

The Salvation Army is also a well-known provider of free food, but on a daily basis, serving around 250-300 drug addicts and homeless people per day. An article in Aftenposten in 2004 described how the Salvation Army have marked an increase in the number of Polish and other East Europeans (presumably lacking both drug addiction and housing problems) who take advantage of their food-for-free services. They find it a challenging situation - though none of the "qualified" regulars have complained (1).

On 22nd February 2004 about 40 portions of homemade soup were dealt out during Reality Check 2, at Cafe Mir in Oslo - free of charge, courtesy of Atelier Nord. There was not quite enough to feed the 60-plus people who attended the event, including those who happened by chance (or hunger) to be present at the time, and those who drifted in and out. Whether or not the food was dealt out to the homeless, the addicted or the disturbed is hard to say, but the lack of adequate provisions is never the less forgivable. Reality Check 1(also announced with a free meal) took place in the same venue on 4th December 2004 and was attended by about 15-20 people - almost exclusively artists who had come to Cafe Mir to listen to 6 other artists talk about their failures. Who could predict that attendance would increase by around 300%? The word has obviously spread that Reality Check is an event worth attending.

Reality Check is a project initiated and directed by Per Platou and produced by Atelier Nord where artists are invited to present projects they have taken part in which have failed in a big way. The concept is based on the rumour of a similar event in Berlin called Club der Polnischen Versager or The Polish Losers Club. I say rumour because as far as I know there is little evidence to be found to actually confirm that the event has ever taken place.The club does have a website, but I have never heard of anyone who has actually been to an event.

Reality Check is open to all, and entrance is free. However, the selection procedure for participating in Reality Check is quite strict. Selected projects must be presented clearly and with a large dose of self-reflection, within a time frame of 30-40 minutes. Winging and whining over lack of understanding on the part of the public, committee members, curators, producers, press or the general state of the world are prohibited.

Act 1. It's Time to Give In
Reality Check 2 kicked off with It's Time To Give In (May/June 2003), a project that, in part, expected the grapevine to give it a helping hand, and was presented by Cathrine Evelid.

Having become weary of 90's style, site-specific social art happenings, Catherine was delighted to be invited to take part in the exhibition Artistic Interruptions - Art in Nordland, looking forward to be able to present her work in a gallery space for once and the fact that the gallery was far, far away from the claustrophobic art milieu of Oslo was an added attraction. She soon found out that that wasn't the case and what she was expected to produce was yet another site-specific social art happening. Almost as an act of exorcism of the 90's she decided to make a happening that was intentionally doomed to fail - but fail in style!

Armed with NOK 35,000, she teamed up with a DJ from London called Sophie Brown, found a tent, bought some crates of beer, hired a breakdown van, an expensive PA system, a generator and a camera man, and set off for Svolvær with the aim of staging an unannounced four-day rave party. The venue was to be a remote picnic area along the highway 2 km outside of Henningsvær, with the artists themselves as the only invited guests. While they claimed not to mind being the only ravers, Evelid and Brown never the less expected that the sight of two young women dancing the night away to very loud, un-hip rave music in the middle of nowhere would arouse curiosity, and free beer would entice locals on the younger range of the age scale to not only join in, but also to spread the word around. However, they had not planned for the unpredictable forces of nature, an ommitance that would prove to be their downfall.

Catherine showed us a 20-minute documentary video depicting their four-day battle against extreme weather conditions (a huge thunderstorm, torrential rains and extremely high winds), and their fall from anticipation and enthusiasm to conflicts, despair, disillusionment and finally, relief. Each day provided a new challenge as weather conditions became increasingly formidable and spirits dropped. Soaked to the bone with their tent flapping in the wind, they had no money to go and stay in a hotel. It had all been spent already - mainly on renting the van and very expensive PA system, which seemingly blew up because it had got wet. In reality, a faulty cable was the problem, but this wasn't discovered till the system was returned to the rental service much later on. Their attempts to get help from the curators of the exhibition (who were enjoying the comforts of a local hotel) also proved fruitless. It was also the moment that the dynamic duo deiced that it was well and truly time to give in. The happening never happened and the only people to actually stop at their campsite-come-potential-four-day-rave-party were breaking down themselves. They only stopped because they had spotted the breakdown van.

Some of this information was revealed in the discussion session after the video had ended in true Thelma & Louise style with the two women driving into the blinding sunlight. ‘To stage a fiasco is one thing’, said Catherine, ‘but to become one is quite another thing altogether’.

