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Knut Åsdam: Mellon Artist-in-Residence

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Knut Åsdam: Mellon Artist-in-Residence

By Iggy Cortez

Titled "Edgelands,” Knut Åsdam’s multi-part project at the University of Pennsylvania poetically evokes the Norwegian artist’s social and intellectual investment in questions of space, urban redevelopment and migration. Informed by social geography and critical theory, Åsdam’s practice has engaged a range of peripheral spaces--from construction sites to moving trains to spaces for illicit modes of social interaction, such as sex clubs or parks at night. The overall impression of seeing Åsdam’s body of work is a vision of Europe wherein “peripheries,” embodied in the spatial arrangement of their built environments, unsettle the fantasies of different political communities.

Åsdam’s practice comprises film, video, photography, public art, and installation. His practice is distinctive, however, in how it opitimizes these mediums’ interactions within an institutional setting. At the Bojimans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, for instance, the artist transformed a dark hall into a faithful replica of a park at night for the projection of one of his films. Using dark light filters, real trees, grass and plants, he turned the typically neutral dark space of a screening room into a site charged with tones of danger and erotic promiscuity. Through installations that reference zones of social “deviancy” inside the “high culture” of a museum setting, Åsdam playfully but also critically juxtaposes several incompatible spaces into one, asking us to think about the multiple factors that determine and sustain these divisions and dispelling the notion that aesthetic contemplation transcends social and economic exchanges. 

While most of Åsdam’s works have focused on Europe, his interest in the politics of public spaces resonates in Philadelphia, a city experiencing its own ongoing debates regarding access to the city’s financial and urban resources. The week of October 14 provides the University of Pennsylvania’s students with a unique opportunity to explore angles of analysis with the artist, while allowing them to view his earlier work and the recent projects he created for his tenure as the University’s Mellon Artist-in-Residence.

The screenings, projects and exhibitions that the residency has produced constitute a major cultural event, not only for the University, but in the broader arena of contemporary art, as it is the artist’s largest and most extensive exhibition in the United States so far. The series traces his work’s previous exhibitions in major international venues such as the Venice Biennale, the Tate Modern, Manifesta 7, Künsthalle Bern, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Istanbul Biennial. Åsdam has also received attention from leading and emerging art historians who have discussed his work in the context of significant cultural and material transformations in the field of contemporary art. 

The residency was organized by Kaja Silverman, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Professor of Contemporary Art, with collaboration from Penn Design and the Slought Foundation. It is one of several cultural events and conferences Professor Silverman has organized at Penn as the recipient of the Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award. The residency begins at the International House with a screening of several of Åsdam’s earlier films, which play with narrative and cinematic structures (October 16, 7:00pm). The screening will be followed by a conversation between the artist and Homay King, Associate Professor of History of Art and Director of the Program in Film Studies at Bryn Mawr College. These films are usually screened as part of site-specific installations, and this screening provides a rare opportunity, not only to see the individual films, but to consider them in relation to each other as well as to the new pieces Åsdam will unveil at Penn.

The works created specifically for the residency will premiere on Friday, October 18. At 4:00pm, Åsdam will introduce a public artwork at McHarg Plaza just outside of Meyerson Hall. Later that evening, his exhibition at the Slought Foundation will open, featuring a new film and an architectural installation. The interior of the Slought Foundation will be transformed to evoke a peripheral urban setting in order to produce a “layered” viewing experience. This installation aims to endow the film with a social context that exists outside the gallery, while also adding a narrative dimension to the role of the spectator. This opening will include a conversation between Åsdam, Silverman and George Baker, Associate Professor of Art History at UCLA, who has written several articles on Åsdam. Finally, on Saturday October 19, 2013 at 2:00pm, Åsdam, Silverman and Baker will hold a seminar for students at the Slought Foundation that will create an opportunity to discuss Åsdam’s work in an intimate setting.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013, 7:00pm
International House
3701 Chestnut Street
Knut Åsdam and Homay King in dialogue

October 18-November 1, 2013

McHarg Plaza, 210 South 34th Street
Artist talk on Friday, October 18, 4:00pm

Friday, October 18, 2013, 6:00pm

Slought Foundation
4017 Walnut Street
Knut Åsdam, George Baker and Kaja Silverman in dialogue
Reception to follow

Saturday October 19, 2013, 2:00pm

Slought Foundation 
4017 Walnut Street
Knut Åsdam, George Baker and Kaja Silverman in dialogue

    • Knut Asdam 6
    • Knut Åsdam, Oslo Grorud 1, Archival C Print on Alumninum, 70cm x 120 cm.

    • Knut Asdam 2
    • Sketch for new public art work by Knut Åsdam at McHarg Plaza, University of Pennsylvania .

    • Knut Asdam 1
    • Knut Åsdam, Tripoli, RED to HD, 24 min., colour, stereo, 2010.

    • Knut Asdam 3

    • Knut Åsdam, Filter City, 35mm film or DVD projection installation, 21 min., colour, stereo, 2003.

    • Knut Asdam 4

    • Knut Åsdam,  Oblique, 5 mm film to HD, 5.1 audio, 13 min., 2008. 

    • Knut Asdam 5
    • Knut Åsdam, Psychasthenia: The Care of the Self. Architectural installation, 40ft (l) x 25ft (w) x 10.2ft (h). Glass, light filter, steel, 30 tons of soil, trees, bushes, flowers, grass. 1999-2007.

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Iggy Cortez is a Ph.D. Candidate in History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania.

Edited by Naomi Shavin.