The Nirox Foundation asked Wanås Konst to curate and collaborate on their Sculpture Winter Show 2018. Five years before, Wanås Konst had asked Nirox to provide a platform for researching the South African art scene. The purpose was to exchange knowledge, and to do more than scratch the surface of what was going on, as part of Wanås Konst’s commitment to working with artist from the whole world. One outcome was an exhibition in Sweden 2015 with six artists based in South Africa in the exhibition Barriers.
The exhibition co-curated with Wanås Konst at Nirox is a result of the now long standing and continuous dialogue, an exchange between sculpture parks on two continents. Thus, we knew it would be about giving space for multiple perspectives, being two venues, we also wanted the project to grow out of collaborative efforts; between us, the curatorial team that was put together on site, and the artists engaged. Making new works with artists in the outdoors, whether in the beechwood forest in Sweden or in the UNESCO world heritage site where Nirox is located, the surroundings will inevitably be an important influence and itself a framework for the exhibition. We decided to let the works by 25 artists showcasing contemporary issues and practises related to sculpture be linked by the site and a conceptual concern—that of the story. The story lends itself to a metaphor and carries endless possibilities.
Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi starts her well-known TED Talk with these words: “I’m a storyteller. And I would like to tell you a few personal stories about what I like to call ‘the danger of the single story’.” Her talk is the starting point of the exhibition and inspiration for the title, Not a single story. “Stories matter,” she adds, “How they are told, who tells them, when they’re told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power.”
Referring to a venue as a sculpture park, and working mainly in the outdoors, addresses an entire art historical canon on sculpture in general and land art in particular, with earth, rocks, and sand as media and subject matter. This history is a male history. As a response to a very singular art history, the majority of the artists in the exhibition are women, representing a rich diversity of perspectives. As a nod to the art experience you get at Wanås, Yoko Ono was invited to make Wish Trees at Nirox, and the branches of the African olive will now carry written down wishes in her Wish Trees for Hope, while Marianne Lindberg De Geer’s sound archive of voices calling “Mamma" will intrigue and exite; both works are highly associated with Wanås. We also wanted to include works by forerunners alongside less established artists.
Notable is the participation of Esther Mahlangu, following the customs passed down from generations of women in her family, she bridges contemporary practices. Should a grand lady of sculpture on the Swedish contemporary art scene be appointed, Lena Cronqvist must be the one, portraying anguish and suffering since the 60s. Important role model is also the recent Turner prize winner Lubaina Himid that with cut-outs of women from women’s artworks asks questions about the re-writing of the history. Work is made in dialogue with what is going on, what has been and that which has been sidelined. Some artists look far back to sculptural traditions with colón sculptures and Noke culture, others to the history that is written right now, like Zanele Muholi documenting loss writing history linked to hate crimes, whereas Caroline Mårtensson instead is loking ahead, forsaying the future with her Living fossile, a created fossil of a plant that is likely to be extinct.
Other central elements of this project, linked to the exhibition, are workshops, talks and a comprehensive educational programming aimed at children and youth to expand understanding of life and art. This follows a long tradition at Wanås where exploring artists methods has been the foundation of the extensive art educational program for 20 years. At Nirox pedagogical ideas are paralleled and exchanged. Discussing, debating, dreaming and performing together, more than 500 participants will contribute to the stories told and questions raised in different activities.
Ngozi Adichie concludes in her talk: “When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise”.
– Elisabeth Millqvist
The exhibition and its educational program are made possible with the support of The Swedish Postcode Foundation with additional support from The Swedish Embassy, Pretoria and Swedish Institute.