Though the non-happening received absolutely no attention from either the locals or the art critics while it was (not) happening, Art in Nordland did manage to cash in on the project, presenting It's Time To Give In as a documentary movie a year or so later. I read an article on It's Time To Give In by Eivind Furnesvik who compared the project to a Greek Tragedy (2). I don't agree. I think this project had an altogether Dante-ian air about it. I'm thinking of The Divine Comedy - the journey through Hell, Purgatory, and finally, revelation and Heaven.

Per Platou concluded the first act by declaring the project a disaster, and the audience clapped appreciatively.

Act 2. Art and Drugs
It was surely no coincidence that we, the audience, learnt that Catherine's latest project was realized successfully at the recent Detox exhibition in Oslo where her own home-brew, Art Beer, was served free of charge to the public. Act 2 was performed by Ketil Nergaard who charismatically presented his project Art and Drugs, an investigation into Norwegian artists' attitudes towards drugs and alcohol. Art and Drugs was part of Danger Museum's project, The Peanut Circuit (devised as a dramatization of the current conditions of art production) for the Norwegian Sculpture Biannual Exhibition in October 2003.

Ketil's main aim was to find out if the connection between booze, dope and the artist was just yet another old myth. In August 2003 he embarked on a research period, reading books such as Confessions of an Opium Eater and so on, and plotting the history of artist drug use from the 1800's (where opium was all the rage) to the current day, pointing out that when heroin entered the scene around 1950, the topic had become taboo.

‘Most people won't talk about their drug addiction or alcoholism until it's over’, said Ketil, sighting Damien Hirst as an example. So, in order to find out more about the current situation he produced an artist statement and devised an anonymous questionnaire that he posted out to approximately 1000 artists via various art-orientated email groups and artist lists:

Anonymous survey about artists and drugs.

As part of Danger Museums project The Peanut Circuit in this years Sculpture Biennale we are undertaking a survey about Norwegian artists' view on drugs, to what extend they think that intoxicating substances can influence their creative work, and to what extend they use drugs in their work. This invitation has been sent out to over 1000 artists and will end on 30th December. The results of the survey will be published at and on Danger Museum's website directly after the closure date. The survey is anonymous. All visual artists are heartily welcome to participate. Put aside a couple of minutes to make this survey as representative as possible.

Fill out the form at:
Eventual questions can be sent to: artdrugs at

Thanks in advance!
Best wishes, Ketil Nergaard and Danger Museum

Ketil received an overwhelming number of answers. Paper versions of the questionnaire were also made available to the public during The Peanut Circuit installation at Vigerlands Museum in Oslo, and the provided postbox was rapidly filled up with responses. Everything seemed to be going well, until he discovered that due to a technical error the answers he had received electronically were unreadable. A letter of apology, and a request that people fill out the form again was sent out for the 2nd time. Atle Barclay, the director of Atelier Nord (who had provided Art and Drugs with web server services) asked whether technical tests had been undertaken before going public with the project. ‘No’, Ketil confessed, ‘they had not’. It was definitely an embarrassing situation for him, but his ordeal had only just begun. On 11th February 2004, a 3rd request appeared in list subscribers' email boxes:

IMPORTANT! Survey about art, artists and drugs.

We are so sorry, but due to a server break-in the answers to the survey have not arrived. We must therefore ask all of you who have already filled out the questionnaire to do so once again. We apologize profusely for the inconvenience. The final deadline has been extended to 22nd February.

With best wishes, Ketil Nergaard and Danger Museum.

By this time people were becoming suspicious, wondering about the motivation, competence and general mental and physical condition of the responsible artist. Ketil also discovered yet another glitch in the system. He discovered that it was impossible to fill out his form if you hadn't taken drugs, rendering any data that might previously have been harvested useless - including the paper versions acquired via the postbox during The Peanut Circuit. A new questionnaire (3) was devised making it possible for T-totalers to respond as well. Ketil received a pathetic total of 99 answers on which to draw his conclusions.

He never published the results of the survey. Why not? Paranoia, lack of interest, lack of any substantial data and a feeling of total failure were his excuses. Ketil said that while he found the topic of art and drugs totally fascinating, he felt that he had reached a climax when Art and Drugs went public with the first questionnaire. He felt really high, really proud and really cool. But by the time that he finally ended up with only 99 completed forms, he couldn't even be bothered to read them.

