Venue: 1877 in Oslo
1857 is an artist-run space in Oslo tackling the genres and conventions of exhibition making head on. Founders Stian Eide Kluge and Steffen Håndlykken talk with Esperanza Rosales about placeholders, ugly bastards, and steering ship.
Five years ago, you opened your space in a former lumberyard in East Oslo. What were the motivating factors for you then, and how have these changed over time?
Steffen Håndlykken: The idea grew when we came upon this totally unexpected and incredible space in Grønland, downtown Oslo: a former lumberyard, with a cast concrete warehouse that was added to a run-down 19th-century cottage in the 1930s, facing the street. The scale of the space, the light, and the raw textures gave us all these great ideas for shows that we could do in there. We also realised it could allow us to take a very interesting position between established institutions and the more informal artist-run spaces in town.
You’ve taken a rather poetic approach to press releases, writing winding, almost literary texts. Why leave so many details out?
Steffen Håndlykken: There is a lot of fun to be had in being artists who organize and produce exhibitions. In that sense, 1857 is an ongoing conversation between Stian and myself about conventions of exhibition and presentation. This informs everything: which artists to invite, how to show their works, all the curatorial basics, the architecture and lighting of the shows, and the design and presentation.
The press releases are probably the one thing we spend most time on when preparing a show. The idea is not really to leave stuff out of the text, only that the normal requirements of the genre call for a hybrid of publicity, baiting, and art historical exegesis that is a particularly ugly bastard. The texts are sometimes read in anticipation of seeing the actual show, and are often read or reread at the show itself This makes descriptive statements seem totally redundant. You’ll know it’s three blue monochromes when you’re looking at them, you know? Our idea for writing about exhibitions is that the text should run parallel to the show, it should encourage some reflection or doubt about what’s on view, and, finally, it’s nice if the reader can learn something. While we do at times wax lyrical, we like the texts to include some facts and not be pure poetry.
Stian Eide Kluge: The press release is just a placeholder, an empty box that happens to exist as a part of the family, alongside things like titles, checklists, artists, and opening hours. As an empty box, anything can be put into it. There are no rules, just traditions and expectations. Text restricted to one page is a beautiful literary concept and challenge.
We expect a lot from our audience, but we also treat them as intelligent onlookers. Not as receivers, but as participants.
How do you negotiate these activities as part of your practice?
Stian Eide Kluge: We think of making exhibitions as collaborating with other artists, rather than just inviting them to exhibit. We find that artists often say they enjoy working with us on a different level than with other institutions and galleries. We provide more freedom.
Does your work as exhibition organizers ever conflict with your individual practices? How do you view overlaps? Is this a temptation or is it not even a question for you?
Stian Eide Kluge: 1857 was never intended to be a shift in our practice, but it did force us into some sort of break. First we had to refurbish the space. Then, when this gigantic ship was finally under sail, we had to learn how steer and navigate the vessel. That took time too.
Steffen Håndlykken: At the outset we were looking for a studio, and perhaps naïvely believed that we could keep up our own production while managing the space. There has never been any question of showing our own work inside 1857’s programme. It has had a different impact on each of us, but there’s no question that we’re both in a different place as artists now compared to when we started the project.
Stian Eide Kluge: For me, this unwelcome break in my production has turned out to be a very productive shift in my practice.
How do you see the project developing in the future?
Steffen Håndlykken: 1857 is the product of the two of us discussing the particularities of the exhibition format. It’s not likely that we’ll come to any definite conclusion there. We will need to grow, to become more institutional or professional, in order to keep the programme running. We still depend on our friends to help out, and at some point we’ll have to start paying them or we’ll lose both their friendship and labour.
Stian Eide Kluge: We hope to be able to keep our lease on the space. We also hope that the building will remain listed as a historical landmark, but there are other forces at play in this. At the same time, we refuse to limit our efforts to the particularities of the space we inhabit. If we had to operate in more conventional spaces, we would make shows that are just as fabulous.
New York-born Esperanza Rosales opened VI, VII gallery 2012 in Oslo. Artists Steffen Håndlykken (*1981) and Stian Eide Kluge (*1977) have run the exhibition space 1857 in Oslo since 2010.