DATE: Tuesday 22nd February 2005
PLACE: 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Per Platou concluded
the first act by declaring the project a disaster, and the audience clapped
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.
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:
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 art-and-drugs.info 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: http://www.art-and-drugs.info/
Eventual questions can be sent to: artdrugs at start.no
Thanks in advance!
Best wishes, Ketil Nergaard and Danger Museum
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:
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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?
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.
26th February 2005
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