Not content to end his presentation in total failure, Ketil attempted to analyze the results for us, taking the liberty of rounding up the 99 answers he received to 100, conveniently making the task of calculating percentage values extremely simple (4). ‘Not very scientific’, said one member of the public. ‘Did you consider getting expert help (with the questionnaire)?’ - a question that is raised again in the 3rd act of Reality Blurred. Other questions raised were, ‘How could you be sure that people weren't lying?’ and ‘How did you know whether it was only artists who answered the questionarre?’ Ketil said that he had no control as to whether people were lying or not, and that as far as he was concerned anyone who called themselves an artist was an acceptable candidate for the Art and Drugs survey.

‘Does Art and Drugs deserve a place in the Halls of Fiasco Fame?’ - asked Per Platou. ‘Yes’, said Nergaard. ‘Yes’, said the audience, who clapped and cheered their congratulations.

Act 3. Geggan
The final act of Reality Check 2 starred a great big lump of wobbly gelatin called Geggan and two young, slightly nervous Swedish artists, Staffan Hjalmarsson and Pål Bylund, as supporting actors. Their mission - to sell Geggan as a Nordic TV show for kids. The concept seems initially very simple, if not totally absurd. You get a big clump of Geggan, and you have to get rid of it by playing it away.

Hjalmarsson and Bylund planned to sell their idea via recording pilot programs during various Geggan happenings in art galleries. These home-brewed movies would then be used to pitch Geggan to various Nordic TV companies. While over 800 children in Sweden and Finland have tried to get rid of over 60 tons of jelly, not one TV Company has been impressed by the results of their efforts. Not exactly surprising as the first video we were shown revealed Staffan and Pål drinking red wine from glasses made of Geggan during the first ever vernisage in Stockholm in December 2003. Another showed a huge clump of Geggan being thrown out of a window from a considerable height onto the pavement below. Bad moves if you want to sell a kiddy concept, but as we learnt later in the presentation, these two artists had not initially reckoned on involving too many children in their project. The children were imposed on them by those who played host to Geggan.

At each part in the process, Staffan and Pål adjusted their strategies according to the successes and failures of previous results, but also to the conditions stipulated by the situation in which the videos were filmed. When Geggan went to Åbo (Titanik Gallery, Finland, January 2004) the local TV station agreed to make a Geggan show, but demanded that Staffan and Pål handed over all aspects of production to them. They also insisted that only children could take part in the destruction of Geggan. The result was a bit lame. While play-master Staffan encouraged the children to play Geggan away with various household tools, such as a pizza slicer and a vacuum cleaner, an interpreter translated his every word e-v-e-r  s-o  s-l-o-w-l-y to Finnish.

There are several reasons why I found Geggan to be problematic as a successful candidate for Reality Check 2. Geggan was presented mainly through the resulting pilot and promotional videos. As a member of the public I was mainly left to assess these myself. As evidence of a process of two young artists in search of fame and fortune the videos were amusing and relatively informative, but I didn't get the idea that the artists really believed that the videos were disasters. That the artists did not directly criticize their works seemed to reflected this too, and when one audience member asked if they had considered getting professional help, they said ‘No, that was not the point’ (or something along those lines - my undertanding of Swedish is not brilliant). As an audience I felt that my role was more to sympathize with them when they failed to hook the TV companies on their line, and to agree with them that the Geggan concept was not such a bad idea after all - if they could just find the right angel. At any rate, they seem to be having fun.

Titles like Cut and Jump, Kids Slipping and Sliding and Feed the Crocodile warm the heart and the videos themselves are definitely chuckle-worthy. There is something about the aesthetics of amateurism and the performative aspect in their work that is reminiscent of Kids TV I that watched in the 70's. Something about the combination of naivety, an absence of irony and a slight presence of psychedelia that suggest that these two artists do know what they are doing, and they currently have no intention of giving up.

Staffan and Pål did, however, tell us about their meetings with potential sponsors. One attempt to procure enough gelatin to sustain Geggan throughout the project resulted in a letter from the respective jelly company stating that they had absolutely no intention of sponsoring the project, and that they strongly advised the artists to give up their mission! When they presented Geggan as a 12-minute pilot to SVTV they experienced that their tapes were very quickly fast-forwarded and their pitch failed dismally. Attempts to get Geggan into the Norwegian art scene have so far failed. But who knows what the future may bring?

Was Geggan really a failure under the conditions stipulated by Reality Check? The tribal consensus seemed to be no, not realy! And the audience clapped on. So ended the last act.

Reality Check 2 was successful in illustrating that it is possible to both learn from past experiences and capitalize on failure. Per Platou had obviously made some decisions regarding the staging of the evening since the first event in 2004. The artist line-up was condensed to 3 candidates instead of 6, which made it less demanding on the public concentration - wise. The pecking order showed a clear dramaturgy that eventually revealed a logical red line - a failed rave party thematically followed up by a survey of art and drugs, culminating in a somewhat spaced-out concept for TV shows for kids. Had the running order been reversed I suspect that I may have experienced the evening differently and called this article Reality Blurred - A tragedy in 3 Acts instead, but I can't be sure. There is a fine line between laughing and crying, reality and fiction and failure and success.

Ketil Nergaard's presentation was the highlight of the evening for me, not necessarily because of the content of his presentation, but because of the way he mastered the task of being simultaneously casual, funny and informative. He did, however, have an advantage over the other participants. He was the only one of them to be present at Reality Check 1, and had presumably, either wittingly or otherwise, learnt the ropes - which brings me onto my next point. Why do people decide to participate in Reality Check? What is it that makes revealing your weaknesses, mistakes and failures in an open public forum alluring enough to do it?

‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained,’ could be one answer that seems to ring true. Rumour has it that Ketil Nergaard was approached by a visiting Spanish curator (who was, ironically, brought to the event by Stahl Stenslie, the director of Detox) after his presentation. He was apparently very keen to raise Art and Drugs out of the depths of failure and into the light of success. I also heard through the grapevine that Staffan Hjalmarsson and Pål Bylund had scheduled an appointment to pitch Geggan at NRK to co-inside with their appearance at Reality Check 2. And lastly, Cathrine Evelid took the opportunity to announce that she was changing the name of her home-brew from Art Beer to Culture Beer, perhaps to extend the range of her future clientele?

Does a successful presentation of failure function as an act of personal integrity that consequently elevates status? Are artists willing to risk a process of humiliation and further defeat simply for a chance to gain some publicity for their work? As the rumour of Reality Check spreads, how will the next participants approach the task of presenting their failures? And will Per Platou respond to these issues when planning Reality Check 3? I look forward to finding out.

Per played his role with more confidence and style than in the previous Reality Check, slipping almost into the guise of a game show host, paying attention to tempo in the presentations and audience participation. The audience seemed appreciative and relaxed enough to let their questions flow forth, both in the allotted discussion time proceeding each presentation, and during the presentations themselves. But despite all these factors, in my opinion Reality Check 2 failed to provoke the same level of discussion as Reality Check 1. Possibly my mind is playing tricks with me, and my memory of the first event has become jaded with the passing of time. Possibly the entertainment value was too high and tension was too low to generate enough energy for a deeper discussion. Possibly the fact that the event was attended by a greater number of casual visitors and people who do not necessarily work professionally with art on a day-to-day basis was an influential factor. Undoubtedly some of this latter group were inspired by the presentations, so much so that I got the feeling that a few of them could envisage themselves as potential Reality Check contestants of the future. It sounds patronizing, doesn't it? I don't mean to patronize - not at all - but I can't help thinking about the Salvation Army. (Incidentally, I just heard that Catherine Evelid volunteers to help out at the Salvation Army food program. I didn't know - I swear I didn't know this when I started to write this report.) A new group of people has entered their arena, and in doing so they challenge the way the Salvation Army identifies its target group, which I imagine must also puts a pressure on their policies and resources.

It is said that Reality TV allows people to fantasize about gaining status through automatic fame. ‘Ordinary people’ can watch the shows, see people like themselves and imagine that they too could become celebrities by being on television. It may be stretching reality a bit to compare Reality Check attended by 60 or so people with that of Reality TV watched by millions, but common traits such as up- and downward social comparisons and back-to-the-tribe-style ritualized trials and exposure make it tantalizing food for thought.

Amanda Steggell
26th February 2005


(1) Østeuropeere spiser gratis hos Frelsesarmeen - Helt dagligdags.Aftenposten, 23.12.2004
(2) She’s lost control. Eivind Furnesvik, Oslo/Lofoten, 2003.
(3) Read the Art and Drugs questionairre here
(4) Ketil's final analysis of drugs and art will be published on the Reality Check webpage.